Call them what you will, but one thing is for certain: spyware, malware, and adware have become the bane of many a PC user’s experience. While IT departments in larger organizations have done a good job of cleaning up systems and locking them down to prevent future infections, the average home user’s PC continues to be the perfect breeding ground for these pesky pests.
Unfortunately, most users still mistakenly believe that having an anti-virus program installed is enough to keep their PC safe. Certainly some of the popular anti-virus packages do an admirable job of eradicating spyware, but most are still focused on removing traditional viruses and offer spyware fighting capabilities as little more than an afterthought. Thankfully, there are plenty of free tools (for personal use) available online that can be downloaded and installed to keep just about any PC spyware free.
When choosing the right free anti-spyware program for your home computer, keep the following points in mind:
- Spyware removal tools typically do not offer real-time protection. In other words, these tools will work towards trying to remove any existing pests that may be present, but will do little (if anything) to prevent future infections.
- Compared to paid alternatives, most of the free anti-spyware tools offer little in the way of advanced features. For example, commercial anti-spyware programs like Spyware Doctor offer integrated tools to foil keyloggers and detect phishing scams. Most of the free programs are pretty bare-bones, but can still be 100% effective at detecting and removing spyware.
- As with anti-virus programs, you should never try to run more than one anti-spyware tools that offers real-time protection at once. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with having multiple anti-spyware tools installed on your computer, you should only use the real-time protection features of one of these programs at any one time.
- Updating and scanning regularly are crucial – as with anti-virus programs, staying completely protected means having the latest spyware definitions installed, and then scanning for spyware regularly.
If you do choose to go the “free” route, then it’s also important to be on the lookout for rogue anti-spyware programs. Many spyware developers and shady organizations have taken to scamming users into installing their supposedly free tools, many of which actually infect computers or display false results in a bid to scare you into a purchase. Before you download and install any anti-spyware tool, you should take a closer look at the Rogue/Suspect Anti-Spyware list maintained by the good people at SpywareWarrior.com.
And now, without further ado, our list of great free anti-spyware resources:
- Spybot Search & Destroy: This tool has been around for a long time, has always been free, and it’s still being updated regularly. If you’re sticking to free anti-spyware software only, then this makes a great secondary scanner.
- Windows Defender: It’s technically still in beta, but if this program from Microsoft offers great real-time protection, regular updates, scheduled scanning, and it’s very easy to use.
- CWShredder: This free scanning tool is designed to identify and eradicate the nasty (and very popular) CWS pest in its many variants. Many other anti-spyware tools have problems dealing with this troublesome pest, but this quick little program gets the job done by focusing its energies.
- Ad-Aware SE Personal: This free scanning and removal tool doesn’t offer real-time spyware protection, but it does an excellent job as a secondary scanner on a PC with other real-time protection software installed (a second opinion never hurts!)
If you’re already well-versed in the spyware game, then you’re no doubt already familiar with these programs. However, it’s PCs belonging to normal, everyday Windows users that suffer the scourge of spyware most prominently. So, rather than just kick back and enjoy the fact that you’re computer is safe, I’m asking that you please take the time to help other users clean up their PCs by getting the right tools installed. After all, it doesn’t have to cost them a penny!