Adware and spyware are the Jekyll and Hyde of the malware pantheon. While adware is big, bad, ugly and in your face – just like the malicious Mr Hyde – spyware is the quieter and subtly more dangerous Dr Jekyll, quietly taking notes on every mouse-click and keyboard tap. Either way, if your system gets infected with one of these nasties, you’re going to want them shown the door fast – and you’ll be turning to a competent adware/spyware remover to get the job done.
But when you’re looking to see which removal tool is going to work best, you need to be able to trust that you’re not inadvertently letting in a trojan – a software kit that says ‘remover’ on the packaging, but which is really a spyware or malware tool itself. That issue of trust is especially important if you’re wanting to get those infections removed for free. So here we’ve run through the top five adware and spyware ‘door-staff’ that you can trust – software that is happy to evict the troublemakers from your system, and which come with most impeccable of credentials.
Spybot – Search & Destroy is a true hero in the fight against malicious software, like adware and spyware. Not only is it a fully featured malware counterstrike tool, it is one of the few such free packages that isn’t a teaser for a paid-for version. That means you get the whole deal when you install this app, with no irritating ‘disabled’ functionality.
It is also something of a geek’s treasure trove, being loaded with advanced features and configurable options. Spybot S&D performs the removal job very ably too, and it was able to seek out, and destroy, most of the spyware and adware on our test system. The problem is that Spybot S&D is a little flaky. The installation often hangs, and scans sometimes freeze; moreover, there is no automatic update feature, which is really essential in this game. So although a good effort, Spybot S&D is certainly not top of the pile.
In contrast to Spybot Search & Destroy – which provides ongoing protection as well as spyware/adware removal – the free version SUPERAntiSpyware is only part way there. It includes only the scanner and removal tools, with the maintenance of defenses against evolving threats available only in the paid-for version.
But if a sweep and clean is all you’re after, then SUPERAntiSpyware is certainly up to the task. Installation and setup is a breeze, and the interface uncluttered and simple to configure. In real-world practice, SUPERAntiSpyware performs well too, kicking out the malware on the test system with glee. All-in-all a competent, if somewhat partial, effort, which most users will find useful.
This is a boutique offering that is growing in popularity, thanks to the simplicity of both the installation and use of the tool. Spyware Terminator handles adware and spyware infestations equally well, removing them efficiently from your system. It keeps its spyware signature detectors up-to-the-minute, through automatic downloads, and rarely worries users with intrusive pop-ups The one drawback is that all of this automated action can affect machine performance. If you have a system that is on the edge, in terms of speed, running Spyware Terminator may just push it over the edge.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is another up-and-coming anti-malware tool, whose free version is doing a fine job in ‘taking down’ security threats to your computer. One of the best features of this freeware tool is its speed – something that its bigger and fatter competitors would do well to emulate. Scans take a fraction of the time found with other tools, without too much slippage on the detection and removal rates, either. The detection engine seems finely tuned, such that false-positives are kept to a minimum.
The interface is clean, and flows nicely – in fact, it is, dare-we-say-it, quite pretty. Included in the free version are tools to kill locked files, the ability to scan files as-and-when you choose, and support for scanning across drives (even networked drives) in one hit. Unfortunately not included, in the free version at least, is any ongoing threat protection. That’s a serious drawback when you remember that tools such as Spybot S&D have long had this critical feature in their free versions.
>Ad-Aware Free Internet Security
Ad-Aware Free Internet Security is a real veteran on the malware eviction scene, first being used in anger last millennium. Since then, each successive version of Ad-Aware Free Internet Security has kept pace with the swelling threats from spyware and adware. This latest iteration from Lavasoft maintains that high pedigree, performing well at all of the malware removal tasks.
As you might expect – with it being a free version which has other paid-for cousins – there are some restrictions on the functionality provided for. Advanced rootkit removal is left out, as is the silent gaming mode. But the free version does include some sophisticated modules for identifying, and dealing with, ongoing threats. The Dedicated Detection and MagmaShield components provide this excellent under-the-hood protection, one of the best seen in the systems looked at.
This is an interesting one, in that it’s not strictly a malware remover. Rather than finding, and rooting out, threats which are stored on the registry or hard drive, RKill restricts itself to identifying and zapping malware running in memory. So why include it on this list? That’s because many malware removers have a hard time getting to grips with some of the more tricky adware and spyware infections. They often deploy countermeasures to effectively defeat removal attempts.
But RKill does a great job at cleaning out running malware processes from the memory, making those defenses, in effect, null-and-void. So one approach to cleaning stubbornly-infected machines is to run RKill first, then move onto one of the other free malware removers. So RKill is a handy package, well worth having in your antiviral toolkit.