Which is the best antispyware?

How do you choose the best antispyware product? Don't compare the products, compare the reviews of the products. This consolidation of antispyware reviews and rankings points to a top product.

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When it comes to comparing antispyware packages, the only right way to do it is to take a series of two or more software suites and install them on identically configured test machines. Then, run them against a carefully collected series of spyware- and adware-infested files with related signatures and traces. Or you could try some real-world tests and deliberately provoke spyware and adware infestation from known vectors. A more common...

real-world test would be to take a PC compromised beyond repair and see which antispyware product can bring it back to life.

Whichever of those methods you try will require considerable time and effort. In fact, spyware and adware mutation and introduction rates are so fast that by the time a set of such tests is complete, the basis for testing often will have changed. And because some antispyware vendors respond more quickly with signatures and clean-up code than others, many times the same package will fare differently in comparison tests simply because of changes to the test base that may (or many not) have been written into the code.

Bearing all these caveats in mind, I examined how leading anti-spyware packages fared in comparison reviews. While not all such reviews use the same collection of anti-spyware packages for comparison purposes, and while test bases vary from comparison to comparison, the same names keep popping up again and again, even if not in the same position. By aggregating the results of multiple reviews, however, and ignoring specific rankings, it's possible to observe which products are (or should be) on people's radar when evaluating anti-spyware software.

Thus, I present a list of such products in alphabetical order, where the ultimate source for this information is the a comprehensive list of anti-spyware comparisons available at ConsumerSearch.com. Major contributing elements in this analysis included relevant stories from Consumer Reports, PC World, PC Magazine, and Spyware Warrior (a highly regarded antispyware/security professional Web site). For most consistent results, I also included only stories that reviewed end-user/consumer anti-spyware packages (though the ConsumerSearch.com list also includes enterprise solutions as well, I skipped those).

Here's the list of items by product name that emerged from this analysis:

Product Name Vendor URL
Ad-Aware Lavasoft www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/
AntiSpyware (beta) Microsoft www.microsoft.com/antispyware/
CounterSpy SunBelt Software www.sunbelt-software.com
PestPatrol Anti-Spyware Computer Associates www.pestpatrol.com
SpyBot Search & Destroy Patrick M. Kolla www.safer-networing.org/en/download/
Spy Sweeper Webroot www.webroot.com
SpySubtract PRO Trend Micro Inc. www.intermute.com/products/spysubtract.html

Table Notes:
Ad-Aware and SpyBot Search & Destroy are available in freeware editions, and Microsoft's current beta is likewise free. All other products are commercial, for-a-fee software.

Of the products listed above, I've personally worked with all but Spy Subtract. Spy Sweeper and CounterSpy both also come in Enterprise editions, but I've worked with neither of those products. I can personally vouch for the efficacy of all the others, and believe my research indicates that all others I haven't used myself are nonetheless worthwhile candidates for consideration.

Word on the street is that Spy Sweeper and Counter Spy are the leading contenders, followed closely by Microsoft's AntiSpyware (which, although still in beta, often earns high rankins). This squares with my own personal experience. I've had good results from the others I've used, with SpySweeper and Microsoft Anti-Spyware my personal pair of products of choice. Remember that most anti-spyware experts recommend running one product as a real-time scanner and running one or more additional products weekly as a backup scan so that they can catch what the other cannot. Thus, prevailing best practice is to use two or more anti-spyware packages on a regular basis, and any two from the table in this story will probably make a workable and reasonably effective combination.

Read part one of this series on antispyware responsibilties.

About the author: Ed Tittel is the series editor for Exam Cram 2 and the author of The PC Magazine Guide to Fighting Spyware, Viruses, and Malware (Wiley). He reports regularly on Windows certification, security and development topics. E-mail him at etittel@techtarget.com.


This was first published in November 2005

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