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Sugar and Spies And Everything Nice
July, 2007. It's understandable that the world of
anti-spyware software would be dominated by the Big Names. Spysweeper,
Windows Defender, Spy Doctor and so on. With other programs (like photo
editors, for instance), if you make a "wrong" choice, it doesn't impact
much. But with protection software, your computer is at risk. So, going
to a trusted name tends to offer the most comfort. Moreover, Big Names
get the reviews, so it's hard to even check on what else is out there
in the great beyond. This is no criticism of Big Name software —
several are quite impressive. But there are a few smaller fries flying
under the radar. And not just smaller, but several are free, as well.
(Generally, free versions of more feature-packed programs.)
important issue with anti-spyware, more than anti-virus software, is
that it's important to have more than one program on your computer.
Why? Because while a virus is basically a virus, but there's no
agreed-upon definition of what spyware is. In fact, there's not even an
agreed-upon name: is it spyware? Malware? Adware? So, different
programs scan for different things.
(Note: you should only run
one "active" anti-spyware program at a time — "active" is a program
that is always running â€ 1C since they can conflict. However, it's
fine to have several "stand alones" and manually run scans with them.
Once a week, for example. But always remember to update their spyware
"definitions" each time â€ 1C a "definition" tells the software what
spyware to look for. Happily, most good programs have a setting that
automatically checks whenever started up.)
While it's difficult
to make one's way through the minefield of smaller programs, it's not
impossible, and here's a place to start. And also with a look at a far
better-known product, once a leading contender, that fell off the radar
for a while as it took its time developing its latest update — which
has now, finally, appeared.
- Sunbelt Counterspy
- TWW Notes
SUPERAntiSpyware comes in two flavors. Free and Pro. Unlike most free
versions which have limited functions from their paid counterparts —
for example, some will scan but not remove whatever is found — the
Free and Pro editions of SAS are essentially identical where it counts.
The main differences are that SAS Free will not schedule scans or run
active (just manually), which
encompasses several features. But when you do scan with the Free
edition, you'll get core scanning and cleaning features of the Pro
The Professional version is what was tested here.
The bottom line issue for any anti-spyware program is how does it do
its job: blocking spyware from entering your system, finding spyware
that makes its way through the protections and deleting or quarantining
it once found.
By most accounts, SUPERAnti-Spyware is very successful. The comprehensive Spywarrior
testing website lists it as one of only seven trustworthy products, and
is the only software that isn't one of those major Big Names in the
field. This stems not only from its ability to protect against known
spyware, but also develop heuristics that will identify newly- created
spyware, adware, Trojan Horses and keyloggers, as well.
Keep in mind that no anti-spyware product is perfect, for the
reasons mentioned above. Moreover, there's no standard test for
spyware. One common test is to set up a folder on a computer, fill it
with latent spyware and check to see what a product will find.
SUPERAntiSpyware says that they prefer to create a product that may
ignore files sitting dormant where they would never reside in actual
use, but find spyware that exists as it naturally would "in the
wild," actively running on a system.
To achieve this, SAS has what they call, "First Chance Prevention"
to examine over 50 critical points of your system whenever your boots
up or shuts down, which are the most critical times for getting
When SUPERAntiSpyware loads, a profoundly bland home screen comes
up: gray with boxes that appears to be from another era. Of course, far
better to have a program that protects you than dazzles only with
glitz. Though, a little glitz wouldn't hurt.
The heart of this home screen is Preferences, which allows you configure SAS from its Control Center.
Right-clicking on the SAS icon in the System Tray (that place on
your monitor near the clock) allows you to launch the program or
directly view your preferences, as well as check for updates and such.
However, it doesn't go to every available area on the SAS home screen.
(For instance, it won't directly load the Scanning screen, Schedule
screen or Quarantine area.) This isn't remotely problematic â€ 1C once
you launch the program, everything is only one click away. But direct
access would be nice.
By the way, if you launch the Preferences Control Center directly
from the System Tray — rather than from within the program — it will
pop up alone. Should you want to run other features of the program, you
have to separately launch SUPERAntiSpyware.
(Also, the terminology isn't as clear as it should be. When you
right-click on the icon, the top option is phrased, "Scan for Spyware,
Adware, Malware…" This implies it will take you directly to the
"Scan" screen. In fact, it's what launches the program and loads the
home screen. To scan, you have to click the "Scan your computer"
button. This is not remotely a problem, just a small, but notable item
that isn't phrased well.)
SAS checks for definition updates every eight hours. This is a
reasonable timeframe, though some programs give the option to check
every hour. More checking can slow down one's computer, but the reality
is that it's a minimal drag at most. However, SUPERAntiSpyware can be
configured to check for updates before starting any scan, so you'll
always get the most current definitions at that point.
If you choose to run scheduled scans, the software provides options
of what to do after the scan finishes, if spyware is found. Most are
standard, such as automatically quarantining and removing. But a nice
touch is automatically rebooting your computer if needed to complete
Speaking of which, SAS has an interesting feature called Boot Safe.
When spyware is found, it's often necessary to clean it by re-booting
the computer in Safe Mode, which is an uncommon and convoluted
procedure for many people. With Boot Safe, the software will handle
SUPERAntiSpyware's scans aren't the fastest in the world, but fine. And fast isn't
necessarily good. You want thorough. There is a choice of Complete, Quick or Custom scans.
Another helpful feature is protecting your browser's homepage, a
common target for hijacking. This is strong protection, but if you are
someone who changes your homepage a lot, know that with this option you
can only change your homepage from within SAS. Also, it only works with
Internet Explorer, not the Firefox browser.
Should spyware be found, SUPERAntiSpyware allows you to send a
diagnostic report of your system for the company to help root out more
serious infection. In fact, SAS is particularly strong on customer
service. The company provides free, unlimited 24/7 technical support
through e-mail, though no phone number is available. The company says
this is most efficient for them, particularly in conjunction with the
I had two reasons to test this out, first, an odd glitch occurred
whereby the scheduled scan stopped running. Using their tech support
website — and during a holiday weekend — the
company was extremely responsive, and within only two days had
re-created the problem on their end, and just two weeks later released
a fix to resolve the problem, adding in some additional updates.
The second glitch occurred when scanning would pause at the same,
inexplicable point. Over the course of several weeks, SAS's response
showed its strength and one weakness. On the downside, though the
company promises to reply within 24 hours, this wasn't always the case,
one time taking four days, and two days on a few occasions. To be fair,
it was a complicated problem that required time re-creating, often to
no avail. On the upside, they were always polite, knowledgeable and
very diligent, and ultimately resolved an extremely perplexing
conflict. While you never want there to be anything wrong, glitches
happen with software. The best you can hope for is for a company to be
responsible, accessible and able to address it. SUPERAntiSpyware has
Admittedly, when you're sitting in the dark waiting for a response,
especially if it runs beyond 24 hours, you can't know if the other end
is taking time being diligent, or if you've fallen through the cracks.
Happily, their track record lands heavily on diligence. And
The free support is available to all users, both paid and free. From
the main website, there is a user group for discussion and questions,
and the company provides a blog with frequent updates on spyware and
For all the strong hands-on attention, oddly there is no Help button on
the program's main page. It's easily accessible from the System Tray
icon, however. (You can also access Help from the SUPERAntiSpyware
folder in the Start menu, though it has to "re- configure" itself. The
file therefore doesn't load instantly â€ 1C it's not a problem, only
taking five extra seconds, just unexpected.) Also, while the Help file
is easy to navigate, there's no Index for searching.
SUPERAntiSpyware has a few bonus items that could proved beneficial,
should you did them. If certain areas of your computer system or
browser have been damaged by spyware, the program will do some repairs
to these areas — for example, the System Tray, your Desktop Wallpaper,
or the Internet Zone Security setup.
Needless to say, SAS handles the basics — allowing users to restore
or remove items that have been quarantined, among others. And if the
program determines a "false positive," you can manage this by allowing
access to any trusted programs.
Finally, a big problem with some anti-spyware these days is software
bloat, where programs grab a great deal of memory and system resources,
slowing down one's computer (in some cases to sludge). That's not a
problem with SUPERAntiSpyware, however, which is reasonably light on
its feet with resources. Also, the program is designed to be compatible
with anti-virus and other
anti-spyware programs, which isn't always the case for every
SUPERAntiSpyware Professional costs $30, with a $15 annual renewal.
But the company has
an interesting option. At the time of initial purchase, you can select
a lifetime updates renewal for only $10. If you decide to wait on that,
though, you can still get a lifetime renewal after the first year for
Though a small company and under the radar, the respect that
SUPERAntiSpyware has gotten in anti-spyware circles is understandable.
There are items that can use some improving, along with a few odd
choice, and one day a brighter main screen will come along. But with
strong scanning and cleaning, light resources and several nice bonus
features, the free version would make an excellent choice to consider
as a manual backup, while the Pro edition is well-worth looking into
for active protection.
CounterSpy was a well-regarded performer in the anti-spyware field
when it was introduced not long ago. Because it hadn't released a
version 2.0 of its strong entry, however, it got passed by a few
competitors. But finally, CounterSpy is back, and version 2.0 has
joined the fray.
I liked CounterSpy in it earlier form, and the latest seems to join
right in. The program has always had a clean interface that was
user-friendly. CounterSpy has stayed strong here. All areas are
well-presented on the home page, and accessible from all other pages by
a "toolbar-like" menu at the top of each page.
Its options for protecting your system remain comprehensive.
CounterSpy uses a new hybrid engine that they call VIPRE technology.
(Every anti-spyware product has its special technology, and no known
human knows the difference.) The bottom line is that tests have
generally rated the program high in catching and eliminating spyware.
One new feature is FirstScan, which runs upon system boot-up, and
importantly bypasses the Windows operating system to search for and
remove the most deeply embedded malware.
There are three main areas of CounterSpy.
System Scan lets you schedule scans, as well as determine if you
want the scan to be Full, Quick or Custom (which lets you check just
the registry or selected folders.) The Help file, however, doesn't help
much in differentiating between Full and Quick.
Active Protection lets you enable whether you want CounterSpy to run
resident with full- time protection or just standalone to run manually.
(If you have two anti-spyware programs, only one should be active
because they can conflict, though you can run as many manually as you
If you do enable Active Protection, you have a choice of what you
would like monitored, and
CounterSpy provides a wide array of 13 checkpoints (each well-defined
for easy explanation). These includes whether anything is trying to
change your Internet Explorer home page, or if any new toolbars are
trying to be added to IE. (One downside is that it checks Internet
Explorer only, not Firefox.) System registry changes, the installation
of ActiveX controls, executable files and Trojans trying to impose
themselves are among the items monitored.
You can also determine how deeply you want CounterSpy to protect
you. Alert Status gives the choice between: Paranoid, Cautious,
Trusting or Custom. These range from all threats, no matter how minor
the risk, to checking for only the most serious. The Custom option lets
you determine how CounterSpy will react to threats. The default is
"Quarantine and notify" when encountering a bad application, and "Block
and notify" a bad action.
One new feature of Active Protection is that it now works inside the
Windows kernel, a common area of attack since it's the core of the
operating system. This will ideally allow CounterSpy to stop malware
before having a chance to execute.
The final area of CounterSpy is System Tools, which moves a bit away
from anti- spyware, but deals with protecting your system in a very
My PC Explorers helps with controlling obscure but important
features on your PC. This includes determining what programs
automatically load on your computer, modifying programs that change
Internet Explorer, and showing what add-ons are running on your
Internet Explorer browser. But
Internet Explorer only, not Firefox.
My PC Checkup will check your systems security settings, suggest changes and help you make them.
Cleaner can remove evidence of your browser usage, Windows temp
folders, Windows search history and also files stored by many popular
programs, like RealPlayer, Quicktime, WinZIP, Adobe Acrobat Reader and
Windows Media Player. Again, however, it doesn't include Firefox, which
Secure File Eraser lets you select any file on your computer that
you want wiped out completely, rather than just deleting it. (A file
that is merely deleted can be easily undeleted, so this feature offers
Additional features on CounterSpy include letting you manage your
files that the program has quarantined. And General Settings give the
option of choosing Beginner/Advanced user mode. You can also determine
what bells-and-whistles you want enabled during a scan, or drop them
a Fast Scan.
One problem that a few of the top anti-spyware programs have had
(notably the otherwise excellent SpySweeper) is that they can be huge
memory hogs and slow your system to slog. CounterSpy
has been reengineered with a smaller memory footprint and appears to
run fairly smoothly (as did its previous incarnation), without a
significant impact on performance.
The user-friendly interface of CounterSpy allows for a very easy and
reasonably clear user experience. Definition file updates are small,
and can be set to automatically
download. However, if you run Counterspy manually (not on Active
Protection), you have to remember to manually update your files (some
programs will remind you). The homepage of program does let you know
the date of your current definition files are out of date, but it's
still up to you to download.
CounterSpy retails for $20. Though the new version isn't loaded with
improvements, that also means it hasn't been burdened with bloat. What
has been added is solid, and beneficial to detection spyware. The Help
files could be a touch better, but things are pretty well explained all
along the way. Automatic downloading of file definitions would be nice,
too, for manual use. Also, the one consistent downside is that nothing
related to Firefox as a browser is checked. This is very secondary to
the larger issue of spyware, but would still be helpful. Overall,
the negatives are minor. CounterSpy is back with a very strong program.
people who long-used Macs, but migrated to Windows — or just the mere
curious — the Mac browser Safari was released in June for the Windows
operating system. It's not particularly that the world needs another
Windows browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera, among others
have filled in the space nicely), but what's most likely is that the
release was done for reasons that have to do with the new iPhone.
the Great Uncertainty over what will become the standard, Blu-Ray or
HD, the computer manufacturer HP plans to offer a new hybrid DVD drive,
developed by LG, currently in prototype. A standalone version is
reported to cost $1,200, though no word yet on what HP's in-computer
drive will cost.
Note: The Writers Guild of
America, East neither implicitly nor explicitly endorses opinions or
attitudes expressed in this article.
Copyright 2007, Robert J. Elisberg. All rights reserved.
has written about computers for such publications as C/NET, PC Games,
CD-ROM Today, Yahoo! Internet Life, E! Online and Hollywood
Screenwriter. He also wrote a regular technology column for WGA.org
Online and the Television Academy Online. A screenwriter, he served for
five years as a member of the WGA, west website editorial board and
Editorial Advisory Committee.