Do I Still Need Anti-Spyware Protection?

Category: Security

Do we still need both anti-virus and anti-spyware protection? I've always been told that, but I use Norton AntiVirus 2012, which claims to handle viruses, spyware and other threats. Is this sufficient, or should I still download an anti-spyware tool?

Is Anti-Spyware Software Obsolete?

For many years, it was essential to use both anti-virus and anti-spyware software. That's because viruses and spyware are distinctly different types of security threats, and different technologies were required to detect and remove them. But today, we have the more generic "anti-malware" programs which attempt to protect against all types of threats, including spyware. So do you still need a dedicated anti-spyware program? There are two schools of thought.

On one hand are those who say dedicated anti-spyware is a waste of time, computer resources, and money if you already run a good all-around anti-malware package that scans for spyware. The anti-spyware functions of Norton, McAfee, Avast, and many other internet security suites are just as effective as dedicated anti-spyware programs such as Spybot. So why pay twice for the same protection? Even if you use free anti-spyware alternatives, you're still running two programs, and likely impacting the overall performance of your computer.

On the other hand are those who can never be too careful. They probably have chain bolts on their front doors as well as locks. No security program detects all threats, they say, so it pays to have more than one line of defense against spyware.

I tend to agree with the first group. Anti-malware software has evolved to the point where it provides adequate protection against spyware for most users under most circumstances. If you are worried that some spyware may have slipped through your defenses, download a free anti-spyware program such as Malwarebytes MBAM, or Spybot Search & Destroy.

A Word of Caution...

If you decide to use a dedicated anti-spyware program, use this secondary security tool to do a one-time scan, but don't run it in "always on" or "real time" mode. Here's why...

I've always advised that it's not a good idea to run multiple anti-virus programs at the same time. Because these programs contain the virus signatures that are used to detect viruses, one anti-virus program may detect the other as evil, and attack it. In some cases, BOTH programs will go on the offensive against each other, and a "death spiral" ensues. This can cause your computer to slow to a crawl or lock up entirely. If you MUST have more than one real-time anti-virus program installed, use the program's control panel to temporarily disable one of them.

Some people swear by MBAM, and claim that it can find nasty viruses, spyware and rootkits that other programs do not detect. I've had some success using MBAM on badly infected machines, and found that it runs just fine alongside an active anti-virus program. I have not tried the "Real-Time Active Malware Prevention" feature in the paid version of MBAM, because I've never had a case where the on-demand scanner in free version didn't get the job done.

Here's an even better idea, if you think your anti-virus may have missed something, or you can't even start Windows due to a virus infection. Scan your system with a standalone tool that runs from a boot disk. You can load Microsoft System Sweeper to a CD or USB flash drive, then restart your computer. This allows System Sweeper to scan and remove any infections without loading Windows, or tripping over your anti-virus software.

I spend a lot of time online, and in the course of my research I visit a diverse range of websites to which most people are not exposed. My personal strategy is to use AVG or another of the free anti-virus programs, and keep MBAM handy for occasional "peace of mind" scans.

What's your view about the need for dedicated anti-spyware protection? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Do I Still Need Anti-Spyware Protection?"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

12 Jan 2012

I still install Malwarebytes on all of my machines as it has become apparent to me that none of the Norton's, Security Essentials, AVG's, Avast's etc. are unsusceptable to the current crop of Malware in the wild. I am constantly fixing friends machine (with Malwarebytes) that have become infected and the super duper antivirus software was easily disabled by the bad guys. Oh, and I have a Claymore land mine attached to my front door. No piddly chains for me! LOL

Posted by:

Chuck Johnson
12 Jan 2012

Hi Bob,

This is an interesing subject. For years I had used Spyware Doctor (paid version - spyware detection only) in conjunction with my anti-virus software (paid versions of McAfee or Norton). However, in the past several months, my PC ground to a crawl. I tested several changes, none of which solved the issue. But, when I got rid of Spyware Doctor from the mix, my system responded like it was new. It appears that Spyware Doctor (even in the spyware detection only mode) and Norton 360 just don't play nice together

Posted by:

13 Jan 2012

I like to use puppy linux from an apendable live CD on which I can save my initial settings. After that, everything runs in RAM with the hard drive & USB memory stick/s unmounted. No malware can get a foothold because it exists only in volatile memory, which disappears when the computer is turned off.
Anything which is needed to be saved can be done so by temporarily mounting a memory stick which is checked before opening in Windows

Posted by:

13 Jan 2012

Hi Bob,

I use AVG and it's important to change the scan options to pick up all type of spyware.

As installed, AVG doesn't scan for:

- all potentially unwanted programs
- tracking cookies.

Simply tick those options in the scan settings menu (or simply tick EVERYTHING!) to make sure AVG catches all the nasties.


Posted by:

13 Jan 2012

I use Avast free with everything set on high, and it works very well. I have MBAM and SAS for scans, but they've never found anything. Beyond Avast, I rely on Sandboxie. Should anything get by Avast, I don't think it's going far.

Posted by:

D.W. Whitlock
13 Jan 2012

I've been using MBAM for 5 or so years as my go to scanner. Maybe its just me, but MBAM doesn't seem to be the Superhero malware killer it once was. I have never tried its real time scanner because I hate paying for any AV apps. I use Avast 6 as my main AV with all of its real time shields running. I have several on demand scanners onboard that I run once a week or if I have a feeling I'm infected including MBAM, Super Anti Spyware, Lavasoft Ad Aware, Spybot S & D, Comodo, McAfee and Adware Away scanners. I check for rootkits using the powerful Kaspersky TDSS Killer. Malware seems to be getting more and more difficult to find and remove these days.

PS; When I had Avast 5, I also ran Threatfire and the two apps got along very well. Thats no longer the case with Avast 6 so I had to say bye-bye to Threatfire. Thats a shame because Threatfire is a very good real time scanner using malware behavior instead of signatures to find that bad guys.

Posted by:

13 Jan 2012

I use both NAV 2012 and MBAM together and have not experienced any problems. MBAM does find and remove malware that was missed by NAV. I'm sending this article to my friends and hopefully they will benefit from it.

Posted by:

Mark Madere
13 Jan 2012

I thought I read one of your past articles that Microsoft Security Essentials was the solution to all these problems - no need to buy all the other anti-virus / anti-spyware programs. Not true anymore?

Posted by:

13 Jan 2012

I use Avira for antivirus, but on the three occasions where my computer was acting weird, I was glad I had MBAM to fall back on. I keep it around and update it once in a while just in case. It doesn't slow down the system, and it's there when I need it.

MBAM has truly saved my twinkies on all three occasions!

Posted by:

Eric Bloch
13 Jan 2012

Immunet AV can be run with other AV products and provide extra protection.

Both free and paid versions are available here:

Posted by:

Barb M
13 Jan 2012

My question is related to anti virus protection only. After dropping the original Norton, I used AVG for several years. Then decided to change to Avast.
I recently had a problem with e-mail and took my machine to an I T. While he had the machine in the shop only 24 hours, he removed my Avast program and installed Panda. I assume this is okay but he did not explain why he did this. As I learned from the beginning, never have more than one anti virus installed. However, since removing AVG, I have wondered why all my incoming e-mail ends with a notation that "NO VIRUS FOUND CHECKED BY AVG" Can you give me an explanation for this message?
Thank you.

Posted by:

13 Jan 2012

Here is what I advise my customers and I haven't had to clean up a computer in months.
Install Avast, Spybot, SuperAntiSpyware, Malwarebytes and WOT (web of trust).
Avast runs all the time. Once a week manually scan with all 3 antispyware programs. One at a time.
And only go to the All Green sites that WOT says is safe.
Works like a charm, doesn't slow systems down.
Happy customers.

Posted by:

14 Jan 2012

On MY System with this tried-and-true Formula:

1. Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE)
2. Malwarebytes (MBAM)
3. Spybot Search and Destroy (one-time scan as needed after an update)
4. Comodo Firewall-only component
5. Sandboxie (computer shield)

The above-named applications work VERY WEll together on my Windows 7 (64-bit) Laptop!!! I Highly recommend these.

Posted by:

14 Jan 2012

Timely update. Well I use Avast free and zone alarm fire wall for one laptop and I use Kaspersky for the other. ...well both give good protection. I tried AVG free edition as well.. but Avast is better. If you are using free Antivirus one use free firewall as well. I had a problem with spyware longtime back and as you said I used Spybot. .it was superb.. But I used the on demand scan not realtime one. ..

Posted by:

16 Jan 2012

Updated to newer version of MBAM ( the last few weeks and it locks-up during scans; freezes the entire system. Running XP/SP3 on a laptop with Norton360 and Windows Defender.(New MBAM seems fine on my wife's Windows7 desktop.) I tried using their MBAM removal tool, rebooting, downloading/installing again, etc; no luck. About ready to dump MBAM; maybe will try Spybot...

Posted by:

16 Jan 2012

I have used AVG on my home computers for years with no problems. But recently my work laptop, with it's commercial versions loaded, came up with a problem. So I loaded MBAM, updated it, and it cleaned it right up.
I didn't have AVG on my work laptop since I believe you can't have it and commercial versions on there at the same time.
Thanks for all the good info.

Posted by:

22 Jan 2012

I o alot of repair/cleanup work for seniors in my area and I use primarily Microsoft Security Essentials for anti-virus and then up to 5 malware programs (i/obit, malwarebytes, spybot, super-anti, a-squared) along with Ccleaner to get all the garbage out. I have had occassions that all the malware programs have found some nasties. Generally if Ccleaner finds alot then the malware programs will as well. Sometimes it is just amazing what a little registry and startup folder cleanup will do for a machine. The only one I leave running all the time is MSE antvirus otherwise the system gets to bogged down. So my rational is to use em but on an as needed basis.

Posted by:

06 Apr 2013

I use Malwarebytes, Avast, and Spybot Search & Destroy on my pc. The Avast is my real time protection, Spybot S&D is used for scanning and for its immunize feature. Malwarebytes is for scanning only and I even changed Malwarebytes service so it only comes on when I run malwarebytes (so its not taking up resources when not in use) but I always restart my pc after I am done running scans (that way Malwarebytes service is turned off again).

Posted by:

04 Jun 2014

I make a living maintaining Windows computers. I've caught a LOT of virus's and malware with Spybot and Malwarebytes that Norton or McAffee or Avast or Avira or AVG or ..., have missed. These 2 programs have become real work horses in my tool kit. There are other malware programs that do a good job, too. I would NEVER rely on an Internet Security suite (Norton, McAffee, etc.) exclusively. Wish I could, but the track record sucks.

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