Malware Scanners

Category: Security , Spyware

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?

malware scanners

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:

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...

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Most recent comments on "Malware Scanners"

Posted by:

23 Sep 2008

I'm really confused when it comes to these types of software. I purchased AVG 7.5 and have it on both my computers. It runs regularly, I don't pay much attention to what it does other than it seems to work as far as I know.

My question is do I need another software for spy-ware and a firewall? Can someone help?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, you need all three: anti-spyware, snti-virus and firewall. See also

Posted by:

24 Sep 2008

Your 'Stopzilla' link doesn't work.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Works for me... maybe something on your system is blocking it?

Posted by:

24 Sep 2008

I had the antivirus xp 2008 malware on my Dell Laptop. I did some searching on the web and found a forum on recommending Malwarebytes. I downloaded Malwarebytes from a month ago (late August) and that corrected the problem.

Posted by:

24 Sep 2008

Hi Bob, I was excited to read in your article that I could run Spybot on my iMac, but alas! According to this page on the Spybot site, Mac OS and Mac OS X are "Not Supported".

EDITOR'S NOTE: My bad... I read it wrong. Will fix the article. You can try MacScan at

Posted by:

24 Sep 2008

Malwarebytes which is still a good anti-malware scanners that you can swipe those badwares. It's provide good protection and also free but you can buy it too

Posted by:

24 Sep 2008

Hi Bob,

Followed your advice re. "Threat Fire"! Big mistake? Once installed, reboot took some 7 minutes? Couldn't go back to your e-mail because Outlook would not respond? Open control panel, 'not responding'? Decided to try another restart. After more than 15 minutes the system had still not finished shutting down and showed no signs of doing so??? Hit the reset button, when system reboots we're going' to uninstall! Takes an eternity to reboot. Then for some 13 minutes or so the system tray says that "Threat Fire" is 'initiating'? During this time, no other software appears interested in responding? When initiation 'appears' to be over, check outlook but won't open, so go for All Programs> Threat Fire> Uninstall, nothing happens? Wait, nothing' happens? Wait some more, still nothing happens? Try again, no surprises here, wait & wait sone more but still nothing happens? Go Control panel> Add remove programs, but won't respond, everything locks up. Again have to use Task Manager in order to close un-responding, Again shut down on reboot is taking forever, so use reset, re-boot into safe-mode. Remove Threat Fire via Add & Remove! Reboot, back to normal, all is fine again. Open e-mails no problem, and here I am?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sorry you had a problem with ThreatFire. It's highly recommended by many sources, but apparently it conflicts with some other software on your system. What anti-virus software are you using? That's the most likely cause.

UPDATE: Apparently there is some issue with ThreatFire and AVG8. See

Posted by:

25 Sep 2008

I had used Zone Alarm for years as a free firewall then when I got XP Pro went to ZA Pro with anti ad ware and virus. Also have Ad-Aware pro which has Ad-Watch. Have had some very good results with these.

Posted by:

Dale Bailey
05 Oct 2008


Posted by:

07 Oct 2008

At spybot S&D you suggest "You can also configure it to block ActiveX downloads" and "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. How can I acomplish those settings?

Posted by:

21 Oct 2008

I use ThreatFire and have done for a year or so. I had AVG Free as AV, but after a disaster when I 'upgraded' to AVG8 I switched to Avast! I also use Returnil, so if anything should get past Avast! and ThreatFire, I'm a reboot away from making everything good again. Basically, bulletproof.

Posted by:

21 Oct 2008

Hi, Bob, When I try to download "Windows Defender" I receive an error message, "A Network Error Ocurred While Attempting To Read From File,C\ etc.,etc.. Any advice? Thank You!

EDITOR'S NOTE: It's either a temporary glitch (try again later) or some other security software is interfering.

Posted by:

Rob Wells
22 Oct 2008

G'day, I second the recommendations for Malwarebytes AntiMalware product. We had a popup that kept on recommending VirusRemover2008. Avast! didn't find it. McAfee didn't find it. Ad-Aware didn't find it. Finally, after Googling the text in the popup I saw the recommendation for AntMalware. It worked so well, I bought it.

Posted by:

30 Oct 2008

Keep your computer runnin like new.

When you are searching for a great scan that can help you keep your computer running like new, I would suggest that you visit search-and-destroy. Here I found the antispyware solution from Search-and-destroy and it was exactly what I needed to protect my computer and eliminate the bugs and viruses that would make it run slow, freeze up and shut down. Search-and-destroy was the answer to my computer bug problems and it was certainly worth every penny I spent to have this great antispyware to protect my PC. Not only does it work great but it cost less than many of the other scans available

Posted by:

10 Nov 2008

I use Malwarebytes and Spywareblaster and I get "0" on Spybot S&D and AdAware (plus they take so damn long0. You got my 2 cents!

Posted by:

15 Dec 2008

I have malwarebytes and threatfire on my computer. I thought everything was ok until recently my computer started running very slowly. I did a full scan with malwarebytes, part way through the computer crashed, I did a full scan with threatfire and exactly the same thing happened.

When I do a quick scan they dont find anything, and my internet connection has slowed down a lot too. I have windows xp version 3. Help please.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Try a dedicated anti-virus program such as AVG, Avast or Avira. See

Posted by:

wildturkey a. bernier
20 Mar 2009

hey bob, every i "X" apage it goes back to desktop and i have to sign in all over again. i get a error signature iexplore.,exe ver.7.0.6000.16791 and sometimes dr watson post mortem debugger comes on and go through the same problem but as yet google is the only one that said they could fix it so trusting google for what i thought they were(trusting) and they loaded me up with down loads til they were coming out my ears. next day sameo sameo yanked it off and back to square one what now???? thanks a really wildturkey now!!!!!!!thanks and ceeeya

Posted by:

28 May 2009

Malware removal guides:

Malware removal Tech Support:

Posted by:

Debra S. Bartlett
22 Feb 2013

I had the antivirus xp 2008 malware on my Dell Laptop. I did some searching on the web and found a forum on recommending Malwarebytes.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Malware Scanners (Posted: 23 Sep 2008)
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