Best Free Anti Spyware Reviews and Recommendations
In part 1 we looked at Antivirus programs. This is a quick look at anti-spyware. Similarly to the antivirus you'll want one or more* of these running all the time, preferably one with heuristic/real time capabilities. These can be run alongside the antivirus, and protect more against programs designed to steal information, promote certain items and general espionage activities.
As spyware often doesn't cause a specific problem, as viruses are wont to do, detection can be problematic. Fortunately, the good people of the security world are there with many decent free and paid for programs for you to choose from.
So which one do you choose? There are quite a number of free anti spyware programs to choose from and the better ones are pretty much of a muchness. There tends to be a few percent differences on catch rate, a few minutes on scan time, a bit of difference on resource occupation and general usability and aesthetics is often user preference but getting the best for your system is often a bit of luck.
No Fireflys Here!
MalwareBytes Anti-Malware (freeware!) has a very good a reputation and I've been using it a lot lately for some very nasty stuff. It found and got rid of the TDSS rootkit and about 14 others infecting one computer.
It is also regarded as particularly useful for removing fake security programs. A growing form of malware, programs that masquerade as real security programs and either then tell you they have removed the threat or that are the threat in themselves are very problematic.
A common form distribution of these is where pervasive and often low level adware, not damaging in itself, tells the computer user they have x amount of spyware on their machine and to install program z to remove it. Program z often turns out to be at best a singular virus/worm/etc or at worst a dropper type that opens the network or machine to a serious amount of other threats.
Sometimes these programs directly extort the user by telling them they have x amount of spyware and that they need to buy program z to get rid of it. Some fairly legitimate programs operate in a surprisingly similar way. Although this is not exactly illegal, particularly if the program is correct in identifying spyware on your machine, some of them are possibly a little overzealous about it to try to promote sales.
Stopzilla is one of these a little close to dubious programs. The paid for version is by all accounts a full, operational antispyware program. The free version, however, merely lists what it has found and requires you to pay for the upgrade necessary to remove it. In light of the fact that programs like Malware Bytes and Adaware both scan and remove for free, and quite successfully, you may wish to avoid programs that charge.
Spybot Search and Destroy. Aside from having a slightly dramatic title, this is a thoroughly good program. It combines heuristic/real time detection of spyware with an in browser preventative measure and a spyware scanner.
This is quite comprehensive as far as anti spyware programs go and for me, makes it one of the best and the one I have running all the time. On a note of caution, its detection rate in scans is by all accounts, pretty awful, standing around 95% to McAfee’s 100% but because it stops a good portion of the nasties taking hold in the first place, it held a distinction among its peers.
Recently however, some other programs such as Lavasofts Adaware have started to follow suite and may well be a better bet. Unlike antivirus programs, you can run more than one anti spyware program at once so I have a second which I scan with on a frequent basis.
Not Bond (but very close)
SuperAntiSpyware. By most accounts a program very good at removing spyware/malware on your system that is quite deep-rooted. Although the free version doesn’t feature real time protection (the pro version does), it’s still worth having as a scanning program. It’s simple to use with obvious scan/update etc buttons and appears to be relatively speedy. It also has a boot safe function where it boots into safe mode and runs a full scan.
Safe mode runs with only minimum functions started on your machine and it is likely that spyware won’t be one of these functions. It’s easier for the programs to find the spyware when it’s not a running process so this is a handy feature albeit one you can quite easily run yourself. Although it might not remove all the spyware (if you have any) as the tag line says, it is pretty thorough.
A second program that stands a little above the others is Lavasofts Adaware. I used to run a combination of this and Spybot on an old machine until inexplicably, Adaware stopped working. Installing the program became very difficult and running it almost impossible. I suspect this is just an issue with my system at the time but suggests a certain lack of robustness on the part of Adaware or Spybot and that is my only caution with this program. They are known in certain configurations to interfere with each other. On my new system, I’ve had no trouble and with the new free Adaware which now also carries a real time protection. Once again this makes the list of fighting the good fight.
It quite clearly lack some features when you haven’t upgraded (bought) the pro version with 3 out of 4 defences in the Ad-watch real time protection section being greyed out but for a freeware program it’s still very good. I find it very system light, hardly ever occupying CPU time although memory is a little high. The quick scan is very quick, although the full scan can take a mite longer than other programs. Adaware also has a reputation for stopping processes known to be spyware with slightly more success than some of the other programs.
If you’re going to pay for a program, many of the ones mentioned above do a pro version, with more features, often including full real time protection of files, registry, processes and your network (ports, internet connections, browser pages etc). Unlike antivirus programs where you purchase a year long subscription, quite a few of these do ‘key purchases’ where you purchase a one off activation key and that’s it. Equally, if you’re going to pay £20 for a single facet of your computer security, you may as well pay £40 and get a security suite.
Unfortunately when you make up your mind to pay, a whole other branch of options opens up with companies who either don’t do free versions or whose free version doesn’t make the radar but who’s paid for security suite ranks high. Undoubtedly, if you pay and select well, you get a better suite of programs for computer security than combinations of freeware ones. This is only to be expected. Equally, with a little common sense, a little luck and a few key rules, freeware programs with good ratings may be more than ideal for you.
**Last note, both antivirus programs and firewalls store files that are regarded as at best suspicious and at worst a major threat by other programs. Firewalls also see the operation of other firewalls as a threat. Both types of program carry functions to stop them being interfered with or shut down without express instruction by a user. Don’t run two or more antivirus programs or two or more firewalls at the same time on the same machine or network or you will have problems. A firewall and an antivirus program run together should be fine. Anti spyware and cleaning programs, for the most part don’t have this problem, and although you are better off running each, one at once, you can have them open at the same time without causing the end of days.
For Antivirus, Firewalls and Cleaning and Optimisation see my other hubs, Parts I, III and IV below:
- Computer Security and Optimisation Part I - The AntiVirus
Doing my usual computer consulting for family and friends Ive recommended at least a half dozen of the best freeware programs for computer cleaning, optimization and performance, antivirus,...
- Computer Security and Optimisation Part III - Firewalls
Parts I and II looked at antivirus and anti spyware programs, designed to catch malware mostly by pattern recognition of dangerous code. The firewall works differently. These are programs that (basic...
- Computer Security and Optimisation Part IV - Cleaning and Optimisation
Parts I, II and III looked at how to keep your machine safe. This last section looks at maintaining general health, space and speed. General optimisation has its limits but is usually worth doing regularly....