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Are Registry Cleaners Like CCleaner Safe to Use?

Greg Mooney| December 27 2017

| IT insights

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CCleaner has been used by IT professionals and users alike for cleaning up temporary files and the Windows registry. But is cleaning the Windows registry useful?

I’m not going to lie to you, there was a time that I thought Piriform's CCLeaner was a useful free registry cleaner to keep junk off my machine, with the false hope of a little performance boost.

There are certain things we tell ourselves as self-assurance that we are well informed. However, if we just did a little research, we’d come to realize that we base many of our beliefs on false information when it comes to computer performance. We are convinced that if we just do a little registry cleaning we'll have lightning speed computer performance. I admit that I’ve fallen into this trap before, and if you have ever used CCleaner, chances are you’ve fallen for it too.

I always saw CCleaner as an easy to use tool that automatically removed junk from my PC, such as browser data, cookies, and cache. It’s one of those free pc cleaner tools that just works when it comes to removing temporary files. But that’s all that it is good at. Let me explain.

There is another feature of CCleaner that many of us use without much thought, but that could also cause some problems. You probably know by now that I’m talking about: the Windows registry cleaner. Many of us use it, and we never had any issues removing old registry files of programs we previously un-installed. And that’s fine, but why are we removing these old registry files at all? Think about it.

Are we doing it to appeal to our belief that our computer performance will get a boost if the Windows registry is orderly? Are we doing it just because we don’t like those old crusty registries of past programs causing some unforeseen edge case that causes our computer to slow down? Do we even know how the Windows registry works? If we did, would we realize that we are doing more damage than good?

What Is A Registry Cleaner?

First let's discuss what exactly a registry cleaner is.

Registry cleaners came to prominence over 10 years ago when computer performance was nowhere near as fast as it is today. Essentially, a registry cleaner is a tool that scans your Windows registry for registry keys that are of no use, or potentially leftover remnants of malware that has been removed. It then gives you the option of removing this dead weight in your system. Vendors of registry cleaning claim that by cleaning up the Windows registry, you have an opportunity to speed up your computer. Or at least this is what Piriform wants us to believe.

Do We Actually Need A Registry Scan?

Quite honestly, no. You see, Microsoft has refused to release their own registry cleaner tool, or endorse any third party registry cleaner. And this is within reason. Microsoft's stance is that they don't want users messing with the registry since it probably brings attention to the most bloated part of Windows. Simply put, messing with your Windows registry without knowing what you are doing can trigger serious errors that can render Windows inoperable.

If this is true, why do so many people choose to use a registry cleaning tool like CCleaner?

Related: CCleaner Supply Chain Attack Exposes Millions Of Windows Users

Piriform's CCleaner is Snake Oil

Piriform (now owned by Avast) is run by smart individuals who get marketing. Do not let them fool you. They want you to believe that their Windows registry cleaner is the 2nd coming. Piriform has cashed in on our eagerness to increase PC performance and fed into our undying euphoria of deleting things on our computer that we believe are useless. Piriform and CCleaner aren't the only ones out there. Others include the Wise Registry Cleaner, Glarysoft Registry Repair, Frontline Registry Cleaner, and Auslogic Registry Cleaner.

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We are so blinded by our own actions that we drive ourselves to false conclusions that a tool like a Windows registry cleaner, or any free registry cleaning tool, shows a perceived performance boost. Maybe it’s because we get this satisfying tingly feeling when our PC is orderly, so our PC must feel the same way. Unfortunately, computers don’t think like we do.

Sorry to break the news, cleaning your Windows registry does not speed up your computer. In fact, it might actually even have the opposite effect. The problem is that you are putting all your trust in an automated tool that is most likely only doing a registry scan and removing useless registries. However, at some point it may make a mistake, without you noticing, and delete a registry file that was actually important. Who knows what the implications could be?

Of course you could argue that this has never happen to you, and for many of us it hasn’t.

So is CCleaner Safe to Use?

Regardless, there are some stories out there of CCleaner breaking Windows. The point is, why bother messing with the registry if those useless registry files do nothing to harm your PC performance in the first place? Running a registry cleaner is essentially a waste of time and runs the risk of only causing more problems.

Windows is designed to deal with the registry and any potential registry errors. If Microsoft felt that cleaning the registry would help your computer, they probably would have built it into Windows by now. They haven't because the registry doesn't need to be cleaned, despite what others may have told you. Registry keys do not take up enough space for us to even notice them nowadays. I actually have doubts about whether or not there was a computer performance boost from cleaning your registry 10 years ago.

Using CCLeaner In The Wake of Hacking Incident 

So how does this relate to the CCleaner supply chain attack earlier this week? Well, I for one am a proponent of using free tools that help with cleaning cookies and browser cache. It’s easier than perusing through Chrome’s increasingly-annoying settings menu. But, I’d be willing to bet that many of us use CCLeaner because it also includes that shiny Windows registry cleaner. We are distracted by the user-friendly interface and immediately buy into all that it promises. I know not all of us fall for these tricks, but I did and I have plenty of friends (some of whom work in IT) who use it still.

My point is that CCleaner never really had anything going for it in the first place.  There are plenty of free tools out there that can clean your browser history, cookies, and cache. So, in the wake of this supply chain attack on CCLeaner, none of us should feel any loyalty to this tool. And for any of us who use CCleaner just for the registry cleaner, take this as a moment of reflection, and admit that we got duped by snake oil salesmen.

If this tool was a trusted and reputable anti-virus program, I think many of us would think about switching vendors. In any case, I don’t think you should be holding a free tool, such as CCleaner, in the same regard as anti-virus or other tools that actually do something useful.

 

Topics: IT insights

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THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY Greg Mooney

Greg is a technologist and data geek with over 10 years in tech. He has worked in a variety of industries as an IT manager and software tester. Greg is an avid writer on everything IT related, from cyber security to troubleshooting.

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