Everybody likes getting things for free. Fortunately, at ZDNet AU Downloads, there's a huge amount of good quality free software if you know where to look. But at the same time, there's also a huge amount of software that claims to be free but makes money in much more deceptive and underhanded ways. You guessed it (unless you've been living under a rock for the last couple of years); I'm talking about apps that come bundled with dreaded spyware and adware.
Spyware and adware come in several malicious forms. The more obvious ones hijack your browser's home page and display random annoying pop-up ads, and they can even choke up your computer to the point of crashing. Others are even nastier, tracking your surfing habits, recording your private information, and sending what they record back to parent companies to get you to buy their products. With some of these programs hiding in your system, you never know if your passwords, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers are being hijacked in transit.
The only way to make sure your computer is free of spyware and adware is to stick to a regular schedule of maintenance using a spyware removal program. Fortunately, some of the best ones are free, and if you use them regularly, you won't have to worry about anyone tracking your surfing habits. Oh, and don't worry: these free apps are actually free (no bundled apps whatsoever).
Ad-aware SE Personal Edition is a free app that scans your computer for spyware and adware and eradicates the malicious apps from your hard drive. This is one of the most popular programs in our library and for good reason: Ad-aware offers a slick interface that lets you update from ever-growing spyware definitions on the fly and gets rid of most spyware and adware fast. (Free/Windows)
Spybot Search and Destroy is my favourite of the group because, in controlled testing, this free app caught the most spyware and adware programs. The caveat with Spybot is that it picks up some traces, such as cookies that may or may not be dangerous. Even if you delete them, however, often it just means that particular Web sites won't remember your name before you log in (not such a big deal). For the comprehensive scan, I can accept that. (Free/Windows)
Spy Cleaner Gold is the only paid spyware removal program I'm mentioning, but it might be worth the money. I really like how this one separates different types of spyware into categories so that you know exactly what's on your hard drive. It also gives you extra information for removing the spyware that's rooted particularly deep in your system and that Spyware Cleaner Gold knows it can't get to. I think I might respect that kind of honesty enough to pay for the app. (Shareware/Windows)
Spyware and adware can be really nasty on your system and dangerous to your personal information. Get one or two of these programs and set up a schedule to make sure that spyware and adware don't get a chance to dig in.