As if the recent proliferation of viruses and worms werent enough, now spyware and adware—including programs that can hijack your browser and track your behavior—pose a fast-increasing threat. And while traditional antivirus and Internet security suites make some effort to combat spyware, the most effective tools weve found to date have been standalone, single-purpose products such as Webroots Spy Sweeper. Now McAfee has released a standalone spyware protection tool of its own: McAfee AntiSpyware.
In our testing, McAfees spyware detection and removal functions placed it among the best antispyware tools weve tested, although (as with others) it still encountered infestations it couldnt eliminate. That said, on the whole we still prefer Spy Sweeper, because McAfees entry is limited in the guidance it provides and doesnt include scans for tracking cookies.
When we visited sites and downloaded software that tried to infect our test-bed systems with spyware, AntiSpyware was quite effective at identifying threats nearly in real time; it equaled Spy Sweeper in this regard. In most cases it alerted us either as soon as we finished downloading or, at the latest, shortly after we completed the installation. That stands in appealing contrast to less-capable antispyware software weve tested, which generally detects infestations only when you get around to running a scan.
When McAfee AntiSpyware presents a spyware alert, which pops up above your system tray, you can choose either to initiate a scan or to indicate that you trust the software in question. Unfortunately, unlike products like Spy Sweeper and PestPatrol, McAfee AntiSpyware doesnt provide any guidance to help you make an informed choice about whether to allow the spyware or not. (Unlike viruses and worms, some adware and spyware inhabits a gray area; some software you may have downloaded willingly will cease to function if its embedded adware is disabled, for example.)
Similarly, when you perform an on-demand scan for spyware, McAfee lists the suspicious items it detects, but clicking the Details button shows only a cryptic list of “traces” like suspicious Registry keys—information thats not likely to be helpful to nonexpert users. Wed like to see a more clearly delineated threat level and description of the programs in question. (The company says this is planned for a future release.)
The program successfully detected and removed most infestations we planted on our systems, but like other such utilities weve tested, it was unable to subdue a few wily spyware components such as Cydoor and RedV that resurrected themselves following each reboot. So while we havent yet found a tool to make a PC truly impregnable to spyware, McAfee AntiSpyware provides a solid addition to your defenses—provided that you dont mind its lack of threat information and dont worry about scanning for tracking cookies.