Spy Sweeper: Decontamination at Your Service

By Adam Stone | Posted March 22, 2005

Adware, malware, Trojans, keyloggers, system monitors — they're all continually snooping and sniffing, seeking to sneak past your defenses and potentially destabilize your sensitive data.

Analysts estimate 60 percent of companies have unsolicited adware embedded on their computers. That's a problem. These self-installing applications can compromise the security of data and intellectual property, slow computer performance, and put an increased service burden on the IT staff.

Enter Webroot Software's Spy Sweeper, one of several anti-spyware products to hit the market with promises of system-wide decontamination.

The $30 program installs easily and launches with an initial setup during which it adds a database of more than 68,000 known malicious items.

For the smallest of businesses, Spy Sweeper can be run on individual computers where it does a thorough and efficient job of rooting out digital vermin. In our test run, the application detected six pieces of adware as well as six cookies before giving us an opportunity to select which of these we wished to exterminate.

The downside: It took a long 10 minutes to perform the sweep.

Spy Sweeper does receive high marks for ease of use. A simple scheduling function lets you configure automatic sweeps at set times. The application can also reach back to home base and automatically check for updates. You can direct Spy Sweeper to automatically delete quarantined items after seven, 30, 60 or 90 days and customize sweeps to either include or exclude cookies, your system registry, memory and so on.

On a larger scale, mid-sized businesses can avail themselves of these same tools, along with a number of important features aimed at easing the administrative burden.

An administrative console lets system managers configure clients, manage updates, establish alerts, view reports and perform real-time scans of remote systems. An "Active Shield" function actively monitors against spyware and adware installations in real time.

Spy Sweeper can run in three modes. It can be invisible, without any human interaction. It can deliver a pop-up alert window during a scan, or else it can display an animated tray icon to indicate activity without disrupting you. Laptop settings protect remote employees even when they are not logged into the network

Stiff Competition for Spy Sweeper
Spy Sweeper competes in a crowded arena. Chief among competing products are the freeware/donationware clients Spy Sweeper and Ad-Aware SE, as well as the commercialware Spyware Doctor from PC Tools and Spyware X-terminator clients. Both Spybot-S&D and Ad-Aware SE offer equally effective malware detection and removal capabilities, and in many cases deliver faster scans as well.

In addition to anti-spyware sweeps, Spyware Doctor also includes an integrated pop-up blocker. While there is no shortage of such blockers on the market, the integration here saves you from having to install a separate application. Spyware X-terminator meanwhile claims a high success rate, but offers a database of just 18,000 items, a figure that looks paltry compared to the 68,000+ in Spy Sweeper.

In fact, the extensive malware database may be Spy Sweeper's strongest feature. The pace of innovation among spyware developers seems to know no bounds, and an automated database update is therefore a crucial feature for any would-be blocker. In our last check, Webroot reported a range of nasty programs, including the adware program Clkoptimizer; the porn dialer Go In Dialer; Radmin, a remote access tool that can be used to control a computer remotely; and Realsearcher, a browser hijacker, just to name a few.

Yeah, we'd like to get rid of those, please.

If Spy Sweeper has a downside, it is the incredibly long sweep time, but this can be offset somewhat by tweaking the tool's options. You can choose, for example, to sweep only those areas where threats are known to reside, rather than sweeping every last nook and cranny. It's possible, too, to skip your largest files. The skips can speed things up while still allowing for a high degree of protection.

Spy Sweeper is a powerful, versatile, and easy to use application. It's hardly the only program in this particular market space, but it's certainly worth checking out. Aside from Spybot-S&D and Ad-Aware SE, most competing programs come in at a similar price point, so the comparison will be fairly straightforward in most cases.

Perhaps the most important lesson here is that small- and mid-sized businesses absolutely have to take the threat posed by spyware and other related intruders seriously. Browser hijackers? Remote access control? This is serious stuff, and a $30 fix is surely worth the cost and effort.

Pros: Smooth, efficient, and thorough in its efforts to flush the baddies; inexpensive (and free evaluation)

Cons: A full sweep can be time-intensive, often taking 10 minutes or more; freeware/donationware alternatives like Spybot Search and Destroy and Ad-Aware SE offer equally effective malware detection/removal capabilities

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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