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Before You Buy That Anti-Spyware Program

I spent the evening at my in-laws' house in Columbia, Md., last night, in part so I could get a head start on the traffic heading up to Baltimore for the ISPCON keynote I moderated this morning. After I sat down at my father-in-law's computer to check my favorite Web sites, a program called "XoftSpy" interrupted what I was doing to tell me it had detected a new spyware threat on the machine.

Now, I had never heard of this company or its products until yesterday, so I immediately began manually searching for the file the program identified as spyware. But after searching for a while, I could not find the targeted file anywhere on the PC. Alarm bells started going off in my head, and I began to get the feeling that my father-in-law might have fallen for an aggressive marketing pitch for an anti-spyware application he may not have needed in the first place. I say "may not have needed" because I checked the logs of his automated, weekly Ad-Aware and SpyBot Search & Destroy scans, which turned up nothing of interest over the past two months.

My father-in-law said that a few days earlier he'd received a pop-up alert that a whole bunch of nasty spyware programs were lurking on his computer, and that XoftSpy was just the trick to clean up his machine. So he forked over the $29.95 for the program.

Now, my father-in-law is a pretty sharp guy, but he often needs a little guidance in the computer security department, and as such I suspect he's not alone among other adult baby-boomers trying to work their way through the computer age. So allow me to highlight a few excellent resources for finding and using trusted anti-spyware software.

First of all, some of the best anti-spyware tools out there today are free. We review at least four of them in the video tutorials on computer security that we published recently.

If you or someone you know is intent on purchasing anti-spyware programs, I would highly recommend paying a visit to this comprehensive guide to spyware programs at SpywareWarrior.com. This site is an excellent catalog of anti-spyware vendors, noting which ones are using questionable marketing tactics. SpywareWarrior.com also has a separate page that lists known, trustworthy anti-spyware programs.

My point is not to bash companies like XoftSpy, but to help our readers make informed choices about a very serious and necessary layer of computer security protection for any Windows-based PC connected to the Internet.

For what it's worth, here's what SpywareWarrior had to say about XoftSpy:

"Over the past few months, XoftSpy has taken aggressive steps to reign in its affiliates (who were primarily responsible for the unsavory advertising), revised its license text, and released a new version of XoftSpy (version 4.0) that addresses our concerns with false positives. Given these changes we can no longer regard XoftSpy as 'rogue/suspect' anti-spyware."

Another excellent source of news about the anti-spyware industry comes from the work of Ben Edelman, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Economics at Harvard University who has done a thorough job chronicling the most egregious offenders in the spyware and anti-spyware racket (in the interests of full disclosure, Ben was an expert witness several months back in a court case brought by The Washington Post, the New York Times, and other media outlets against the marketing practices of Claria Corp., then known as "Gator.")

By Brian Krebs  |  May 25, 2005; 4:54 PM ET
Categories:  Safety Tips  
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Next: Grading DHS's Cyber-Security Efforts

Comments

I read about Xoftspy in a computer newsletter I've trusted for many years. My experience was the same as yours with the program finding problems not detected by Ad-Aware or Spybot or Microsoft's beta anti-spyware program. It wouldn't run on my computer without crashing, but I must say they were very nice about giving me a refund. They claim they want customers to be happy with their product so consider asking for a refund if you're not.

Posted by: Linda | May 25, 2005 7:00 PM | Report abuse

"My point is not to bash companies like XoftSpy, but to help our readers make informed choices about a very serious and necessary layer of computer security protection for any Windows-based PC connected to the Internet."

Not to sound like a Microsoft basher or a Linux zealot, but the whole concept of having to install spyware-nabbing software just seems silly to me. My wife was using a Windows XP box to do her eBay and email and other e-things. Between all the spyware and adware and popups and other nasty "features" that embedded themselves in her computer, she became a very unhappy wife.

As I make my living as a programmer, she asked if installing one of these spyware-whackers would be worth buying. I said "sure... let me handle it".

So I backed up her data, reformatted the drive, installed RedHat's Fedora Core 3 (which is so painless now that my grandmother could do it) and put her data back. She was a little thrown off at first by the slightly different desktop and the fact that Internet Explorer was now called FireFox, but I haven't had a tech support call from the kitchen in several months.

I'm not saying Windows is terrible. But until Gates & Co. come up with solutions for the security flaws inherent in their operating system, Windows users will continue to be forced to install third-party software that fixes the symptoms but not the problem.

Posted by: Sean | May 25, 2005 10:38 PM | Report abuse

I cannot agree with your spyware comments. My company spends an enormous amoung of time every day removing spyware for clients, and repairing the resulting problems.
Xoftspy is a great program... one of the best for removing difficult infestations. We have been using it for 10 months with great success.
It simply is not true that the free spyware and adware programs remove the bad infestations. Our experience with clients over a three county area (We have been in business since 1986) has taught us there are nine of the most vicious infestations that can only be removed routinely with a paid program. The ones we like are Xoftspy, Pest Patrol, Spy Sweeper, Spyware Doctor, and Spyware Killer. There are others.
Most free programs remove cookies, data miners, and junk. They do not remove the virulent infestations that create the most damage and the greatest security risks. Eventually the catch up. But the criminatls putting this information on our computers change the way their evil software works several times a week. The free programs simply do not catch us.
XoftSpy and Spy Sweeper are the only programs I have paid for to use on my own computers. I am happy I did.

Posted by: Ray Bayles | May 26, 2005 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Very Good Article.
I have friends who ask me to come fix their computers all the time because they fell for one of these scams.

Thanks for the Great Work Brian.

Posted by: Melissa Fischer | May 27, 2005 11:47 AM | Report abuse

This is the 3rd piece in a week in which I read about what you call "questionable marketing" and I call "fraud" in the U.S.
Each case was in a completely different area.
Gentlemen (and Ladies), you don't have a problem with malicious software, you have a problem with your laws and law enforcement.
As long as it is legal to cheat customers, advertising lies and mis-directions, people will continue to fall for it.
It's impossible for everyone to be a computer expert, a car mechanic, know how stars are named, etc. and etc.

Posted by: Amnon | May 28, 2005 4:03 AM | Report abuse

I tried the microsoft beta antispyware program for free- it found 25 registry entries for spyware entities on my machine and removed them. These were entries "Pest Patrol" did not find. Microsoft generates daily updates to the program automatically.

I ran the same program on my wife's machine and it found over 1600 ( sixteen hundred) separate registry entries and instances of spyware on her machine which it then removed. Needless to say her Dell never ran better. It has gotten so bad out there with this stuff one has to have a utility like this to keep from being smothered by the pigs who write the spyware code. I really am in favor of Congressional action on this and mandatory jail time for offenders. The Bill of Rights protects against quartering soldiers- putting spyware on a user's machine is the same as posting a Sentry in someone's house.

Posted by: Russell | June 1, 2005 1:31 PM | Report abuse

While the free programs are decent, if you are seeking true protection against the worst forms of Spyware nothing has beat Webroot's Spy Sweeper in all my experience. "Free" isn't always the best choice!

Posted by: James | June 3, 2005 3:36 PM | Report abuse

This site gives you a free download scan and trial. i was able to test this antispyware program fully before I purchased it. So people (baby boomers)who don't have that internet consumer saavy can know what their buying. Great article!
http://www.antispyware.com

Posted by: james | June 3, 2005 11:32 PM | Report abuse

My wife inadvertently hit a website that infested her computer with all manner of spyware and malware. In attempting to clean it and after finding that Ad Aware, SpywareBlaster and Spybot did not succesfully clean it, I stumbled upon SpyFerret.

One hates to admit that one has been scammed. This program is marketed in a deceptive manner. I now know it infringes on the copyrights of others, and it may actually open more vulnerabilities. It seems to repeatedly re-open a registry key for CWS and to unblock access to XXXtoolbar.com

When I finally deleted SpyFerret, these vulnerabilities vanished.

SpyFerret failed to answer 3 e-mail requests for refund based upon deceptive marketing - cancel install/delete and get a lower price offer, and for failure to perform as advertised - satifaction guaranteed.

I've contacted my bank and begun the long process of getting my money back from this offshore bunch of pirates.

Thanks for drawing my attention to their status as rogue software. That will make it easier for the bank investigators to help me. And thanks for wising me up.

Posted by: Stev Lenon | June 6, 2005 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for this great post. You've got some really good info in your blog. If you get a chance, you can check out my blog on spy sweeper
at http://www.stanleymorgancenter.com.

David Jefferson
http://www.stanleymorgancenter.com

Posted by: David Jefferson | January 18, 2006 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for this great post. You've got some really good info in your blog. If you get a chance, you can check out my blog on {insert keyword} at http://www.Site.com.

Posted by: David Jefferson | January 19, 2006 12:04 AM | Report abuse

hi ware is the spyware

Posted by: edwardhi | February 5, 2006 8:51 PM | Report abuse

I had some spyware infect my machine that continuously caused annoying pop-ups that told me that I had spyware and that to get rid of it I should purchase antispyware.com software. THIS WAS A SCAM! It was precisely the company that owned the advertised anti-spyware program that placed the program on my computer in the first place after visiting their web site! They literally infect the machine in order to sell you anti-spyware, and also annoy you into pucrahsing it by having pop-ups on your screen alter you every five minutes or so. I now have to re-build my machine since all of the known programs I've tried do not remove this.

Posted by: JMan | May 20, 2006 9:17 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone used ccleaner.com? A friend passed this to me as I was being attacked by crashings and weird things. Trouble is could not get my head around whether its ok to delete all the files it found. They looked like registration files and I was scared to just delete them. Advise please:

Posted by: Liz | June 26, 2006 8:39 AM | Report abuse

i have to agree that webroots Spy sweeper is one of the better ones, But for some reason my newest copy keeps of failing half way throu a scan :s althou its collects alot of spyware on the way, i was infected majorly, and so far i have manually detected and deleted most myself, Hence this is where webroot comes in, the ones i deleted, Spysweeper failed to see.

they were in my registry files. :s and i think the Old version of spysweeper was much more effient then the new.

Posted by: meow | July 23, 2006 9:51 PM | Report abuse

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