What to look for in an anti-spyware package


PCTools' Spyware Doctor

Nearly all anti-spyware packages have a one-off purchase cost plus regular subscription renewal costs. Stand-alone anti-spyware packages can be purchased online for between US$15 and US$40, and subscription renewals can range from US$10 to US$30 per year.

If you're looking to save money, however, there are some free solutions available -- and unlike many free solutions, they're not at all bad. Lavasoft offers a trimmed down version of Ad-Aware, for instance, called Ad-aware SE Personal Edition, for free. Microsoft is also currently allowing users to download the beta of its anti-spyware tool for free. The best known free anti-spyware software, however, is the excellent Spybot: Search and Destroy, which has more features and a better spyware database than many paid solutions.

Many of the paid applications available will have demonstration versions available for download from the vendor's Web site. We recommend always trying before you buy when it comes to anti-spyware. Not all programs are up to scratch.

Spyware Removal

Of course the most important feature of an anti-spyware package is its ability to find and remove spyware. How well it does this is heavily dependent on the quality of its detection database and on the scope of detection. The good news is that all of the popular anti-spyware packages have developed quite comprehensive spyware databases, but there is yet no official benchmark for detection rates of anti-spyware packages.

Detection methods are a key quality indicator. An anti-spyware package that supports drive scans, memory scans and registry scans will catch most spyware.

There are important differences in the removal techniques of anti-spyware packages. Most simply immediately delete the offending registry keys, close any processes in memory and delete all the associated files and directories on the hard disk. Some first try to run the Windows uninstall routine for the spyware package. A good package will use a delete-on-reboot system for files that refuse to be deleted during runtime.

It's a good idea to look for anti-spyware with a quarantine and recovery system. A scan may produce false positives, or, more likely, delete spyware that you find you need. Many applications that are bundled with spyware will perform a check to see if the spyware is still installed, and will not function if you have deleted the spyware from your system. If that's the case, you can either choose to live with the spyware or without the desired software. If you choose the former, a recovery system will allow you to restore the spyware to its former glory. (Some anti-spyware software does come with known workarounds for dependency checks, in order to make the software think its associated spyware is still installed when it is not.)

Good anti-spyware also has a white-list system. If you decide to keep a particular piece of spyware on your system, you don't want it setting off alarms every time you perform an anti-spyware scan. A white-list system works like a firewall's allow/disallow system -- you indicate that you've allowed this spyware, and the anti-spyware will not ask again if you want to delete it.

So, the questions to ask about the anti-spyware removal system include:

  • Does it remove all files and directories associated with the spyware?
  • Does it remove Windows registry keys?
  • Does it remove the spyware from the Windows uninstall list?
  • Does it offer a reboot option if it can't delete files?
  • Does it offer a restoration feature if I want to re-instate the removed software?
  • Can I tell it not to detect a given piece of spyware in the future?
  • Can I customise what it scans?

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

PC World Staff

PC World
Show Comments


Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >



Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >


Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers


This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang


It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries


As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr


The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?