Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

'This operation is canceled ...' is an unfortunately common symptom of an all-too-common problem: a virus infection. We'll look at your options.

For the past several weeks I have been getting a notice every time I try to open a link that is within an email. "This operation is canceled due to restrictions in effect on this computer. Contact your systems administrator". I am the systems administrator and I must have changed something, but I cannot figure where to reverse this error. I am running Vista Home Premium, Norton InternetSecurity with 4GB of RAM and a 320 GB Hard Drive on my system.

This is a very common error these days, and manifests in various situations.

It's not something you did, per se, but in all likelihood it is something you allowed to happen.

And it's not good.

99 times out of 100 this error message results because your computer has been infected with a virus.

There are scenarios where the message is both valid and accurate, but those are typically corporate situations where you are not the administrator on your machine, and your corporate IT department has, in fact, implemented restrictions of some sort. I can't really help you there, you'll need to talk to the IT department (or person) if that's your situation.

"99 times out of 100 this error message results because your computer has been infected with a virus."

Sadly, it's not like I can really help you a lot here either - an infection is an infection, and that's bad news.

My first recommendation is simple: backup. If you haven't been keeping backups of your machine already, now's the time to take a full backup of your machine in case your cleanup efforts fail, or require you to resort to drastic measures. Yes, that means the infection will be "backed up" as well, so we'd never restore the entire machine to this backup. We still want to take a snapshot of everything, so that we can selectively restore anything we might need to later.

Next up: run up-to-date anti-virus software. As always, I don't necessarily mean the latest and greatest program (though that's often part of it), I mean a program that has the latest and most up-to-date database of virus information.

You might need to try more than one program. Reports are that Malwarebytes anti-malware is currently doing a great job of removing the latest threats, so it might be well worth a try. Free alternatives like AVG, avast! and Avira are also good choices to try.

Failing that, you can try scouring the internet for solutions to your specific symptoms. For example, I have an article on Why is my Task Manager disabled, and how do I fix it? which is often the result of the same scenario: a virus.

In my opinion, there are two huge problems with fixing the symptom:

  • You haven't removed the underlying cause: you're likely still infected with a virus.

  • Because you're still infected, the symptom is actually very likely to return in short order.

That's why I'm not providing a solution to just your symptom here: it likely won't help you, and even if it does, it won't for long. Your machine probably has deeper issues that need to be addressed, namely the virus.

The last resort? You won't like it.

It's the standard, when all else fails solution to cleaning your machine of a virus.

  • Backup (if you haven't above)

  • Reformat (erasing everything, including the virus)

  • Reinstall (requires your original installation media)

  • Update (get Windows and your applications as up to date as possible)

  • Restore (your data, only, from that backup)

I told you that you wouldn't like it.

But it's the only way to be sure.

And a reminder of how much less painful preventing the infection in the first place would be.

Article C3752 - June 4, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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8 Comments
umair
June 5, 2009 12:13 AM

is reformat necessary or restoring a clean image, e.g. an image taken right after a re-installation,would get the same results? restoring from image is faster.

Yes, if you were organized enough to take an earlier clean image (or any full-backup image prior to the infection), restoring to that typically works.
- Leo
05-Jun-2009

Mark Jacobs
June 5, 2009 1:57 AM

Whenever the situation calls for reformatting, I instead back everything up anddo a simple delete, shift delete of all files and directories after booting from a PE disk. (Live linux should work too). Is this as good or are there any advantages of formatting over deleting?

If done properly, that's fine, but in my mind a format it simpler, and a quick format is quicker.
- Leo
05-Jun-2009

RJ Roy
June 8, 2009 9:28 AM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but this message is basically because of a system security setting in Windows, right? Could it be possible that some anti-virus or other security program that was installed recently activated this setting as an optional precaution?

To be honest, while I don't disagree that it could be a virus, it just seems a little weird (to me) that a virus would want to block you from clicking links in e-mails. My own first thought would be to check my security software to see if it didn't do something silly.

yalters
June 9, 2009 2:03 PM

Dear RJ Roy,

You have yet to know viruses. And if you really want to know why a virus would set a restriction, its simply to make it more difficult to be healed (for the same reason regedit would be disabled, folder options would be disabled and removed from control panel, and command prompt disabled even even logged on as admin.
good luck and happy learning
YALTERS

David
June 9, 2009 5:49 PM

You identified one possible problem when you used the word 'Norton' and Leo identified two possible solutions when he used the names AVG and Avast (haven't tried Avira).
umair mentioned why informed users advocate Linux (Macs might also be safer but I won't comment).
In the computer admin/consulting/maintenance community I've worked in for over 20 years, I have not spoken to one person in the last 5 years who would advocate using ANYTHING from Norton (Symantic). On pre-installed machines, in undertaking data salvage operations, before resorting to drastic measures such as system reinstalls, taking the computer off the network and uninstalling Norton is step 2 (backing up is step 1). Step 3 is installing something like AVG or Avast (I think Kaspersky has a solid reputation too, but it's also an expensive, effectively subscription based solution.)
Step 4 is getting running that new application once BEFORE getting back on the network - you might find the virus (if there is one) at that point. Step 5 is the risky part - hopefully the networked computers are up-to-date with 'something - anything' anti-virus software - reconnecy to the network and get any AV updates from the application provider - it's usually a button in the AV control centre that says something like 'Updates' - simple huh?
Then do a re-scan (if there is an option for a COMPLETE SCAN or some such, select it.

Step 6 is promise to never, ever, ever click on windows that pop up in browsers telling you things like "Super Dooper (insert ANY name) Anti Virus has detected an infection on your computer - would you like it to scan/run/system check/etc. now?". That stuff is as bad as a virus itself (a whole different story in itself).

Be very careful of anything you download from the internet - (hint - anything rhyming with scorn), anything from Warez sites, Torrent sites, email from strangers (or from people you do know but with words like ##AGR# (or bigger body parts ot pharmacy medicines, etc, etc.) in the subject name or other unusual subjects that just don't seem to be what you'd expect from that person.

Do LOTS of research if you're in the slightest bit hazy or doubtful about what I've just said.

If you're a friend/relative of mine, please re-read what I've just said, I can't afford to donate more time to freebies.

If you're a potential customer, ignore what I just said and we can talk about it when I come to your place to do a service call.

Cheers

PS. There will be lots of disagreement from others about my thoughts after this - their approaches might be correct too - in fact probably will be. Just do your homework and get a few opinions from other credible sites - do some Googling - it is your friend. Oh, just remember too, Google runs on Linux which is what I use too - I can't risk getting sick on my day-to-day computers.

David
June 9, 2009 5:56 PM

Please ignore all my typos/misspellings in my previous post - I can do better than that

A. Orcan
June 10, 2009 12:19 AM

One more recommendation would be regular registry backups. It's easy to do and I never had to reformat my HD in six years, in fact the only time I had to do something like that was when my HD crashed. If I reformat, with over 3 TB of stuff, so many hardware and software tweaks required among other things, I would be dead. Back up at least the reg and a few system files. This would suffice in 99% of the cases.
Recently one of my friend's PC was infected and the virus deleted itself after carrying out its duty. AV scanners couldn't find anything wrong. Depending on what he tried to do he got all kinds of messages including the one about restrictions too. I tracked the problem to "image file execution options", indicating a trojan attack. I couldn't clean the registry manually as there were more than 200 lines effected in the registry but downloading and running malwarebytes was enough to solve the problem.
The lesson my friend got was that a AV software is not enough for complete protection. A firewall (a good one) and anti-malware are also required. My combination of Malwarebytes, Avast and PC tools work like a charm (free for home users).

mehdi
June 6, 2012 2:44 PM

when i want to use control panel or windows update this error is shown.please help me.
thanks

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