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Spyware, spyware everywhere: Anti-spyware software

A look at some of the best anti-spyware offerings.

Recently, I was on the phone with Symantec Senior Line Manager Kelly Martin, who handles that company's various antivirus solutions. We were talking about various topics related to my forthcoming book when I learned that Symantec's moving strongly into adware, spyware, and other "non-virus security threats." Her answer to my inevitable "Why?" was that in the past few months Symantec's Security Response team workload has shown an interesting change in the mix of software and malware related problems they have to field. In fact, up to 18% of all calls or incidents have really been related to spyware, adware, or other unwanted software rather than stemming directly from malware itself. The customers apparently can't always tell what's biting them, but they do know when they're being bit. Hence, Symantec's move into this area. A quick check at other security suite vendors like McAfee, Trend Micros, Panda Software, F-Risk, and so forth indicates the big players in the market are moving in this direction pretty solidly as a group.

That said, the leading products for anti-spyware/adware (and most products tend to deal with unwanted software, track cookies and perform other common functions) don't yet include those who offer solutions for the "suite life." In fact, you can find some pretty good reviews and other good security information about spyware and anti-spyware software, if you look at:

  • "Antispyware," by John Clyman, PC Magazine, August 3, 2004.
  • "Spy Stoppers," by Cade Metz, PC Magazine, March 2, 2004; just the first in a whole set of comparative reviews and information.
  • Anti-Spyware Software Review: 2004 Anti-Spyware Software Report, by TopTenREVIEWS: rankings and information on up to 17 different products (3 may be duplicates of one another).

Based on recent experience the two leading products (freeware and commercial software) that get my vote (and everybody else's too, FWIW) are:

  • Spybot Search & Destroy 1.3: this freeware product just made its debut last month and is even better than the rated version (1.2) you'll read about in preceding citations.
  • SpySweeper 3.0: For about $30 a year, you can find and root out an increasing number (27,031 as I write this tip) of spyware, adware, and other unwanted software, cookies, and content elements. On tests I conducted myself, this product consistently found and was able to remove more unwanted software than any other option.

If you don't like these options, you might want to check out Ad-Aware (available in both freeware and commercial versions: the difference is manual update for freeware and automatic update for commercial).

Anti-adware/spyware software differs from other tools in that it's scanning based and doesn't always do real-time blocking or checking. You can install and use multiple types of this software on a single Windows system—unlike firewalls or antivirus software—as long as you don't keep more than one type running in the background all the time. I've read numerous reports from other users who find that Ad-Aware and Spybot S&D make the best overall anti-spyware/adware combination, when used in tandem with each other. For myself, I'm happy with SpySweeper on production systems, and Spybot S&D on some test systems.

Ed Tittel is a writer, trainer, and consultant based in Austin, TX, who writes and teaches regularly on information security topics. He's a contributing editor to Certification Magazine, series editor for Exam Cram 2, and author of the forthcoming Wiley book The PC Magazine Guide to Fighting Spyware, Viruses, and Malware. E-mail Ed at

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