By Robert Vamosi
Once again, we enlisted CNET Labs to design and perform our antispyware tests. For specific samples, we asked Download.com to send us adware and spyware they've seen in the wild, to better replicate the examples you are likely to encounter on your own, not theoretical or "zoo" examples. From the Download.com list, CNET Labs selected 10 independently verified, representative adware/spyware applications. These were first added to a clean Windows XP machine to test how the antispyware protection behaves to actively shield the PC from new spyware. Then, using another image, we added the antispyware program to an already infected hard drive to see how it scanned and removed the infections. For our tests, we looked at the registry files, specifically the system registry launch points, to see whether the antispyware application only blocked or attempted to remove the infection. For more details, see our How we test antispyware software page.
Over the last few years, traditional antivirus companies have purchased standalone antispyware vendors, so for this year's list we have included antivirus programs with antispyware, antispyware with antivirus, and, of course, standalone antispyware. In general, antivirus programs that include antispyware protection fared better than standalone antispyware, the exception being ZoneAlarm, which performed well with a strong personal firewall instead of antivirus. There is not enough information to prove that having antispyware with antivirus protection is better, given that two out of the top four did not have antivirus. Webroot Spy Sweeper and PC Tools Spyware Doctor are in the process of adding antivirus protection to their existing antispyware offerings, but so far the results are mixed. Surprisingly two more-traditional antispyware programs--Ad-Aware and CA Anti-Spyware (formerly eTrust PestPatrol)--placed near the bottom of our 2008 rankings.
In the midst of compiling this year's collection of best antispyware programs, we uncovered more than a few antispyware products falsely advertising themselves as CNET Editors' Choice winners. Only Spybot, Ad-Aware, ZoneAlarm, and now Sunbelt CounterSpy can legitimately make that claim. Readers should be weary of false advertising by unscrupulous antispyware vendors.