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Desktop Gadgets

How to Protect Windows Vista and Windows 7 Systems from Windows Sidebar Gadgets Exploitation

Windows SidebarIntroduction

Windows Sidebar is a long, vertical bar that is displayed on the side of Windows Vista and Windows 7 desktops. It contains mini-programs called gadgets, which offer information at a glance and provide easy access to frequently used tools. It’s a great feature, born of the best of intentions, but unfortunately malware and exploit writers are leveraging gadgets running in Windows Sidebar to potentially take complete control of a user’s computer. This is why Microsoft has retired the feature in newer releases of Windows and recommends that Windows Vista and Windows 7 customers who are concerned about vulnerable or malicious gadgets disable the feature as soon as possible.

Disabling Windows Sidebar and Gadgets

This article will provide beginning and advanced users with several different options for disabling Windows Sidebar and gadgets. This article addresses the following options:

  • Disable Windows Sidebar and gadgets using an automated Fix it solution
  • Disable Windows Sidebar and gadgets using the system registry
  • Disable Windows Sidebar and gadgets using Group Policy

Before You Begin

Choose the option for disabling Windows Sidebar and gadgets that best suits your computing environment and level of expertise. If you are implementing the procedure on your personal machine or fewer than two computers, then the Fix it solution is probably the best option for you. However, if you are familiar with working with the registry editor, then the system registry procedure is an option as well. Lastly, if you are a system administrator and Group Policy is enabled on your network, then the Group Policy procedure will allow you to implement the procedure on multiple systems across your network.

Required Credentials

Most of the procedures in this document require an administrative account. A regular user will not be able to perform these tasks.

To determine your user account type on Windows Vista or Windows 7, click Start and then click your user account picture to open the User Accounts window. Your user account type is listed below your user name.

If you see Administrator listed below your user name, then your account has the credentials necessary to perform these tasks. If you see Standard user or any other user account type other than Administrator, then your account may not have the credentials necessary to perform these tasks. If this is the case, you can log in to an Administrator account on your computer to perform these tasks or use the Run as administrator feature in a non-administrative account to run programs once with full administrator access. For more information, see How do I run an application once with a full administrator access token?

Option 1: Disable Windows Sidebar and gadgets using an automated Fix it solution

Target users: All

Microsoft has created an automated Fix it solution that disables Windows Sidebar and gadgets on individual systems. See Microsoft Knowledge Base Article 2719662 for instructions on obtaining and applying the Fix it solution. We recommend that administrators review the article closely prior to deploying this Fix it solution.

Option 2: Disable Windows Sidebar and gadgets using the system registry

Target users: Advanced users and system administrators

Alternatively, users can disable Windows Sidebar and gadgets on individual systems by creating a new registry key in Registry Editor. To create and set the new registry key, follow these steps:

Note: Using Registry Editor incorrectly can cause serious problems that may require you to reinstall your operating system. Microsoft cannot guarantee that problems resulting from the incorrect use of Registry Editor can be solved. Use Registry Editor at your own risk. For information about how to edit the registry, view the "Changing Keys And Values" Help topic in Registry Editor (Regedit.exe) or view the "Add and Delete Information in the Registry" and "Edit Registry Data" Help topics in Regedt32.exe.

Note: We recommend backing up the registry before editing it.

  1. Click Start, click Run, type regedit, and then click Continue.
  2. Expand HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, expand SOFTWARE, expand Microsoft, expand Windows, expand CurrentVersion, and then expand Policies.
  3. Right-click Policies, select New, select Key, and then type Windows as the file name.
  4. Right-click Windows, select New, select Key, and then type Sidebar as the file name.
  5. Right-click Sidebar, select New, select DWORD (32-bit) Value, and the type TurnOffSidebar as the Name.
  6. Right-click TurnOffSidebar, and then set Value data: to 1.
  7. You must log off your system or close the sidebar.exe process after you apply this procedure.

Option 3: Disable Windows Sidebar and gadgets using Group Policy

Target users: System administrators

The Windows Sidebar can be disabled across multiple computers on a network by using Group Policy. To use Group Policy to disable Windows Sidebar, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, click Run, type gpedit.msc, and then click Continue.
  2. Under Local Computer Policy\Computer Configuration, double-click Administrative Templates, double-click Windows Components, and then double-click Windows Sidebar.
  3. Set the value of the Turn off Windows Sidebar setting to Enabled:
  4. Right-click Turn off Windows Sidebar.
  5. Select Properties from the menu.
  6. Select the Enabled radio button.
  7. You must log off your system or close the sidebar.exe process after you apply this procedure.