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Why am I getting "Windows cannot find" messages on startup?

When starting my Windows XP machine I started getting the following
message:

Windows cannot find “SSVICHOSST.exe” Make sure you typed
the name correctly,and then try again. To search for a file, click the
Start button and then click search.

How do I remove this message when starting up?

The message is both clear, and confusing.

Clear, because Windows is clearly trying to run a program on start
up, and “Windows cannot find” means … well, it means that it can’t
find the program.

Confusing, because you never told it to run that program, nor do you
have any idea how it got there.

I do.

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In your case, the name gives it away. It’s a very poorly disguised attempt to make a filename that is easily confused with the Windows system component SVCHOST.EXE. It kinda sorta looks the same (though very poorly so, in this case), but it’s not.

And that’s an extremely common sign of a virus.

And the fact that your system can’t find it is a good sign.

Here’s what I think happened:

“… the ‘Windows cannot find…’ message on start up means exactly that – Windows has been instructed to auto-run a program on startup, and cannot find it.”
  • Somewhere along the line, your machine was infected with a virus. “SSVICHOSST.exe” was a file that likely contained the virus and was placed on your machine as part of that infection. The virus added instructions so that your system would automatically run that file on start up.

  • Sometime later, your anti-virus software came along, detected and removed the virus, removing the file “SSVICHOSST.exe” from wherever it had been placed.

  • Unfortunately, your anti-virus software did not remove the instructions to automatically start the virus. Hence, each time your system starts up, it tries to run “SSVICHOSST.exe”, which of course no longer exists.

There are other scenarios (the virus itself could have been flawed, for example), but that’s a common explanation for how you might have ended up where you are.

The short version is that the “Windows cannot find…” message on start up means exactly that – Windows has been instructed to auto-run a program on startup, and cannot find it.

Fixing it manually takes just a tiny bit of work. There are a couple of approaches I would take.

First, I’d suggest running “msconfig” and looking at startup entries there. Click on Start, Run…, type in “msconfig” and press OK. Once in the “System Configuration Utility”, as it calls itself, click on the Startup tab. You should get something similar to this:

MSConfig Startup Tab

If you find “SSVICHOSST” (or whatever startup program is causing the “cannot find” error), uncheck the checkbox next to it and click OK. The next time you start your system you should no longer have the error.

If you didn’t find the entry in msconfig, we’ll try the free download autoruns instead. After you download and run it, you should get a display much like this one:

Autoruns displaying all auto-start entries

Type CTRL+F to search, type in SSVICHOSST as the search term and press OK to see where autoruns takes you. If it finds the entry you can once again uncheck the box in front of it to disable it from happening on the next boot.

Final Caveats

If the entry comes back then it’s likely you’re still infected with the virus that put it there, or what you’re seeing isn’t the result of a virus but the result of some other program that is repairing itself. You might need to see if you can determine what program it might be part of.

And as with all system modifications, it’s always a good idea to take a backup of your system first. In this case, since the startup entries we’ve been modifying are all contained in the registry, it would be enough to create a System Restore Point.

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