The Results: Our Favorites
Webroot's $30 Spy Sweeper 4.0 removed 90 percent of the spyware components--the highest score--which helped make it the Best Buy among the stand-alone applications. We recommend this product if you already have antivirus, antispam, and firewall software. Of the three all-in-one suites, we recommend Panda Software's $50 Platinum Internet Security 2005. Our pick as Best Buy among the suites, Panda scored the highest of the three in total spyware removal and second-highest among all products, removing 86 percent of the spyware components. Panda also removed spyware without forcing us to make case-by-case decisions.
Among the free products, no clear winner emerged. If you don't want to pay for a spyware fighter, we recommend running more than one free program to increase your protection.
The biggest improvement came from McAfee AntiSpyware 2006 ($30), which nabbed 79 percent of total spyware components in our tests. Last year's McAfee AntiSpyware 2005 removed only 22 percent of spyware tested. Both spyware and anti-spyware have changed since the previous tests, but this improvement is still noteworthy.
Symantec's suite also removed 79 percent of total tested spyware components; however, it made some poor recommendations. For example, it advised us to give Internet access to the FXAgent Trojan horse, a keylogger activated from an embedded e-mail link claiming to lead to a Symantec removal tool. When installed, the resulting dlhost.exe file, which subsequently tries to access the Internet, was added to the Windows system directory. Symantec says that it has since made available a software update for the suite that would recognize this Trojan horse and eliminate it upon first contact.
The biggest disappointment was Sunbelt Software's CounterSpy ($20), our former Best Buy. CounterSpy removed only 66 percent of total spyware components, down from 85 percent in our last review. Microsoft's free Windows AntiSpyware beta also removed only 66 percent of total spyware components. The similarity is not surprising, since the two products share technology from Giant Company Software, an anti-spyware firm that Microsoft acquired in December 2004.
For this story, we tested the commercially available CounterSpy 1.029; but in August's New Products review "Spyware Stoppers Still Improving", we took an initial look at a beta of CounterSpy 1.5. (We did not test noncommercially available betas in this review.) This delayed new version, which Sunbelt says employs a redesigned engine, achieved good results and should finally be ready in early October. The shifts in winners and losers between our two reviews--spaced only seven months apart--indicate the importance of keeping up-to-date on threats and solutions.