There are so many malware scanners to choose from, when trying to protect against adware, spyware and other online threats. Which one(s) do you recommend?
The Best Malware Scanners
New threats to your computer's security, privacy and integrity are posed every day. If you notice your computer running slower than usual, if new toolbars have appeared in your web browser, if your browser's home page has been mysteriously changed, or you're seeing popups all over the place, your computer may be infected with spyware. Evil Hackers and data miners are all trying to gain access to your computer to chart your behavior and to steal your information. To protect yourself from these malicious online activities you need to secure your computer with antivirus and anti-spyware programs.
You're right that there seem to be a lot of choices in this arena, but when it comes to selecting an effective free anti-spyware or anti-adware program, I can recommend several that have proven themselves to work well, over the course of several years. Check out each of the free malware scanners mentioned below, and beware of rogue imitators.
- Windows Defender has been my anti-spyware tool of choice for a couple years now. In 2004, Microsoft bought GIANT AntiSpyware, which was arguably the best of breed at the time, and made it even better over the past few years. As you might guess, this anti-adware and anti-spyware program only works with Windows operating systems. It's included in the Windows Vista operating system, so no download is required. If you're on XP or some other version of Windows, download it via the link above. One of the advantages of this program is that it offers real time protection. This means that your system is continuously being scanned for malicious behaviors and programs. In addition to simply scanning files for known signatures, Defender looks for questionable actions that malware way attempt, such as registry changes. This is a huge advantage.
- Spybot S&D is a venerable anti-spyware program that's been around since 2002. This program works with lots of different operating systems including Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, XP AMD 64, XP Tablet PC Edition, 2003, Vista, PE and Mobile; as well as Linux/Unix and Symbian. In addition to adware and spyware, Spybot S&D can detect and remove dialers, keyloggers, tracking cookies and other bad stuff. You can also configure it to block ActiveX downloads, which are commonly used as an attack vector by malware. Updates for this program are offered only once a week, and must be manually downloaded. I recommend that you use the "Advanced" setting and customize your settings to have the program automatically scan your system and look for "unknown" threats.
- If you are looking for an easy to use free anti-adware product then consider Ad-Aware. This product is designed to search and remove spyware, adware, trojan, hijakcers, rogue applications, password stealers and keystroke stealers. Ad-Aware's free version has several limitations -- it doesn't offer real-time protection, access to their extended threat database, or technical support. You can get the Pro version for $39.95, which includes all of those features, or try the Plus version, which you can get for free, if you sign up for one of several "partner offers."
- Stopzilla protects your computer system by stopping adware and spyware from infiltrating your system in real time. This means that it automatically scans your system for all types of malware including viruses, trojans, adware and spyware. The database of malware programs is updated on a nearly daily basis, which is one of the main strengths of this program. If you don't have a lot of experience working with this type of program you don't have to worry, as it has been designed to be very easy to set up and use.
- Looking for a Mac OS X anti-spyware tool? Check out MacScan. This product searches your Mac for hidden menaces and locks down your computer. MacScan auto-updates with the latest Spyware definition updates, and offers a Blacklisted Cookie Scan so you can remove tracking cookies.
- Another free program that you can download to protect your system from malware is Threat Fire. This program was rated as a top freebie by PC Magazine in both 2007 and 2008. What makes this program unique is that it has been designed to work with traditional anti-viral software like McAfee and Symantec. This partnership will double your protection against malware, and will provide your system with "zero-day" threat protection. This means that it will keep your system safe from even the newest threats developed. AVG users, take note... apparently there are some issues with ThreatFire and AVG8. If you have AVG Version 8, read this BEFORE installing ThreatFire: http://www.pctools.com/forum/showthread.php?t=51504
Staying Safe from Online Threats
Keep in mind that none of these anti-spyware tools will fully protect your computer. You'll still need a good anti-virus program and a firewall to stay safe. Check out my articles Free Anti-Virus Programs and Do I Need a Firewall? for more information on those topics.
And one other tip, too much of a good thing CAN be a problem. I've heard from people who run several anti-spyware tools, along with multiple anti-virus scanners. One person told me he was running SEVEN anti-spyware programs. I can guarantee this will slow your computer down unnecessarily, and may even cause mysterious lockups or crashes. Some people argue that no program can detect ALL possible threats, so more than one is required. If you MUST have more than one anti-spyware program, choose one that runs continuously, such as Windows Defender, and complement it with another tool that runs MANUAL scans only.
Bogus Anti-Spyware Programs
But beware of bogus anti-spyware tools that actually open the floodgates of your computer to massive malware infestations. There are plenty of rogue security tools that look impressive, but are actually created by criminals to steal your identity or ensnare your computer into a spam-spewing botnet.
Be especially wary of popups that offer security tools. And never download anything without checking it out first. A quick Google search on the name of the software, or a review at a trusted site such as PC Magazine, PC World, or CNet will help you decide if a program is good or evil.
Do you have a favorite malware scanner? What's your anti-spyware strategy? Post a comment below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 23 Sep 2008
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Malware Scanners (Posted: 23 Sep 2008)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved