Spyware can slow down your computer while it tracks what websites you visit, but it can also carry out more dangerous functions, which makes free anti spyware quite valuable! Some spyware can log the keystrokes as you type on your keyboard and record user names and passwords that way. Other types look for credit card numbers or other valuable information. While you can buy anti spyware software, there are several free anti spyware applications available that protect your computer from these threats.
How Spyware Works
Spyware typically installs itself without the knowledge of the computer user. You may download a program you want or download some other files, and the spyware comes along and installs itself while the main program or file is downloading and installing. Other types of spyware install themselves on your computer when you click on something on a website your are visiting . Still others install cookies that identify you when you visit other websites. The purpose of most spyware is to track your Internet movements, show you ads or material based on where you have visited, and record your visits to create a profile of your interests that the data collectors can sell.
More powerful, but less common, spyware can track other activities on your computer and can pass information back to its owners that they may be able to use for identity theft or to access your bank or other accounts. While viruses often disable your computer, spyware works in the background and lets you continue to use your computer normally, although its monitoring activities may slow your machine down.
How Anti Spyware Works
To combat spyware and remove it from your computer, anti spyware keeps track of known programs and looks for them on your machine. The software can examine programs that try to install themselves on your computer and block known spyware, or it can scan your computer to look for known spyware that has already installed itself. Some anti spyware will also look for behavior that identifies spyware and find spyware that way. In any case, when the software finds a threat, it gives you a message and asks whether it should eliminate the program it has found. Sometimes it will identify software that you want to keep and this process will let you tell the anti spyware program to ignore such software. All other threats are deleted.
One of the first free anti spyware programs, Ad-Aware was first offered by Lavasoft in 1999. It was completely redeveloped in 2012 and now has anti-virus functions as well. A CNET review gives it four out of five stars and calls it an improvement over previous versions.
The program is a 5 MB download and installs quickly but adds a toolbar to your browser. It automatically updates itself with the latest virus definitions and scans your computer. After a restart of Windows, you are ready to go on your protected way. It scans quickly with an average scan on a clean installation taking about four minutes. Beside the free version, you can buy a Pro version that has additional phishing protection, a firewall and network protection.
Getting a top rating of five out of five stars from CNET, SuperAntiSpyware takes care of spyware protection and many other nuisances but not viruses. You can download the free anti spyware version at 23 MB and installation is straightforward with no unwanted add-ins. A quick scan takes under four minutes while a full scan can take four hours. The software classifies spyware as threats, that include tracking cookies, and critical threats, that identify more powerful spyware programs.
In addition to the free version, SuperAntiSpyware is available in a Pro version offered for sale and adding real time blocking of threats, registry protection and a system diagnostic of your computer. The recently updated software avoids slowing down your computer by using few resources and loads quickly. An added feature is a selection of repairs it can carry out to undo any damage caused by spyware or by the removal process.
Spybot: Search and Destroy
This free anti spyware program detects a number of threats but no viruses. CNET gives it four-and-a-half stars out of five as a good all-round solution. You can download the 16 MB software and install it, choosing components you want along with skins and languages. It operates as a continuously updating application and scans your computer on demand. Before scanning, it backs up your registry in case of problems. Its scanning takes longer than the other anti spyware programs but it found deeply embedded threats.
Microsoft Windows Defender
The Windows Defender made its debut with Windows Vista where it was included as a free add-on. For improved protection, Microsoft suggested downloading the free Windows Security Essentials software which disabled Windows Defender and delivered added protection. The arrangement continued under Windows XP but, in Windows 8, the free Windows Defender replaces Windows Security Essentials.
CNET publishes user reviews for Windows Defender that give it two-and-a-half stars out of five. Criticisms include that scans take hours and that it never finds anything. The main plus is that it is included for free with Windows.
Free Anti Spyware Can Be a Good Thing
Ad-Aware, SuperAntiSpyware and Spybot all seem adequate for protecting your computer against spyware, and all are free to download and install. While you already have Windows Defender, the reviews suggest that you may want to download another program for improved protection. Installing another anti spyware application automatically disables Windows Defender.