Q: Our home computer has a firewall and virus-scan software provided by McAfee, but somehow we are still getting spyware and Trojan horses...

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Q: Our home computer has a firewall and virus-scan software provided by McAfee, but somehow we are still getting spyware and Trojan horses. I have AdAware and Spybot installed and run them frequently. Those programs find a lot of spyware and delete them. However, our computer still runs slow, and I am convinced there’s stuff in there the spyware clean-up software doesn’t catch.

Friends have told us we have to go into our registry and clean it up, but I don’t know how to do that. Recently I have been getting a pop-up ad saying my registry may be screwed up and that’s why my computer is running slow, and that we can download this software to clean up our registry.

I did, and it found 150 or so problems, and the demo cleaned up 20. To clean up the rest of the registry, we have to buy the program. I wasn’t sure if it was legit so I haven’t done anything. Are there such programs out there? Which ones are legit?

— Claude D. Nesis, Bellevue

A: OK, seems like it’s time for our periodic reality check.

The sun will rise tomorrow. President Bush (probably) won’t call for a constitutional amendment canceling the Constitution. And firewalls and antivirus software are not guarantees against hacking and viruses.

Just because you have a firewall and an antivirus program doesn’t mean you’re safe from hackers and viruses. Banks and federal agencies use firewalls much more sophisticated than those most consumers use, and they still are victimized by hackers. And antivirus programs are only as good as their latest update, since new viruses are always being written.

Viruses do often infect the Windows registry, and there are a lot of people out there trying to sell software that promises to clean up your registry. But, like the antivirus software, even those registry cleaners that work as advertised are only as good as their latest updates.

The bottom line? There is no way to be completely secure, especially when connected to a network or to the Internet. It is very important to use a firewall and antivirus software. Pop-up blockers are also a good idea, though these are more for convenience than security.

As for cleaning the Windows registry, it is certainly something to consider.

There are a number of Windows registry editors on the market that can do an excellent job of analyzing and helping you fix problems. You can find a bunch by searching for “Windows registry editor” on the Internet. I don’t know of any that aren’t “legitimate.”

Be aware, however, these programs, like antivirus ones, need to be frequently updated. And they require some knowledge on the part of the user to do more than just very basic jobs.

If your computer is really dragging and you suspect major problems, I can tell you what I do: Rather than mess with the registry, I reformat my drive and reinstall Windows and all my applications. I know that seems like a lot of work, but I’ve found it the most effective way to periodically clean things up.

Q: Is there a software program that can organize my CDs as Musicmatch does? I would like to have the information from all of my CDs available to search by title, artist or track without having to record every CD onto my hard drive.

Is there a program available that will just take the information from each CD without having to transfer every track to my computer?

J.R. Cox, Seattle

A: I’m aware of — but haven’t personally tried — two programs that will do what you ask. Music Library (www.mp3machine.com/software/Music_Library/) and Music Collector (www.collectorz.com/music/) will read track information directly from your CDs and pop them into a database.

You also can add personal notes to the records that are created. Other than that, the programs offer a lot of other features, so you’ll want to check out the Web sites to see which application is most appropriate for your needs.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.