Spyware is getting smarter. The newest threats are better than their predecessors from just a few months ago at hijacking your browser, watching your Web surfing, and stealing your data. Your current anti-spyware program may not be up to the challenge.
The good news is that spyware fighters are evolving, too. For this review we tested an array of updates and new products. Our test group included five paid stand-alone tools--McAfee AntiSpyware 2006, PC Tools' Spyware Doctor 3.2, Sunbelt Software's CounterSpy 1.029, Trend Micro's Anti-Spyware 3.0, and Webroot Software's Spy Sweeper 4.0; three all-in-one security suites--Panda Platinum Internet Security 2005, Symantec Norton Internet Security 2005 AntiSpyware Edition, and Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite 6.0; and three free products--Lavasoft's Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition 1.06, Microsoft's publicly available beta of Windows AntiSpyware (Beta 1.0.615), and Safer Networking's Spybot Search & Destroy 1.4. Though the suites cost more than stand-alone spyware apps, they come with antivirus, firewall, antispam, and privacy components (we didn't test these features).
While adware can be a major annoyance, spyware can be very dangerous, so we focused on the latter type of threat. Spyware not only installs itself surreptitiously in a system but can also download other unwanted applications without your consent. We collected dozens of spyware programs, including the latest versions of threats used in our last anti-spyware roundup (see "Spyware Stoppers,") as well as new malware. As a result, we can't precisely compare scores between the two reviews, though we can draw some conclusions.
In all, these spyware programs added 73 unwanted files to our test computer. With them, we challenged the anti-spyware tools' abilities to detect and clean up the components. Here is how the products fared.
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