Best Free Adware/Spyware/Scumware Remover Updated November 28, 2007

A couple of years ago most folks relied on SpyBot Search and Destroy and Ad-Aware for spyware protection. Alas spyware has evolved so quickly that these once outstanding products are no longer up to the task of providing primary protection though they remain useful as secondary, on-demand scanners.

The new generation of malware requires a new generation of defensive products. Such products need to provide stronger active protection and broader spectrum detection. The best anti-spyware programs, WebRoot SpySweeper, Spyware Doctor and CounterSpy, are all commercial products but there are three capable free products that I can recommend.

The first is a special cut-down version of Spyware Doctor that’s available as part of Google Pack [1], a bundle of free software offered by Google. Called “Spyware Doctor Starter Edition the cut down version lacks the full array of real time protection monitors possessed by its commercial big brother but still offers some active protection along with full scan and remove capabilities, scheduled scans, and free signature file updates.

Your second choice is Microsoft’s Windows Defender program [2]. Defender is the latest re-incarnation of the excellent Giant Antispyware product that Microsoft purchased late in 2004. Based on my tests, Windows Defender is not as effective as its immediate predecessor but still has solid protective capability. I tested it on several drive-by download sites and its multiple real time monitors provided reasonable (though by no means watertight) defense. It appears to be a little vulnerable to polymorphic malware in particular and for this reason I suggest it should be used in combination with regular on-demand scans from the free AVG Anti-Spyware. My other reservation about Windows Defender is that it consumes quite a lot of your processing power. If you have a modern PC this should not be a problem but older machines will definitely suffer a performance hit.

Note that you need a legal version of Windows XP SP2 to run this program. I’ve been told cracked versions of Defender that will run on any XP SP2 PC are currently circulating on the P2P networks but I’d approach those with caution. The idea of a cracked security program must be considered an oxymoron.

A third choice is Spyware Terminator [3]. Unlike Spyware Doctor or Windows Defender it works with all versions of Windows so it’s the stand-out choice for Windows 9x users. It’s no slouch either. Like Windows Defender it has strong active protection. Indeed with its built in HIPS system that warns you of any unrecognized intruders, it has stronger protection against unknown threats than the Microsoft product. This was confirmed on some tests I ran on drive-by download sites where Spyware Terminator proved to be impregnable.

Spyware Terminator has it’s own spyware detection engine but gives you the option of using a second engine based on the Open Source ClamWin anti-virus program. ClamAV is not the most effective AV scanner on the market but it’s certainly competent and the additional protection can only be a plus.

On the downside Spyware Terminator is slow to scan and can slow down your PC a tad though nowhere as much as Windows Defender. I’ve also heard reports that support via the free forum is poor.

Choosing between Spyware Doctor Starter Edition, Windows Defender and Spyware Terminator is not easy. Spyware Doctor has the strongest detection but it’s heavy on resources and its weak active protection is a concern. Defender is also heavy on resources but has reasonable active protection. It’s detection however is mediocre.

As of today I think Spyware Terminator has the edge as the best balanced product of the three but it’s difficult to see how free product like this can remain viable, particularly in a high support product class such as anti-spyware.

However if you use an anti-virus product with good active protection such as the free version of AntiVir you may well be tempted to go with Spyware Doctor. It’s a product with outstanding detection and removal capabilities backed by regular and reliable signature file updates. Remember though, you’ll need a reasonably modern PC otherwise you will take a noticeable performance hit when you install Spyware Doctor. Note: Spyware Doctor Starter Edition can be obtained via the Google Pack but you can get it as a stand-alone download from here [4]

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[1] http://pack.google.com/intl/en/pack_installer.html?hl=en&gl=us
[2] http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=435bfce7-da2b-4a6a-afa4-f7f14e605a0d XP SP2 4.9MB
[3] http://www.spywareterminator.com Windows 98-XP, 7.7MB
[4] http://www.download.com/Spyware-Doctor-Starter-Edition/3000-8022_4-10704508.html Win2K-Vista, 14.7MB

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