Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Spybot Search & Destroy 1.5.2 – An excellent free spyware and adware cleaner

Over the past few years, I've come to the conclusion that no one anti-spyware program can catch everything, so I use two of them on a regular basis – Spybot Search & Destroy and Ad-Aware from Lavasoft. I'll be reviewing Ad-Aware in the near future.

I have been using Spybot S&D for several years now, and have followed it through several upgrades to the current version, which is 1.5.2. Spybot S&D has a spyware and adware scanner that can be used to run periodic, thorough scans of your system, either manually or on a scheduled automatic basis. It also includes resident protection for Internet Explorer and a separate resident application that protects other browsers (including Opera and Firefox, two of my favorites) as well as important areas of the Windows registry. In addition, it includes an Immunization feature, that can be used to protect against the installation of more common spyware and adware.

The installation of Spybot S&D requires a little more interaction by the user than I care for, but it's well worth the effort. The installation program uses a wizard-style interface, and you are prompted to select the language, whether or not to install the resident protection, to download the latest update of the definitions file, and to back up your registry. Also, you can choose to view a short tutorial after the program installs – I would recommend this if you are new to Spybot S&D.

The first thing to do after installing is to use the Immunize feature to protect against common spyware and adware. After Immunizing, click on the Search & Destroy button and choose Check for Problems. This starts the scanner, which displays a list of the problems found while running. The scanner will take most of your system resources while it is running, so you should do the scan when you don't plan to use your computer for a bit. To facilitate this, the program includes a built-in scheduler that will run the program at the time and interval you select.

When the scan completes, you are left with a list of problems to be fixed. Each item can be checked or un-checked for removal. The program recommends that you view the tutorial for help interpreting the results. You might, for example, be using an IE toolbar that S&D considers to be spyware or adware (for more on this, see this article on the author's website), and you can un-check it if you want to keep it. After reviewing the list of problems, simply choose Fix selected problems, and S&D will remove the problems found. S&D keeps a backup of all changes made, so if you discover something missing you can always undo the change.

As I mentioned earlier, I use more than one spyware/adware cleaner. I use Spybot S&D and Ad-Aware on a weekly basis, mainly because both take a while to run and consume a lot of resources while running. To fill in the gaps, I use Advanced Windows Care Personal (look for a review soon) on a daily basis – it only takes 3 or 4 minutes to run, and does some registry and junk file cleaning as well. In addition, I use the resident protection provided by my ISP (they provide tools from Computer Associates for free).

As for the resident protection in Spybot S&D, I have used it before with excellent results, but it consumes too much ram for my taste (about 30K for the TeaTimer resident app). But by all means, if you are not currently using a resident anti-spyware tool, I would recommend it (I doubt if you are as anal about system ram as I am).

The author issues updated definition files on a periodic basis. S&D does not automatically check for updates, but there is a Search for Updates button on the main screen. The first time you do this, you will have to select which mirror you want to download from – if you are unsure just use the default. I usually check for updates every week when I run the scanner.

One note about the user interface – there are two interface “Modes” in S&D. When installed, the mode is set to Default. In order to use the built-in scheduler or enable/disable resident protection, you have to change the interface mode to Advanced. You do this by selecting Mode > Advanced from the drop-down menu at the top.

The Bottom Line...

While not for the casual computer user, Spybot S&D is a very powerful application. It is one of the best-supported freeware apps on the web, and has become a full-time job for the author, with people from all over the world assisting part-time.  If you are more of a “hands-on” computer user, I would definitely recommend giving it a try. Personally, I would like to see the install streamlined a bit, the user interface made a bit more user-friendly, and the ability to do automatic updates. But don't get me wrong – this is one of the best, if not THE best, spyware and adware cleaners available, whether free or paid. Just be prepared to invest a little time in getting used to the program. You can download Spybot Search & Destroy here.


Shiphire said...

I am a user of it and liked it!
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