Adware, key loggers, and other spyware can send personal information about you out to the wired world, as well as make your machine run sluggishly. Spyware-removal tools are as important as firewall and antivirus packages these days. We covered nine removal tools in our April 22, 2003 issue, but we never thought our last-place entry would improve so much within two seasons. Webroots Spy Sweeper 2.1 (yearly subscription, $29.95) is now a viable choice.
The slick new version sets up by default to run when Windows is started and will prevent your machine in real time from installing or activating spyware.
When a snoop is found, the program identifies and defines it to the user and prompts for permission to scan and quarantine it. You can then decide whether to delete it and other offenders permanently. Spyware you may have to live with is also identified. For instance, Spy Sweeper tells you that Cydoor Peer-to-Peer Dependency is necessary to keep Kazaa or a similar client running.
A subscription product, Spy Sweeper automatically updates itself with what seems to be a wonderfully current database. The program found a couple of spyware apps and traces that even our previous Editors Choice, SpyBot Search & Destroy, left happily running on our test systems (although these do not seem particularly malicious).
For Spy Sweeper to be most effective, you have to be aware of its settings and invoke the program occasionally. A little experimentation showed us that someone with access to your machine can install, say, a key logger, and then tell Spy Sweeper to ignore it in future scans.
Fortunately, if you pay attention during such future scans, youll still notice the installed covert app such as Spector or WinWhatWhere mentioned at the bottom of the scan window as being present. If you do see something there that you didnt okay in the past, drill into Options and the Always Keep tab to remove it from the list. A nice future improvement would be to password-protect the interface.
While SpyBot is still free and likely to keep improving as well, Webroots Spy Sweeper 2.1 is a tough service to pass up.