security/robber.jpgSpyware has become an epidemic with millions and millions of computers currently contaminated. An infected computer can be a security nightmare for the computer owner as personal information is silently sent from the computer. Spyware can also cause a computer to malfunction.

Can’t access any Web sites? It could be spyware. Computer slowing down? It could be spyware. For a more detailed explanation of spyware, see my article, Understanding Spyware.

After learning about spyware, you will want to eliminate it from your computer as quickly as possible. There are two excellent programs for detecting and eliminating spyware: LavaSoft’s Ad-aware and PepiMK Software’s  Spybot Search and Destroy. The main function of these programs is to find and remove spyware. Each program does this admirably, but each has its own unique interface and methodology. Both programs are free downloads and both installed quickly and easily. Both scan the memory, registry, and hard drives for the presence of system invaders (spyware). They both check your computer contents against a comprehensive database of ad programs, spyware, and other undesirable nasty parasites,

I liked the simplicity of Ad-aware’s main screen. It includes obvious buttons labeled “Status”, “Scan Now”, and “Ad Watch”.  The help file is truly helpful. Unfortunately, many of the items explained in the help file are only available in the paid version. Also many items are inaccessible (grayed out) and when you click on some of the buttons you get a message saying that particular function is available only in the upgrade version. Translate that to mean you need to upgrade to the professional version which costs $39 or the plus version which is $26.95. The ability to scan downloads and/or schedule automatic scans is available only in the these paid versions.

Spybot Search and Destroy uses an interface that is functional but not as clear as Ad-aware’s. You may have to read the help file to get started and unfortunately it is not as well-written as Ad-Aware’s. Spybot, however, has many features in its free version that are lacking in Ad-Adware. The Secure Shredder will completely destroy files that you want to remove from your computer. The Hosts File option can be used to block adware servers from your computer, the System Startup lets you review which applications load when you start your computer, and a pop-up ad blocker is also included. The free version also lets you monitor downloaded files for spyware. Another nicety is that you are never badgered to purchase an advanced version. Everything is included in the free version and the author only asks that you send him financial support if want to because you like and use the program. Spybot has an easy mode and an advanced mode, but you have to choose the mode before you start the program and cannot switch between them once the program is running. Using the advanced mode gives you much more control over the program’s many features, but expect to spend some time learning the program’s ins and outs.

Both Ad-Aware and Spybot work by comparing your files to their database of known spyware. So both should be updated on a regular basis, probably weekly. In my testing I found that Spybot sometimes found spyware that Ad-Aware missed and vice-versa. You can run both on the same computer if you want to be sure that you are fully covered, but I would suggest that you pick one and use it regularly. Ad-Aware might be better for neophyte users. Sypbot is excellent for intermediate to advanced computer users who are willing to spend some time learning the program.

Manufacturer:  LavaSoft, PepiMK

Price:  basic programs FREE