Adware can possibly be quite harmless but sometimes it is there to spy.
Sometimes you are offered a free program to download on the understanding that the free version displays advertising. Often you can upgrade to the paid version and then you do not see advertising when you use the program.
Bad adware is something that installs itself on your computer and feeds you advertising without asking.
But the adware we most need to keep away is really bad adware that is also spyware.
Get more facts about Adware on our Adware Information page.
Get more facts about Spyware on our Spyware Informationpage.
Adware and spyware often spread by sneaking into your computer under the cover of a friendly program or browser tool. They often arrive with a helpful tool you were invited to download for free on a website. Common examples include toolbars that can be added as an accessory to your browser, or a program that will help you manage or speed up downloads from the internet.
Spyware refers in general to programs that run without asking and invade your privacy. Spyware can track the websites you visit and collect and report that information to another party. This other party would usually be somebody very keen to send you 'targeted' advertising that you did not ask for.
If there is spyware on your computer you might notice that it runs slowly or that using the web seems slower. You might see a lot more 'pop-up' advertising pages when you use the internet. On the other hand, clever spyware could also be hiding undetected, without causing these common symptoms but still spying on your browsing habits.
Very bad spyware could be aimed directly at stealing and identity theft. This can include attempts to discover personal information such as your credit card details and passwords. See in our glossary for a definition of keyloggers explaining how this can be done. (Glossary page links open in a new window.)
There is more detailed information about spyware on our Spyware Information page.
There are anti-spyware programs that can check your computer for adware and spyware and remove it.
See below for some of the good anti-spyware software.
This is worth repeating.Be very careful when choosing anti-spyware tools!
There is a lot of false advertising about spyware. And there are a lot of rogue programs for sale that don't really keep you safe. Don't just download any old thing that you might see advertised on the internet.
Unfortunately, not everybody offering spyware tools is an honest dealer.
Some anti-spyware vendors falsely claim to find spyware on your system with their free scan, just in order to frighten buyers into paying immediately for the software to have the 'problem' removed.
This scare tactic is known as deliberately showing 'false positives'.
(Note that this is not the same thing as when your security software makes an honest error, which can also often happen.)
Worst of all, some supposedly anti-spyware tools are nothing of the sort but will, themselves, expose you to spyware or adware. This is rogue software, the kind of danger that the people at Spyware Warrior and Malwarebytes
Sellers of rogue anti-spyware software are scammers. They use fake 'scans' of your PC, aggressive advertising, false advertising, 'pop-up downloads' and similar tactics to try and trick you or force you to install their rogue software.
See our glossary for a brief explanation of rogue programs. (Glossary links open in a new window.)
Or see our page about rogues. We explain simply:
The selling of poor quality software on the internet is a profitable business and there are scammers in the marketplace. Shopping for spyware protection is a time to remember 'buyer beware'. Also, we should not get a false sense of security just because we used one single tool that said it found no spyware, or that it found some and fixed it.
Protecting ourselves from spyware is increasingly important, for two main reasons.
Well, that's what this page is for.
However, you don't have to trust us. There are also other people acting as consumer watchdogs and offering free information and free tools to help us keepsafe from spyware. You can use web sites like Spyware Warrior and Malwarebytes as a shopper's guide: they are dedicated to exposing scammers, liars and bad quality in this market.Buyers' Guide
If you are looking at a lot of different spyware tools you could check the Spyware Warrior Blacklist and avoid anything listed on it.
So you could shop for anti-spyware tools just by starting with the ones identified at Spyware Warrior as being reputable and worth using.
Of course we have included those in our section below where we list and describe some of the quality brands.
Please remember that a blacklist like this (there are others too) is the author's own opinion.
Another list can be found at Malwarebytes, home of Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (formerly also RogueRemover).
(See below on this page to find out what Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is for.)
Because of the sheer quantity and proliferation of spyware, especially since 2005, suppliers of anti-spyware tools are hard pressed to keep their information up-to-date.
The attitude behind the blacklists is usually that it is better to be safe rather than sorry: their lists might be based on quite high standards.
Perhaps you already have a spyware tool, what do you do if you find it on a blacklist?
It may be useful software, but the people keeping the blacklist disapprove of the way it is advertised – e.g. if it is advertised with scare tactics. They may just think that the tool is incompetent and a waste of your money. These people are just trying to help us.
In any case, on the lists of rogue programs at Spyware Warrior and Malwarebytes they will tell you for what reasons a program is listed as a rogue.
If you find that you have installed a blacklisted program you need to find out why it was on the blacklist.
There is one main thing to worry about here: if the program was on the blacklist because it is spyware or adware (or some other real security threat) you need to get rid of it.
Sometimes we see advertising saying things like "Top 5 anti-spyware programs compared", or "Top 5 anti-spyware programs tested and reviewed".
I don't want to call any specific people liars, but sometimes when you go to these sites there is nothing but a table comparing a few 'also-ran' brands and 'rating' their performance with stars and ticks.
Just for the sake of it I made a similar page with a table like that. Except my page has no claims that I have actually done any credible laboratory testing. And the page only lists reputable brands. It is useful if you want to compare some features of different brands.
Be aware that testing anti-spyware tools is very difficult.
For one thing, you first have to get a test computer well infected with lots of spyware. And for another, spyware is breeding so quickly that, as already mentioned, it is hard for testers to keep up-to-date with the latest threats.
As far as I am aware, security experts and anti-spyware specialists are struggling hard to find a credible test method for evaluating the performance of anti-spyware programs.
The nature of spyware threats is that they develop and change shape very quickly. So the people who are most serious about testing and comparing security software usually say things like:
In short: it is extremely difficult to perform credible tests of security software. This affects all the main security battlefields: i.e. anti-spyware, anti-virus and firewall software.
So I'm very sceptical when I see advertising that says something like 'We tested the five top programs and found the best one'.
I just can't believe it.
To emphasize again: because of the proliferation of spyware, suppliers of anti-spyware tools are hard pressed to keep their information up-to-date. Consequently, the usual opinion is that we should have two to four anti-spyware tools on hand.
This might sound like bad news to computer users – sounds like you need to spend a lot of money on different tools – but it is not as bad as it sounds because:
1. There are some good free anti-spyware tools Free anti-spyware tools, see below, and
2. A lot of tools do more than one job – e.g. anti-spyware + firewall, firewall + anti-virus.
So it need not cost us users a lot to keep extra spyware tools on hand.
This is Microsoft's free tool to give your Windows system added protection from spyware and similar threats.
I have seen mixed reviews of its performance, from 'pretty good' to 'didn't detect a big percentage of the spyware'. But it is a free tool, presumably it integrates well with your Windows system, so you can add it to your spyware shields.
We might as well say again: testing anti-spyware tools is very difficult. We might see reports like the above saying 'pretty good' or 'didn't detect a big percentage of the spyware', but these are no substitute for results from serious well-designed tests.
SpyBot is one of the most respected free tools to handle spyware. Also, their website is informative about the topic of spyware and available in many languages.
Also, there are other free tools on offer at the SpyBot site.
SpyBot provides a lot of features for a free tool. Users should read the help files to learn about what it can do.
SUPERAntiSpyware is free for personal use.
It can detect and remove Spyware, Adware, Malware, Trojans, Dialers, Worms, KeyLoggers, HiJackers, Parasites, Rootkits and many other types of threats.
It also examines critical points of your system each time you start up and shut down, to eliminate threats before they have a chance to infect your system.
(This is important because some of these pests lie in wait without you knowing, then 'wake-up' next time you restart your machine.)
There is a free version with the essential functions, and users can also upgrade to the paid version and get more features and free support.
I can personally confirm that it is easy to download and install: SUPERAntiSpyware makes a good 'introduction to spyware tools' for new users.
Feature: LIFETIME SUBSCRIPTION
With the paid version of SUPERAntiSpyware you can get a lifetime subscription. (Note that a lot of software, and most anti-spyware tools, are paid for on the basis of a yearly subscription.)
The lifetime subscription to SUPERAntiSpyware includes free program updates and definition updates for the life of the product. (It is listed as an option on the ordering page - good value-for-money.)
SUPERAntiSpyware is the most thorough scanner on the market.
Our Multi-Dimensional Scanning and Process Interrogation Technology will detect spyware other products miss!
Easily remove pests such as WinFixer, SpyAxe, SpyFalcon, and thousands more!
Repair broken internet connections and desktops, get a registry editing tool and more with our unique Repair System.
Our Dedicated Threat Research Team scours the web for new threats and provides daily definition updates.
Tenebril is a company specialising in anti-spyware technology. They put an emphasis on developing and improving detection methods. This is to keep ahead of the constantly evolving and mutating kinds of spyware.
PC World called SpyCatcher Express one of the best free utilities available.
This doesn't require much further thought: it's free, it helps defend you against spyware.
You can also get a free trial of the full version of Tenebril Spycatcher. (click the image, left).
The full version includes many features that go beyond the average anti-spyware program. This includes protection from phishing attempts, and protection from spyware that tries to re-install itself after being deleted.
Discount: Get 2 years of Spycatcher for the price of one Click Here
Tenebril also has other handy internet security products.
For example, with Tenebril's GhostSurf you can get the anti-spyware tool AND the advantages of anonymous surfing. That is, when you use the internet your location and identity (as connected to your IP address) are hidden and invisible to websites you visit.
I haven't had time to write much on this site about the advantages of anonymous surfing. But, in short, a lot of websites and advertising companies can very easily track your surfing: any anonymous surfing service is aimed at greatly increasing your privacy and security on the internet.
There are some free anonymous surfing services available, but people wanting a good one, and one that doesn't slow down their internet connection, usually have to pay an ongoing fee to use the service.
Another discount: $20 off Ghost Surf Platinum Click Here
Lavasoft's Ad-Aware is the original adware detecting tool.
It is now very well-known, well established and widely used.
Lavasoft's basic 'Ad-Aware' (Free) tool is excellent at finding and removing adware and spyware. It has been free (for personal use) for many years, and still is.
However Lavasoft now provide other options with much more comprehensive anti-spyware protection, and a firewall application. More about that just below.
The free version of AdAware is a good spyware and adware detector and remover. However it does not run all the time on your computer. This means you need to start it and run it in order to find and clean out spyware.
It is much better to have an anti-spyware tool that can be running at all times.
For the record, here are the features you don't get with the free version:
(You get these features when you buy Ad-Aware: more about that just below.)
Automatic Threat Updates
Ad-Watch Real-Time Monitor
Hosts File Editor
Blocks Malicious Tracking Cookies
Free Customer Support
Priority Threat Updates
Detailed Scan Reports (Printable and XML)
Advanced Command Line Support
Process Watch Module
Network Drive Scanning
Which brings us to other quality spyware tools that are not free, but do provide constant protection.
These next four tools are all mentioned at Spyware Warrior as reputable tools worth using.
Ad-Aware has always been good at finding and removing malware, and easy for new computer users to understand.
The latest versions are very highly featured but Lavasoft also concentrate on ease of use so that everybody can actually implement all the security features available.
Ad-Aware now comes with anti-virus software. Usually I don't like to see an anti-spyware/anti-adware program with anti-virus built in. Because, it seems to me, many users would prefer to use their favourite (other) anti-virus program.
But in fact you CAN use Ad-Aware with other anti-virus software. You just need to avoid asking both programs to do a scan at the same time.
So this is very good: it means that a person just starting to secure their computer against spyware gets anti-virus support from the outset with Ad-Aware, but they can still use another dedicated anti-virus program too.
So many features!
On an earlier version of this page, in 2007, I detailed the features of Ad-Aware at length. I cannot do that any more - there are too many features.
As I write this I have just finished reading the 62-page manual for Ad-Aware. Don't worry, it's not necessary for every user to read it. I just wanted to find out more about the latest features.
With Ad-Aware there is a choice of ordering options: You can save money with a longer license and there are discounts for educational and non-profit buyers.
Click on the images above to visit Lavasoft and find out more about Ad-Aware.
Free Support for Users:
Lavasoft offer free online customer support, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. Also they have a forum on their site where users can get more help. Users of the free version of Ad-Aware are welcome on the forum too.
Spyware Doctor continues to be awarded the highest honors by many of the world's leading PC publications.
Why? Not just because it is a capable anti-spyware tool, but because of the customer support.
Spyware Doctor aims to be easy to use, to support all PC users, not just the experts.
I'm calling Spyware Doctor 'half free' because the free trial version blocks spyware that tries to get onto your PC. It just doesn't clean out spyware you might already have. You can download the Spyware Doctor free version from us right here. It's quick.
Spyware Doctor protects against: Spyware, Adware, Spying Trojans, Keyloggers, Identity Theft, Hijackers, Tracking Threats, Rogue Anti-Spyware, Unwanted Software, Phishing, Popups and Bad Websites.
Spyware Doctor Features:
– Automated and incremental updates
– New rootkit detection innovations
– Anti-spyware hacker defence
– New OnGuard tool – File Guard
– Windows Vista Support
– Pause and resume scan option
– External drive scanning (e.g. USB stick)
– Unicode support (for threats that use Unicode characters to avoid detection)
– Improved browser protection for IE & Firefox
– Global Actions List (ability to whitelist or blacklist detected items)
– Improved quarantine & restore area
– Enhanced cookie blocking
– Multi-user support - fast user switching
– Support for 13 languages
You can buy Spyware Doctor from this link.
download a FREE TRIAL of Spyware Doctor from us here.
(Small download, only takes a few seconds.)
The latest version of Spyware Doctor is designed for Windows® Vista™ 32-bit, XP and 2000. But, if you have an older version of Windows, e.g. Windows 98 or ME, you can still use an older version of Spyware Doctor. We are keeping the download for that here too: Download a free trial of an older version of Spyware Doctor here.
CA Anti-Spyware strarted out as 'Pest Patrol', which was a reputable anti-spyware tool. Since then the brnd is owned by Computer Associates (CA).
CA Anti-Spyware detects and removes spyware, adware, keyloggers, browser hijackers and other threats.
CA Anti-Spyware has been certified by independent testing Lab, West Coast Labs, as an effective spyware remover.
Spy Sweeper with its 'Smart Shields' is able to block known and emerging spyware threats as you browse - before they ever reach your computer and personal information.
If your PC is already infected, Spy Sweeper has advanced discovery methods: it will find and completely destroy malicious spyware that hides in your PC - even spyware that hides using rootkit technology.
Spy Sweeper also protects you from Trojans, Adware and Keyloggers.
NEW Email Protection: Spy Sweeper scans email attachments, incoming and outgoing, and will quarantine suspicious files.
Customer support: Webroot provide customer support by phone or online.
You can buy Spy Sweeper from here: Detect, Block and Remove Dangerous Spyware with Spy Sweeper.
Or you can get a free scan with Spy Sweeper instantly: Click here to run a FREE scan of Webroot's Award Winning Spysweeper!
Or, if you want check exactly how Spy Sweeper will work on your PCs, you can install a free trial: 14 Day Free Trials of Webroot Spy Sweeper with Antivirus
AVG Anti-Spyware is for Windows XP and Windows 2000.
Easy to use protection: install and forget.
AVG detects spyware, adware, DLL-trojans, keyloggers, and much more.
You get a lot of extra tools with AVG Anti-Spyware, e.g. for checking and controlling your computer with tools such as viewers for processes, connections, browser plugins, startup entries etc.
You also get file shredder for secure file deletion and a tool to harden your Windows installation.
Prevention is better than cure:
AVG 'Resident Shield' provides protection by scanning every file opened, executed, or saved. It also prevents the opening or executing of malware.
If you are looking for a tool to do more than one security job AVG Anti-Spyware gives you a selection of tools in one program. However AVG has a range of even more fully-equipped options, e.g.:
The Anti-Malware tool combines anti-spyware and anti-virus.
There is a tool dedicated to finding and removing bad anti-spyware tools and other rogue programs: it's Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. (You can download the free version from that link.)
Why would Malwarebytes be good at finding rogue programs?
Because they formerly had a separate program dedicated to handling rogues, but now all their technology is incorporated into one anti-malware program.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is designed to remove malware that might be on your PC. This includes worms, trojans and various other pests.
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is available in about 30 different languages.
Malwarebytes has an excellent forum on their website. It is visited by both security experts and ordinary users. It is a very friendly forum. You only need to take a quick look around to be assured that plenty of support is on hand for users.
Prevention is better than cure: Malwarebytes Anti-Malware also provides protection to keep you safe from websites that can stealthily install rogue software without your permission.
"My spyware remover said my other spyware remover is spyware!"
Sometimes a spyware detecting tool will identify another tool as a virus, spyware, rogue or some other kind of danger.
Don't be alarmed if this happens. It can happen, to put it simply, because a spyware tool might contain in its files the names of known spyware or other references to known spyware.
However, if this does happen, you can easily look into it.
A quick internet search might put the matter to rest. If it happened to you it might have happened to other people as well.
You can post a question on a spyware related forum.
The forums are full of discussions along the lines of:
"Your spyware remover said that (some other program) is spyware"
"This will be fixed in the next database update."
It can help to become a bit familiar with some of the 'infamous names' of spyware. E.g. this website NoMoreSpyware lists some of the names of known spyware and the names of companies, people and websites that spread spyware.
It can help to know what other computer users are doing to keep their systems free from spyware. For example you can visit the 'Best anti-spyware' forum at Spyware Warrior where the discussion is about what tools people are using.