[Fix] Error “Windows cannot find taskmgr.exe” Opening Task Manager

When attempting to open the Task Manager in your Windows computer, you may receive the following error:

taskmgr.exe cannot be found - debugger

Windows cannot find ‘C:\Windows\system32\Taskmgr.exe’. Make sure you typed the name correctly, and then try again.

This error occurs no matter which method you use in order to launch Task Manager. Running taskmgr.exe with the full path via Run dialog will also not work.

(Go directly to solution)

Corrupt Taskmgr.exe file? Most likely not!

Obviously, the first thing anyone would do is run the System File Checker (sfc /scannow command) to see if the file Taskmgr.exe has become corrupt. Then you’ll find that the file integrity checks (signature/file size) using sfc /verifyfile and sfc /scanfile would come out just fine. Yet the issue occurs.

sfc scan taskmgr.exe file integrity

So what’s causing the Taskmgr.exe error? The “debugger” registry setting is!

The error occurs due to a “debugger” registry value set for Taskmgr.exe executable. This is either done by a malware. Or it could be a legitimate app, a third-party process manager which you may have installed and then removed.

process explorer - replace task manager - debuggerFor example, Process Explorer utility from Microsoft SysInternals team sets the debugger registry value when you enable the setting Replace Task Manager via the Options menu in Process Explorer. As Process Explorer is a portable application, you can move the executable anywhere. If you had deleted or moved the file to a different folder, the “debugger” registry value would still be pointing to the old folder location. Hence the Taskmgr.exe error.



tips bulb iconTip: Other legitimate uses of the debugger registry value

Here is a couple of legitimate and clever uses of the Image File Execution Options > Debugger registry value.

Malware connection? Could be!

malware bug iconIf you’re not using a third-party process manager and yet the error occurs, this could be a handiwork of some malware. Some anti-malware scanners alert you about the presence of the debugger registry value, sensing it as a possible hijack attempt.

Security.HiJack[imageFileExecutionOptions]

HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\TASKMGR.EXE

HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\TASKMGR.EXE#Debugger

While the Image File Execution Options > Debugger registry value is to give developers the option to debug their software, malware writers make good (bad) use of this key to hijack programs. See Malwarebytes Labs article An Introduction to Image File Execution Options | Malwarebytes Labs for more information.

How to Fix the “Windows cannot find Taskmgr.exe” Error?regedit icon

To fix the error ‘Windows cannot find ‘C:\Windows\system32\Taskmgr.exe’, all you need to do is remove the ‘debugger’, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click Start, click Run (WinKey + R)
  2. Type Regedit.exe and press ENTER
  3. Go to the following registry key:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Image File Execution Options\taskmgr.exe

    Look what the registry value named Debugger is pointing to. This tells you which program has hijacked or replaced Taskmgr.exe. In case of obscure file names appearing as the debugger, it could be a malware. Delete the value and run a thorough scan using Malwarebytes Antimalware or any other reputed malware and virus scanner.

  4. Right-click the taskmgr.exe key, and choose Delete.
    taskmgr.exe cannot be found error - debugger registry value
  5. Exit the Registry Editor.

You should be able to launch Task Manager (Ctrl + Shift + Esc) now.

About the author

Ramesh Srinivasan founded Winhelponline.com back in 2005. He is passionate about Microsoft technologies and he has been a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for 10 consecutive years from 2003 to 2012.

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