SolutionBase: Combine and conquer using anti-spyware tools

Many packages are available to help you eradicate spyware, and their features overlap to some degree. But understanding a few key differences in functionality will make it easier to select an effective combination of tools to handle spyware in your shop.

Anti-spyware applications vary in terms of features and functionality, and some are better than others at rooting out spyware. Instead of putting all of your eggs in one basket, it may be better to leverage the strength of several programs in your fight against spyware.

In this article, you'll learn about some of the more prominent anti-spyware products on the market today. Since there isn't one all-inclusive anti-spyware program that handles every type of spyware threat, it's a good idea to learn about the strengths of each application so that you can take advantage of the features you need to handle your particular spyware challenges.

Comparison criteria

Many anti-spyware tools are on the market today. We chose five of the more comprehensive packages currently available to see how they stack up:

  • Ad-Aware
  • CounterSpy
  • PestPatrol
  • Spybot S&D
  • Spy Sweeper

All of these applications have similar feature sets and do an excellent job of detecting and removing spyware. Any of these programs would be a good choice. However, none of them can detect and protect you from all forms of spyware, and each offers something that one or more of the other packages don't. So using at least two anti-spyware packages will build a better defense around your network than using one product by itself.

Table A offers a side-by-side comparison of the five anti-spyware packages based on 14 criteria.

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Table A

Anti-spyware tool comparison
  Ad-Aware CounterSpy PestPatrol Spybot S&D Spy Sweeper
Detection of spyware running in RAM  
Detection of unwanted home page changes  
Scanning open Internet ports        
Scanning the system startup settings for spyware
Detection of tracking cookies
Detection of key logger programs  
Detection of attempted spyware installation      
Detection of spyware-related registry entries  
Removal of spyware programs during system startup  
A detailed report of the system scan
The option to roll back changes made by the anti-spyware application  
The ability to update spyware definition files
Length of updates provided with the purchase of the program 1 year 1 year 1 year Forever 1 year
Cost Personal use is free; corporate use is $39.95 $19.95 $39.95 for the first year; $19.95 yearly renewal $39.95 $29.95

Lavasoft's Ad-Aware

The most popular product in the anti-spyware fight is currently Lavasoft's Ad-Aware. This application protects computers from various forms of spyware, including parasites, selected Trojan horse programs, dialers, malware, and tracking components. Although Ad-Aware does a good job against most spyware, it can't detect spyware in RAM, recognize when spyware is attempting to install itself, or detect key loggers. Despite these omissions, Ad-Aware is still a solid product. It has an easy-to-use interface and performs system scans quickly. Not only does Ad-Aware do a good job of protecting your computer, but it's also free for personal use. Ad-Aware Professional is available for $39.95 for corporate use.

Sunbelt Software's CounterSpy

The newest member to join the anti-spyware game is Sunbelt Softwareï¿?s CounterSpy. Aiming to become a major player in the battle against spyware, CounterSpy offers a full range of defenses and advanced features, such as the ability to detect spyware that's in memory, to remove programs during system startup, to detect key logging programs, and to recognize when spyware programs are attempting to install themselves. CounterSpy appears to be a solid product with an above-average feature set. It has a friendly interface, a comprehensive list of defenses, and excellent technical support. Its $19.95 price tag is the lowest of all the non-freeware products we reviewed.

Computer Associates' PestPatrol

PestPatrol is a comprehensive anti-spyware tool that can detect active spyware running in RAM and locate spyware during system startup. The functional interface and above-average frequency of definition file updates make this program a good choice for any anti-spyware campaign. The only weaknesses in the application are its inability to detect spyware during system startup and to identify spyware when it attempts to install itself. Backed by the vast resources available at Computer Associates, PestPatrol appears poised to become a major player in the anti-spyware game. However, the $39.95 price tag is a bit steep considering some of the shortcomings.

PepiMK Software's Spybot Search & Destroy

PepiMK Softwareï¿?s Spybot S&D was an early entry in the anti-spyware market and is one of the most widely used anti-spyware programs. Offering a full variety of anti-spyware features, Spybot S&D can handle just about everything except browser hijackers, spyware installation detection, and application removal during startup. Its most unusual feature is the ability to scan open ports for spyware-related activity. This is a valuable function if you believe your computer is sending personal information back to the spyware companies. Among the products we reviewed, only Spybot S&D supported port scanning.

Like Ad-Aware, Spybot S&D is a free utility that includes unlimited updates. In default mode, Spybot can easily be used by the average computer user. However, only more experienced users will be able to take advantage of Spybot's advanced features, such as the more sophisticated reporting options and automatic scanning. The feature set and price tag make Spybot S&D an attractive choice for any anti-spyware arsenal, especially as a second tool to supplement another applicationï¿?s limitations.

Webroot's Spy Sweeper

Webrootï¿?s Spy Sweeper is a popular anti-spyware product. This feature-rich package boasts every type of anti-spyware function, except port scanning. The simple interface and powerful features make Spy Sweeper a good addition to your anti-spyware lineup. The $29.95 price tag is moderate, although CounterSpy offers similar features for $10 less.


Used individually, the anti-spyware tools featured in this article will provide an excellent defense against all current forms of spyware applications. However, using two or more packages in conjunction will increase your power to root out even the most invasive forms of spyware.