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I have no idea what happened, but suddenly I cannot execute any programs at all on my XP box. Trying to run anything results in the error message:

Windows cannot access the specified device, path, or file. You may not have the appropriate permissions to access the item.

I cannot run items in the control panel, and I cannot run "cmd" to get to the command line.

As well, many programs are missing from the Start Menu and Start Up programs are not launching.

This occurs for all user accounts, including administrative accounts.

The exact same issue even occurs in Safe Mode.

I am running Windows XP SP3.

Any help would be greatly appreciated as I am completely Googled out at this point.

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    Its very likely you have a malware infection at this point. Because your unable to run any command there isn't much you can do. I suggest you put your personal information onto an external drive and reinstall Windows XP. – Ramhound Jan 25 '14 at 17:41
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Unless your not too troubled in reformatting, which would solve all of that problems, i'd suggest recurring to a white-hat forum's and ask for help by creating a topic.

You can try by yourself first, by downloading Malwarebytes, running a full scan. You can also download Eset online scanner and run a full scan.

If the problems persist, it's likely you got a corrupted windows or a persistent and scanmode-undetected malware, in this case, you can still proceed to a white-hat-help forum or reformat.

Since you're using Windows XP, all programs run as administrator (unless your on a limited account), so, the malware (if it is) it's easier to spread.

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it is very likely a malware infection, but you will probably not be able to run any antimalware in this state. You can try to do so in safe mode or you can get some bootable antivirus media which will fix it.

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The executable may have been blocked by Windows, for instance if you downloaded it.

To unblock it, right click on the file > Properties > General > Unblock (button on the bottom) > OK.

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In my case cloning a repository using Mercurial for Cygwin messed up permissions. The solution was to use a working folder permissions as reference and change the repo's folder permissions to match with 'Replace all child object permissions with inheritable permissions from this object' option selected.

Windows cannot access the specified device, path, or file. You may not have the appropriate permissions to access the item

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