The underbelly of the Web can be dark and ugly. Spyware, viruses, hijackers, drive-by downloads, exploits, pop-ups and other villains are constantly seeking entry to your hard drive. Thanks to all that expensive enterprise security software, your work computer boasts industrial-strength protection from these menacing hordes.
You probably don't enjoy this same level of safety at home. How many times have you left your laptop at work and used your home computer to get some work done? You may not be as protected as you think, especially if that home computer is shared with family members not as computer-savvy as you.
Without proper protection, indiscriminate downloading or even simply surfing the Web can offer an invitation to a host of problems. I've assembled an arsenal of free tools to help you combat these little sneaks. Unfortunately, no single tool can do it all, but there are specialized tools that can root out, clean up and even prevent these covert pests.
The Windows and Internet Explorer tools I'm recommending are free for personal use, but the old adage "caveat emptor!" should still apply. The "price" could very well be a damaged system for those who don't understand the consequences of careless system modifications. So backup first, and never make changes to your system that you don't understand.
With that said, let's explore some helpful tools...
Spybot - Search & Destroy (Safer Networking Ltd)
Spybot scans and cleans a multitude of spyware from your PC. The author, Patrick M. Kolla, and a group of student volunteers, are continually improving and updating Spybot. This is the Spybot, the original, not to be confused with imitations trying to profit from Kolla's product name. An integrated update feature keeps your system protected and uptodate automatically, or the user can opt for manually checking for and downloading the latest definitions. It's a fantastic piece of freeware – get it now. Highly recommended.
AntiVir Personal Edition (H+BEDV Datentechnik GmbH)
This free antivirus application is top notch and can stand toe-to-toe against any commercial personal antivirus product that I've ever used. It detects over 80,000 viruses and even found a macro virus on my home computer that Norton failed to detect. You can turn on the Virus Guard feature to stay resident and actively monitor for viruses, trojans, worms, backdoor holes and more. Naturally, it includes an easy Internet update wizard for downloading the latest virus definitions. The good folks at H+BEDV even offer a free support forum. This product is for home use only – get it now. Highly recommended.
IE-Spyad (Eric L. Howes)
As the name infers, IE-Spyad is designed to work with the Internet Explorer browser. This isn't an application, but a registry import file that adds more than 4,000 domains to your browser's restricted zone. You simply merge this file into your registry and these irresponsible companies can no longer use ActiveX controls, Java applets, pop-ups, cookies or tricky scripts on your PC. IE-Spyad can't protect you from every bad site, only what's known and on the current list, but being protected from 4,000 known offenders is a great start, wouldn't you say? Be sure to uninstall IE-Spyad before adding an updated version. Highly recommended.
SpywareBlaster (Javacool Software LLC)
SpywareBlaster prevents spyware from installing on your PC by disabling known ActiveX-based spyware, hijackers, dialers and other nasties. A database of rogue ActiveX controls is easily updated by the user, providing protection from new threats. The nice thing about SpywareBlaster is that it doesn't have to stay running in the background like an antivirus to do its job. This great little app is freeware for personal and educational use. Highly recommended.
Bazooka (Roger Karlsson, Kephyr)
Bazooka quickly scans your system for spyware, adware, trojans, keyloggers and other types of tracking bugs. It doesn't automatically remove anything, but provides step-by-step instructions on how to uninstall the offending component. Like the other products mentioned, it also features a one-click update method. The author maintains a very handy online encyclopedia describing every threat that Bazooka is capable of detecting, along with complete instructions for manual removal. Very nice. Recommended.
Google toolbar with pop-up blocker (Google)
Are you as sick of pop-up windows as I am? The free Google toolbar adds a lot of cool features to your Internet Explorer browser, not the least of which is blocking the dreaded pop-up windows. This one feature alone is worth the installation. And it's not all-or-nothing either, if you visit sites that have useful pop-ups that you wish to see, then a simple button toggle allows pop-up windows to come through. Get it now. Highly recommended.
Have you used any of the software that I've listed? If so, then page down and post your experiences in Sound Off! If you haven't, then give it a try and come back and post your thoughts and comments. Please, no vendors -- users only. Or feel free to drop me an e-mail instead. If there's enough interest, I'd like to share another list of equally valuable freeware with you.
This was first published in June 2004