Spyware Stoppers Still Improving

At a Glance
  • Webroot Spy Sweeper 4.0

  • Sunbelt Software CounterSpy 1.5

  • FBM Software ZeroSpyware 2005

Spyware and adware continue to evolve--as does the software expressly designed to thwart these pests. I looked at new installments of three anti-spyware applications: a prerelease version of Sunbelt Software's CounterSpy 1.5, plus shipping versions of Webroot's Spy Sweeper 4 and FBM Software's ZeroSpyware 2005.

Previous versions of both CounterSpy and Spy Sweeper performed well in our April "Spyware Stoppers" roundup, giving me reason to believe that their latest iterations would do equally well in this round of tests. Both apps contain new capabilities, and of these, CounterSpy's DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) technology sounded particularly interesting. According to Sunbelt, DNR improves the chances of killing off resuscitators--parts of spyware applications that prevent their deletion.

A deeper, more thorough scan is now the default option for users running the newest version of Sunbelt's CounterSpy.
A deeper, more thorough scan is now the default option for users running the newest version of Sunbelt's CounterSpy.

My expectations were ably met. Spy Sweeper 4 demonstrated significant improvements, removing 88 percent of our target components (up from 81 percent in April). And the CounterSpy 1.5 beta removed even more of the adware and spyware in our tests than the program had in the April review, raising its overall effectiveness to 95 percent, improving by a whopping 10 percentage points from before.

FBM Software's ZeroSpyware has an immunization feature that lets you automatically block a wide range of known spyware.
FBM Software's ZeroSpyware has an immunization feature that lets you automatically block a wide range of known spyware.

CounterSpy's 1.5 update reflects changes Sunbelt has made under the hood, and the tool no longer uses the same engine as Microsoft's AntiSpyware product. Later on, the company plans to launch version 2, which will include a revamped interface.

ZeroSpyware 2005 performed impressively, too: It removed 86 percent of the target components and distinguished itself further by removing 96 percent of all nasty in-memory processes in our tests. By comparison, Spy Sweeper removed 85 percent of the target in-memory processes, and CounterSpy also removed 96 percent.

Webroot Software's Spy Sweeper displays an easy-to-understand scan report, so selecting items for removal is simple.
Webroot Software's Spy Sweeper displays an easy-to-understand scan report, so selecting items for removal is simple.

In addition to scanning for spyware that's already on a computer, each of the three products I tested provides real-time monitors designed to prevent spyware and adware from gaining a foothold in the first place. ZeroSpyware set itself apart here, successfully blocking all but one attempt to penetrate my system. Unfortunately, ZeroSpyware and the other two programs all permitted Web sites to be automatically added to my Trusted Sites zone.

CounterSpy and Spy Sweeper also allowed other potentially harmful behavior. CounterSpy let the ISTbar toolbar slip past its defenses; ISTbar then added itself to the Windows Registry and ran as an active process. Spy Sweeper allowed ISTbar as well, and also permitted the SideFind BHO--which can retrieve and install additional files--to integrate into my browser. In both instances CounterSpy and Spy Sweeper later detected and removed the apps during their next scheduled scan.

Though ZeroSpyware performed the best at preventing infections with its real-time monitor, I found that the positioning of the alerts within the application's interface actually thwarted my efforts to update and run a scan.

In contrast, CounterSpy launches alerts in the bottom-right corner of the screen, so they don't compete with the program interface and other open windows. Spy Sweeper blends both approaches. For known spyware threatening to infect, Spy Sweeper launches its main program window and overlaps it with an alert. Otherwise, it launches the alert in the bottom-right of the screen.

Usability Headaches

ZeroSpyware impressed me with its performance, but I was less taken with the utility's usability. For example, the update menu was difficult to find (it's hidden within the 'General Settings' menu), and some of ZeroSpyware's program options launched in a separate window that was often inaccessible, since a portion of the window remained outside of my viewing area.

One trick for disabling processes that resuscitate adware and spyware is to boot the PC into Safe Mode. Unfortunately CounterSpy's interface was too large at the lower screen resolution of Safe Mode, which made reaching the scan button nearly impossible. Both Spy Sweeper and ZeroSpyware performed well in Safe Mode, and Spy Sweeper has a special diagnostic version just for this purpose.

Any of the three programs I tested is very capable of protecting your system. Though ZeroSpyware excelled at preventing infection, its intrusive alerts might make it less than ideal for a heavily infected PC. Spy Sweeper, with its more integrated alerts, could be a better choice. Both ZeroSpyware and Spy Sweeper are priced at $30, which includes one year of free updates and free online support.

While both Spy Sweeper and ZeroSpyware put in a good showing, CounterSpy continues to impress me the most. Its new engine and improved technology offered up the best removal rates in my tests. Add to that its unobtrusive alerts and its $20 price (including one year of updates and online tech support), and CounterSpy is a clear winner.

CounterSpy 1.5

Sunbelt Software
Beta software, not rated
Robust detection and easy-to-use protection at an affordable price make it stand out from the crowd.
Price when reviewed: $20
Current prices (if available)

Spy Sweeper 4

Webroot Software

With integrated alerting, Spy Sweeper is a solid choice; but it still can't best CounterSpy.
Price when reviewed: $30
Current prices (if available)

ZeroSpyware 2005

FBM Software

Intrusive alerts and a less-than-friendly interface offset this app's excellent protection.
Price when reviewed: $30
Current prices (if available)
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At a Glance
  • Webroot Spy Sweeper 4.0

  • Sunbelt Software CounterSpy 1.5

  • FBM Software ZeroSpyware 2005

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