capsule review

Safer Networking Spybot-Search & Destroy 1.4

At a Glance
  • Safer Networking Spybot Search & Destroy 1.4

    PCWorld Rating

Safer Networking's Spybot-Search & Destroy was saving the world from spyware before most people even knew what spyware was. Built in the proverbial basement, Spybot version 1.4 has on-demand scanning, real-time prevention, and detailed settings--all for free (donations accepted). The problem is that, these days, Spybot doesn't perform as well as other programs.

In tests performed by AV-Test.org for the "Spyware Specialists" story, Spybot performed worst of the five products tested. While detecting a solid 80 percent actively running adware and spyware, it detected only 2 percent of inactive threats. It disinfected a median 45 percent of adware but a far-below-average 20 percent of spyware. It also offers no protection against actively running rootkits. On the other hand, Spybot's Tea Timer real-time protection performed well in behavior-based detection tests. Spybot also successfully detected additions to HKCU and HKLM Run keys (Registry keys targeted by many malware threats) and changes to Internet Explorer Search and Home pages; however, it did not detect changes to the global startup folder.

Spybot's interface is deep with options, but its settings window buries within it a dizzying number of check-box options for file recovery, scan speed optimization, and startup tasks. Techie types who want minute control over individual line items might like these options. And avid readers with tech savvy may enjoy Spybot's scan results: They are full of honest, tongue-in-cheek, but somewhat technical commentary about potential threats. ("I won't call a saved IP in combination with a log of visited Web pages anonymous!" says the developer.) The dialog boxes also give you information about recent changes in adware policies. Unfortunately for those that need it, however, Spybot stops short of the bonehead-simple "Get rid of this" type of advice the paid applications give you.

Spybot also falls short where all free security programs do, and that's in free telephone tech support. Spybot does provide e-mail tech support--that's better than the free version of Ad-Aware, which doesn't offer any support. I also experienced an irritating interface glitch that obscured the buttons on a dialog box asking me (presumably) to allow or deny a change to a Registry file.

Despite the bugs, some PC users will continue to use Spybot out of thrift or sheer loyalty; but other programs provide better protection against current threats.

Narasu Rebbapragada

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Pros

    • Free

    Cons

    • Poor performer
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