- includes secure file shredder
- has a list of opt-out addresses
- provides details on possible ad-serving items identified on your PC.
- Limited support options
- no wizards or tool explanations at start-up.
For years, removing ad-serving software (often called adware or spyware) from your desktop has been the job of one product: Ad-aware by Lavasoft. But there's a new game in town. PepiMK Software's Spybot offers a wealth of useful features that, frankly, should send Lavasoft back to the drawing board. Spybot delivers useful tools such as an email list of opt-out addresses to stop unwanted solicitations and a file shredder to securely overwrite unwanted files deleted from your PC -- all of which Ad-aware Standard Edition lacks. Best of all, Spybot does it all for free. For protection against ad-serving software, Trojan horses and other means of tracking your surfing habits, get Spybot immediately.
Setup & interface
Spybot Search and Destroy is available only as a free 2.31MB download; there's no boxed version. The program installs in a flash and automatically places an icon on your desktop for quick access. Before starting, there's a legal disclaimer that says if you remove advertising robots (or spybots) from your computer with Spybot, you may not be able to continue using the host program. Chances are, if you download a freeware product, the end-user license agreement says that you agree to the advertising placed on your computer as a result. Removing it with Spybot may make the freeware unusable. Although the two products do basically the same thing, this disclaimer is missing from Ad-aware. Spybot's interface itself is straightforward: buttons along the left side allow access to Spybot's many features, while the large main section provides details, such as the individual languages available or the results of a spybot search of your hard drive. When you launch the program after installation, you'll be reminded to update the program for the latest version. Next, Spybot opens to a settings screen that offers a variety of choices -- such as removing cookies, Trojan horses, and usage tracking -- without a wizard to assist the end user. Also, the overall terminology is a little confusing at first; for example, to run Spybot's various scans, you must click a button that says Check For Problems (instead of the more intuitive Start). While Spybot Search and Destroy is running, a countdown clock in the lower right-hand corner first estimates the duration of the scan, then counts down to completion.
When Spybot finishes scanning for suspected ad-serving software and other Internet maladies, it produces a listing with a check box beside each item to remove or keep it. Unsure how to proceed? Simply click an item for a detailed explanation of what it is, what company issued the item, and a recommendation from Spybot. Better yet, if you decide to keep the ad component on your computer, you also have the option to exclude it from future searches. Moving down the left-hand navigation, the Settings button accesses language, file sets, directories, and skins. Unlike Ad-aware, Spybot Search and Destroy has the option to run in one of 25 languages, including Magyar and two dialects of Russian. The file sets detail all of the functions that Spybot can perform, such as checking for Trojan horses or usage tracking. For safety, though, you'll want to keep them all enabled and override the search results from time to time. Settings are the options that you are presented with the first time you load Spybot, but they won't make sense until you've run the program on your computer a few times. For example, you may decide you want to run Spybot every time you reboot your computer, or you might want to speed up its scanning to the fastest-possible setting. The Directories tool allows you to specify your download directory path so that Spybot will always check freshly downloaded files for spying software (often found with freeware and some shareware). The Skins option allows you to change the look and feel of Spybot, although at the moment there are few options available in English. Click the Excludes button, and you'll find tabbed settings that let you block cookies, diallers, hijackers, keyloggers (keystroke-logging software), malware (such as the Friendly Greetings email) and Trojan horses (such as Klez, Sobig, and Benjamin). For example, under Cookies, you'll find a current list of cookies on your PC, with an option to delete them. The free version of Ad-aware does not do this. From within the Tools button, you'll find a file shredder, which allows you to delete a file safely from your computer by overwriting it with random data from 1 to 99 times. There's also a list of ActiveX components, which are scripts, specific to your computer, that run within Internet Explorer. Spybot will generate a very detailed list of ActiveX components currently installed on your machine, which provides you with details but no option to remove them. The process list replicates information that the Windows Task Menu shows you, and System Startup shows you what's running when you start Windows. Finally, there's a handy Report feature to see all of the above in either a log file or a printout. The coolest option in Spybot lies within the Online button, where you'll find a list of opt-out email addresses that should stop you from getting solicitations from ad vendors. Spybot's list includes just about everyone, from DoubleClick to Yahoo; this list alone is a valuable asset on any PC. Double-click any of the names, and a blank email message opens, with the company's opt-out address automatically filled in, making it easy to untangle yourself from the mess of junk mail associated with ad-serving software. Within the Online button, there are options to update Spybot, access the company's Web site for the latest product news, or file a bug report with the author.
Service & support
PepiMK Software is based in Germany, but no technical-support phone number is provided. The Spybot site offers email support, but our test email was never answered. Although Spybot was developed and is maintained by only one person, the help file is nevertheless pretty complete. Also, the Web site contains a basic FAQ. There are a few undocumented features in Spybot Search and Destroy, but there are also a great many useful tools that are quite self-explanatory.
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