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.")
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