Security

Spybot Search & Destroy: The Right Tool for the Job?

Many anti-virus software apps do a good job on cleaning up viruses and Trojans, but only relatively recently have they begun to effectively address the newer threat vector of spyware and adware. Paul Mah tests Spybot Search & Destroy, and decides whether it is worthy of a space in your computer first-aid box.

The Job

Many anti-virus software apps do a good job of cleaning up viruses and Trojans, but only relatively recently have they begun to effectively address the newer threat vector of spyware and adware. Which anti-spyware utility is worthy of a space in your computer first-aid box?

The Tool

Spybot Search & Destroy

As its name implies, Spybot Search & Destroy detects and removes spyware as well as adware. For years, it has been available completely free for home and non-commercial use. I put Spybot through its paces and to find out whether it lives up to its promises. Here's what I learned.

SpyBot Search & Destroy's strengths:

  • Huge database with more than 90,000 definitions of spyware and adware
  • Actively maintained database with downloadable updates
  • Simple download-install-scan for basic users
  • Powerful advanced features
  • Completely free

    Spybot Search & Destroy

SpyBot Search & Destroy's weaknesses:

  • Malware comes in many forms. You will probably want to pair SpyBot with some solid anti-virus and anti-rootkit software.

The Right Tool for the Job?

Although I would not recommend using Spybot as one's only tool anti-malware tool , it is an outstanding spyware and adware remover. I've made a place for Spybot Search & Destroy in my computer rescue kit. More me, it is definitely The Right Tool for the Job.

Read my comprehensive screenshot review of SpyBot Search & Destroy.

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

277 comments
wysetech2000
wysetech2000

I use Spybot S&D. Matter of fact it is asking me to allow or deny crap as i navigate around this TechRepublic article. WHAT A JOKE ! ~ Wyse ~

suziep12
suziep12

We used it for a while and then it sort of just dropped out of favor during a systems upgrade.

PC Medic
PC Medic

I have used Spybot in my toolkits since Version 1.2, and find it very useful. I use several different programs to include AdWare, McAfee, Kaspersky, Spysweeper, and others. I have found that using several of these tools in concert has given me the results needed to get the systems cleaned and functioning again. I look at it much like the CDC may look at Flu vaccines, by combining the programs I can cover almost all the problems and get the systems "immunized" to many of the problems out there. But you need to be sure of what you are using. Some of the programs do not "Play well together" but with usage you cn come up with a combination that works, weather it be free, shared or paid programs.

jsotelo
jsotelo

I have been using SPybot for many months.. i think is vey useful not only for the antispyware and adware functions, its advanced tools are very nice.. you can reach some specific zones of the system without entering the windows registry ( for uninstalling ActiveX, clean bad uninstall information , etc. ) As Cara said.. is the right tool for the jod.. but not the only one.. i also install an antivirus, configure the third party cookies disabled and maintaning windows update.

Zwart-Wit
Zwart-Wit

A true Dutchman As a Dutchman, who is always trying to get everything for free, I was using SSD for years. On top of SSD I always used Ad-Aware. If SSD couldn't catch it, Ad-Aware did. Hitman Pro was mentioned before, but nobody responded to this nice utility, which come in handy fighting those pesty programs. Hitman combines SSD and Ad-Aware. Checking and cleaning history etc etc. A great program working with several other great programs, among them SSD. Hitman Pro (which is free - remember I'm Dutch :-)) does the trick for me, if one of my colleagues come bye with a 'slow computer'. I've made my donation to the SSD programmer with pleasure. Just my two pennies H

FXEF
FXEF

Great article. I must say Spybot S&D is a great tool to combat spyware on a Windows box. However I also want to add that the best defense against spyware is to run a Linux desktop OS. I have been running Linux as my main OS for over a year and have yet to be infected with spyware or virus of any kind.

baud58
baud58

I have used spybot with pretty good results. I have had a few times with earler versions that would stop working. But then it wasn't long before they had a new version out with a fix. good software.

dsimp
dsimp

Over the years I've found spybot to be essential. Ver 1.4 is good, along with other utilities such as AVG antivir & antispyware and Ad-aware etc.. IMHO I purchased ad-aware this year but I think the free versions in the years before, worked better.

Mesquiti
Mesquiti

I am a computer networker & I also repair PC's .I have been using this program since I can remember.It is the best by far out there from my experience of removing Adware & Spyware.

labtrainer
labtrainer

The bad guys are brilliant. I am Thankful (it is Thanksgiving) that there are equally brilliant good guys (boys and girls) who produce products like SpyBot and make it available to us free or at reasonable prices. Imagine being without it? Would the Web be workable?

dennis_london
dennis_london

On October 29th, 2007 ZDNet had a blog posting http://blogs.zdnet.com/security/?p=618 regarding the Spyware market. I posted my comments there and I strongly urge every reader to make note of the fact that there are those who are perceived as "industry experts" who are completely clueless. I'm not saying Paul is clueless...as a matter of fact, he comes across as being proficient in the anti-malware market. I look forward to reading more of his blogs/posts. Here at TR we look to one another for advice, assistance, opinions and recommnedations regarding technology. Just as there isn't one complete anti-malware tool...there isn't one person who knows everything regarding IT. Best regards to all. http://ipsecevangelist.stumbleupon.com/

spencer.doro
spencer.doro

On top of SpybotSD, I also use Ad-Aware and Spyware Blaster. Spyware Blaster is not a cleaner; it is more like an immunization shot for your browsers. Used in conjunction with immunity from SpybotSD, both IE and Firefox are pretty well protected. You don't even need to run Spybot's TSR. In 5 years of using this on all my desktops (properly updated), I have never had a spyware infection (knock on wood). I like using Ad-Aware on top of SpybotSD because I firmly believe that if there is an infection (many machines I come to the first time are infected), one cleaner may not catch everything, but two do a really good job. The best part is all of these are FREE. I have worked with clients who have purchased spyware cleaner utilities, and in most cases, they were either spyware themselves or did a horrible job cleaning/protecting the machine. Why pay for something when a free util is just as good, if not better?

The Cars Forever
The Cars Forever

Hello, I have found that most free versions of Anti-Spyware/Anti-Malware don't do a complete job. At this point I use Ad-Aware or Spybot as nothing more than secondary scanners and use CounterSpy by Sunbelt Software as my primary. In the enterprise you can't beat CounterSpy Enterprise for ease of management, effectiveness and centralized reporting. On the single user side, CounterSpy Consumer uses the same engine, but leaves everything in the hands of the user instead of being centrally managed. Both tools find things other scanners don't, but rarely do other scanners find anything missed by CounterSpy. While not free, you can use it fully featured for 30 days for free. I often use the free version to clean a system that is problematic - especially clients. It is remarkable how many clients decide to purchase the product after they see it clean up a system that they already ran SpyBot or Ad-Aware against. Just a couple pennies from my mind, Chris

rcaddy
rcaddy

This is a tool that I have used for many years to solve issues with my clients. As it has evolved, it has become one of the tools that I use for preventative attacks as well as first aid. An outstanding product that is free, yes, but I encourage all of my clients to donate to them to continue their great support.

dmstenhouse
dmstenhouse

This is a good program and one I've used for years. But you should use it as well as Adaware as they both miss things that each other does find.

inachu
inachu

Spybot is not the "cure all" soloution. The program is really great(1.5) but it still does not find everything. I search for new protection software like once every 3 months as sometimes good stuff does come out that is 100% free and does either a great job or at leasts breaks the infection so I can clean the pc by hand. But above all else I say if it takes more than 2 hours then just save the data and reinstall windows. Sometimes you can't reinstall windows lets say if your company let go of your 200k a year programmer and the software he used was eitehr made by him or bought by him and you do not have the installer source files. In this case you must grin and bear it and use up to 7 to 10 different cleaning tools.

wizardb
wizardb

I hope all you people that have benefited from this program have sent a donation to the man who wrote it in order that it will still be there next time you need it?

spin2nz
spin2nz

I have been using Spybot S&D for a couple of years now. It has found and removed malware that other big name A/V programs did not find. In fact Spybot has become my leading line of defense. If you are not smart enough to at least try it out, don't knock it. Also for anyone considering using it, be sure that you get the real Spybot S&D as there are similarly named programs which are actually malware themselves.

aceinfo
aceinfo

The best tool for the job. I compare with others 3 tools , and spy bot always find something that the others did not.

dekonincka
dekonincka

For freeware this is one of the better tools that I have found. It removed a number of adware and popups that other "for fee" tools failed to do even with the latest updates.

Mike
Mike

What I find most useful about Spybot is that it works in Safe mode. This is excellent when clearing a clients infected computer.

RTedrow
RTedrow

I think that any company/product the promises "free download" and then delivers crippleware rather than -- for example, a limited time trial -- is a BS organization whose products do not deserve my consideration and definitely do not deserve a review in any decent tech forum. You ought to revisit this.

deepsand
deepsand

As for its "asking (you) to allow or deny crap as i navigate around this TechRepublic article," you're obviously using a product other than SS&D at the moment.

Mond0
Mond0

Once you're sure the system is clean, follow these steps for your best chance to stay that way: 1. Firefox: (Geek level: 3*) The only thing that Internet Explorer (IE) should be used for is to download a more secure web browser! There are several, but my favorite is Mozilla Firefox. It's faster, expandable and more secure than IE. You can find it here. 2. DNS: (Geek level: 7) Change the settings for your Domain Name System. There is a free DNS system called OpenDNS that will help block web sites that "phish" (pronounced "fish") your system for information. The bad guys do this by probing your computer for vulnerabilities, planting spyware, mis-leading, mis-directing and outright intimidation. You can find instructions for changing your settings here. 3. Hosts file: (Geek level: 6) Windows checks the Hosts file before it queries any DNS servers, which enables it to override addresses in the DNS. This prevents access to the listed sites by redirecting any connection attempts back to the local machine. You can use a HOSTS file to block ads, banners, 3rd-party Cookies, page counters, web bugs, and even most hijackers. This is accomplished by blocking the connection that supplies these little gems. Changing this file will basically send references to bad sites into your computers "bit bucket." You can find a replacement HOSTS file here. 4. Adblock: (Geek level: 4) This and the next five entries are add-ons for Firefox. Once you download and install Firefox, run it and then open the menu Tools > Add-ons. At the bottom of the Add-ons window you can click on the "Get Extensions" link where you can find this and other add-ons. "Ever been annoyed by all those ads and banners on the internet that often take longer to download than everything else on the page? Install Adblock Plus now and get rid of them." ** 5. PhishTank: (Geek level: 4) Firefox add-on (Tools > Add-ons > Get Extensions). PhishTank is a collaborative clearing house for data and information about phishing on the Internet. "PhishTank SiteChecker gives Firefox users a way to bring the community judgment of PhishTank (http://www.phishtank.com/) into their favorite browser, for extra protection against phishing..." 6. NoScript: (Geek level: 4) Firefox add-on (Tools > Add-ons > Get Extensions). This one will have settings that you can change on a per site basis and requires a more interaction from the user while browsing; the benefit is that web sites aren't allowed to do ANYTHING without your express permission.. "Winner of the '2006 PC World World Class Award', this tool makes Firefox the safest browser around." 7. SiteAdvisor: (Geek level: 4) McAfee makes this add-on for Internet Explorer and Firefox It does it's job at search sites Google, Yahoo and MSN. "Our easy to use software for Internet Explorer and Firefox summarizes our safety results into intuitive red, yellow and green ratings to help Web users stay safe as they search, browse and transact online." You can find it here. 8. SiteHound: (Geek level: 4) FireTrust makes this add-on. This one needs to be manually updated if you use the free version (which works as well as the paid version). "SiteHound is an add-on toolbar for Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox which alerts you if you're about to enter a potentially dangerous website." You can find it here. 9. CustomizeGoogle: (Geek level: 4) Almost all Web-based e-mail and other collaborative services just aren?t safe to use over public Wi-Fi. ?If I sniff your [signal] and get all your cookies ... I now become you, I clone you.? The one exception was Google, and only if the CustomizeGoogle firefox extension is set to lock Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Docs into requiring SSL encryption for their entire sessions.

RandyM55
RandyM55

You have people that feel it doesn't stand up to a utility that you paid for (snobs) Then you have die hard Techs' that don't leave home without it. My advice would be to sit down and make a list of utilities that you feel are worthy and you are comfortable using. I have six I use all the time and Spybot S&D is still one of them. I use it last and it always gives me the "Congratulations" message, so I may stop using it for a while. My others are working great. And cleaning the registry is very important if you are careful. There are so many good free utilities to chose from so take your time and chose wisely.

rpolunsky
rpolunsky

Just realize that malware authors go for low-hanging fruit. If Linux had the market penetration that Windows has, some creative types would have worked out ways to use the holes. I understand some MacOS malware is starting to be seen. Now back to on-topic: My only gripe about S&D is the amount of time my desktop takes to run through the 89,000 signatures. Yes, I haven't upgraded to 1.5 yet but I look forward to doing so. I use S&D, AVG antivirus and Ad-Aware monthly, and throw in a couple of other programs about twice a year.

deepsand
deepsand

Answer: Because 1) Linux is [b]not[/b] a full-fledged OS, but a Kernel; and, 2) [b]no[/b] OS is fully secure.

jeasley
jeasley

I have used Spybot since it was 1.3. I am now using version 1.5 which has many enhancements over ver 1.4. (Full Vista support for one) and by the way came out in Sept 2007. :-) I have a also have Norton Anti-Virus and Norton Internet security Which the antivirus defs ran out in March of 2006. The internet security is still updated. I run Spybot in automatic mode and have it configured for advanced features, also keep it immunized, it has over 62,000 bad products blocked. Have it set for BHO's Active -X, etc and run it every night @ 2am. I have it set to automatically download all new file sets runs and cleans any infectious files and usage tracks. I also have it configured to enable permanent blocking of all those addresses in IE automatically. I have resident "SDHelper" turned on to also block badd addresses automatically in IE. I have not had any piece of malware or spyware for 2 years now. Not one thing ever shows up. I also have LavaSoft Adware which I cannot run in auto mode because they want you to purchase their product before you can do this. I can run adaware, A2 Squared, or any other of a multitude of spayware / Malware programs and they also come up blank. So I guess if you have it confgured the way the product is designed, it is the best on the market free or purchaed. I know I have installed it on every member of my church's personal computers, all friends and families, they also now have no problems with their kids on thier PC's getting violated by Spyware/Malware. I can download the Definitions and the Full product keep them on a flash drive that I boot from, then run it on their registry hives and pick all the user accounts to be scanned @ once. Viola, a clean system. Wow it is the best, I would suggest that anyone that hasn't tried SpyBot and installed it correctly give it a try. What have you got to lose. It's free. They have great tutorials for thier product. Give it a try, I know I treat it like American Express. I would not leave home with out it. Also for anyone that really wants to help clean machines up, look into UBCD4WIN. They like it well enought they have it along with 120 other programs that you can bott from a cd with and run all their programs without any files on the hard drive active and no services running. Want to clean up an infected system fast. Try it.

Zwart-Wit
Zwart-Wit

Sorry posted my message in a wrong part of the thread. Hope I didn't break any rule, with reposting it h

Mond0
Mond0

They don't know it, but 99% of the time their machine is acting "flakey" because of spyware. About 40-50% of the time these users have AdAware or Spybot on their system and aren't using it! It's almost as if they think that just downloading it protects them somehow. :O First I download the missing freeware. Then I run one and show them what it catches, explaining what each infection is and why they should be worried about it. Then I run the other and show them what it catches, what it's doing and how the first one missed them. Lastly, I d/l and run CounterSpy. This always catches more junk even when the other two say the system is clean! This is when I get out my "you don't get what you don't pay for" speach.

trainingdept
trainingdept

Everyone has agood point, however speeking from a training stand point I believe that education of your employees is the key. Because even well intentioned people make mistakes and invite the nasties into their system I do use antivirus and other helpfull software to bridge the gap between education and accident. Since pushing down blanket security policies as well as defining a writen internet use policy and educating employees on both we have not had one spyware, adware or virus in 3 years and thirty five users.:)))

thescorpioillusion
thescorpioillusion

I use all three of these and have no problems with any of them. they all work as well as I could expect. Spybot picks up some things that Ad-aware doesn't and vice versa. I also used to use AOL Active Virus Shield but that discontinued so I have the McAffee replacement. ALL FREE I also have Autoruns and CCleaner but you do have to be careful with that sort of thing. Spybot makes a large part of the pc management simple with the Startup list and process list. Without it my pc would run a lot slower.

jdclyde
jdclyde

I have used it and it does a good job of finding and removing infections. What it doesn't do is give you a well performing system because it is too much of a hog, that it makes your system as slow as if you WERE infected. I removed the software and ran like a top. Would only install to clean, and then uninstall. Was full version, not free download too.

dirtylaundry
dirtylaundry

been using this program for several yrs and have donated $30 each yr - if I can donate to my favorite world of warcraft UI modder, I can certainly find $30 a yr to donate to this fine cause.

jwinget
jwinget

I've been using it since 1.1 and it has always been worth using in tandem with other products. A tag team of a commecial product and SBSnD rooted out a serious torjan issue for me several years ago and SBSnD has only gotten better. DEFINITELY a donation worthy product for the work it does.

Chilly Willy the First
Chilly Willy the First

For the past several months, when I came downstairs in the morning, I would glance at my wife's computer and it would be churning away. This past weekend I figured it's time to disconnect the "New Robot" feature that my wife picked up searching one of her many cross-stitch, quilting sites. I run Sygate Firewall, McAfee Anti-Virus, Winferno Registry Power Cleaner, Ad-Aware and Webroot's SpySweeper as well as all patches from M$ and hope that I catch it every time I try. It started slowing down her system to a crawl and so I decided to try again but this time I remembered Spybot on one of my other computers and figured I'd give it a try. It found two changes in my registry that it was un-sure on whether I should remove them or not. I clicked on the "more information" or whatever that button on the top of the screen is labeled, and let it dissect these two defects. It came back and said it was OK to delete. Crossing my fingers I thought, "Well, nothing else has worked" and hit remove. Each morning I look to see a computer sleeping, and it also speeded it up again. I think it?s "Worth The Price" :)

GlennT
GlennT

And if you would care to inform us of which products do this, we would all, I am sure, be grateful. However, what this has to do with Spybot S&D is unclear, as it does neither.

deepsand
deepsand

You obviously know naught of Spybot S&D; and yet, you speak. "[i]Better to remain silent, and be thought the fool, than to speak and remove all doubt." Abraham Lincoln

eikelein
eikelein

I agree with your general statement about crippled downloads. But this a about SB S&D. Please enlighten me where and in what aspect SB S&D is crippleware. IMHO it was and is REALLY FREE, that is no payment for the full functionality. BTW, I use it (work-)DAILY. NEVER had a freeze with it. BUT: With trojans being what they are now it's not only WHAT tools you have in your toolbox, it's just as much in what sequence you use them. Sort of like you gotta take the hood off before removing the engine. ;)

RandyM55
RandyM55

I've used Spybot S&D forever it seems like. But I have also used Ad-AwareSE and Spyware Blaster also with Spybot being at the end of my routine. All I get from Spybot is the good old "Congratulations" blah blah message. The other two work so well I don't believe I need it. As for you folks that put down freeware, shop around, many of the best programs you'll find are free. Have a nice day... Randy

Mond0
Mond0

From one die-hard Tech to another: So, how long has SB been in last place and what is in 1st - 5th places?

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

My home PC does all its scanning (AV, Spybot, etc.) between midnight and 5am. If you don't want to leave the PC on overnight, set it to autostart about an hour before you'll actually need it and set Spybot to scan at startup.

dsimp
dsimp

By coincidence I discovered Ver 1.5 this morning :) I agree ubcd4Win made with PEbuilder is an essential tool too. I put spybot and AVG antivirus on most of the pc's I fix. Those guys who made it: 'safer networking ltd' are in ireland! (I didnt know that) anyway they really do deserve a few bucks via Paypal for providing such a useful program. It has saved many pc's I've worked on.

JCitizen
JCitizen

When my Spyware Doctor subscription runs out maybe I should give counter spy a spin.

seanferd
seanferd

It really should be the first thing "installed".

spencer.doro
spencer.doro

As an independent consultant, one of the things I deal with regularly is the training and education of users. I work with multiple clients and different environments. Some clients are very concerned with security, and some are not so much. I can only tell them what I know. I agree with you that user education is paramount to healthy systems, but I can't always achieve that. so the next best thing is to have utils in place to try to prevent what can happen.

The Cars Forever
The Cars Forever

I did see CounterSpy run slow in the older versions, but not in recent releases. The system also has virtually no impact other than when scanning and even then you can determine how heavy handed it is (less perfomance impact = longer scan). If you found it of benefit, but felt slow it might be worth trying a current version and see if it is still slugish. Chris

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

has done this for me, but not with any consistency. Some machines it bogs down (3), some it doesn't (7). So far I have not found a common thread, but then again, I haven't really looked all that hard. 10 installs with 3 bad ones does not a major trend make, but it was enough for me to no longer recommend it.

deepsand
deepsand

As he's obviously wholly unfamiliar with SD&D, along with any number of other useful & reliable freeware/shareware apps, there really is nothing that he can say in his defense.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

If you switch to Advanced Settings in S&D 1.5, ther eis an option to scan on program start up. then you make a batch file ************************************** cd "C:\Program Files\Spybot - Search & Destroy" update.exe shutdown -f -s (to shutdown computer, or switch -s to -r to reboot.) ***************************************** Update calls the update function then starts the scan. If you just want to scan, use spybotsd.exe instead of update of course... The shutdown does not work right in Win2k, it lkeaves you at the "Safe to turn off screen" but there are several free utilities to do the job out there. I add ************* chkdsk c: defrag c: ************** before the shutdown command on my work computer. I leave the .bat on my desktop and click it as I leave on Fridays.

deepsand
deepsand

when it is, it's all too often quickly un-installed or becomes corrupted.

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