Anti-Spyware – The best Spyware Removal Tools in comparison

The most important facts

  • Anti-spyware is a special security software for the protection of personal data
  • A spyware tool scans the computer for potential spies and stops their activities
  • The finds are deactivated and moved to a quarantine folder.
  • Digital spies pose a risk to data security and adversely affect the operating speed of the computer
  • With simple preventive measures, users actively protect themselves against spyware infestation

Our Anti-Spyware winners

Bitdefender Antivirus Plus receives particularly good marks due to its wide range of functions. The software is particularly convincing due to the tools for protection against phishing programs and the reliable scanning functions, which only have a minor impact on system performance due to the innovative cloud system. Anti-spyware Kaspersky Anti-Virus also scores very well. At a comparatively affordable price, the user receives excellent programs for defending against Trojans, viruses and adware. In addition, the software has a pleasantly clear user interface. SpyHunter is highly recommended for those who are looking for a particularly user-friendly, simple tool. Its clear interface makes it easy to use the most important scanning functions without compromising the quality of protection against pests.

1. Espionage tools: at best annoying, often really harmful

For almost every conceivable task and every problem there is a solution in the form of a useful, small program. However, some of these programs follow a completely different agenda than the user might think. Their real purpose is not to help the user. It’s just a cover. In truth, they want to spy on him. These deceptive packages are just a form of spyware. Other variants can also reach the computer via manipulated websites without the user noticing anything about it.

What is spyware and what does it do?

The essential feature of spyware is that it collects information from the user unnoticed and without the user’s consent and sends it over the Internet. The information may be passed on to both the software manufacturer and third parties. To put it bluntly: Spyware is software that sniffs out the user. Often, the purpose of this spying is to determine how it is used. In particular, data on surfing behaviour on the Internet can be used commercially well.

Not every spyware has the same damage potential. If the collected data is used to provide those affected with unwanted, personalized advertising, this is bothersome and largely harmless. It becomes much more critical when sensitive data such as passwords and access codes get into unauthorized hands.

Spyware: A serious threat to be taken seriously

Access data is spied out relatively often. Almost a quarter (22 percent) of all Internet users are affected within a period of twelve months. This is the result of a survey conducted by the IT association Bitkom in 2016.

Who spreads spyware?

Spyware can reach the computer in various ways. For example, it likes to disguise itself as an application. Together with the program, the spyware is also installed on the computer. Most adware, however, is hidden behind dubious websites such as gambling or erotic portals. Here, the spyware hides unsuspecting visitors and infiltrates the computer when you visit the homepage.

What happens to the stolen information?

In most cases, the personal data is usually in the hands of companies that use it to create a purchasing behavior profile. This explains the personalized advertising in the form of pop-ups and banners, which the user regularly encounters when navigating. However, the dangers of spyware often exceed this comparatively harmless range. Among other things, hackers and identity thieves can use malware to gain access to passwords and PINs or loot online bank accounts.

2. Different types of spyware

The goal of spyware is to uncover the user’s personal information and transmit sensitive data to unauthorized third parties. Spyware programs use different procedures for this purpose. The type and risk potential of malware often defines the path of infection. Accordingly, there are different ways and means of eliminating the threat.

In the case of a spyware infection, correct assessment of the problem is critical. Only with the correct diagnosis can the user remove the malware in time and stop its activity on the computer.

ADWARE
The term “adware” refers to programs that generate annoying online advertising. Frequently, such adware hides in freeware and unleashes its potential after their careless installation. Adware often modifies the toolbar and changes the start page of the Internet browser.

BROWSER HIJACKERS
In order to penetrate the PC system, browser hijackers exploit security holes in the browser and manipulate the system settings. Browser hijackers often carry other malware, such as worms or Trojans.

KEYLOGGER / PASSWORD THIEVES
After installation, such an application logs all entries. In this way, cyber criminals gain access to the user’s passwords and PINs.

POTENTIALLY UNWANTED PROGRAMS (PUP)
So-called “Potentially unwanted programs” (short “PUP”) are software that triggers false alarms with fake virus messages. These malware can be seen on the computer with messages such as “A virus has infected your computer”. In most cases, however, there is no danger to the PC and the data. Such notifications are not only annoying. A PUP often behaves like spyware: it changes settings and slows down your computer’s performance.

3. Indispensable protection against spyware

The perfidious thing about spyware is its supposed harmlessness: once installed, the program hides under the guise of a useful application. Especially for computer newbies it is very difficult to distinguish the danger from the usable application and to expose the spyware as malware.

There are now programs that are suitable for scanning and removing spyware and similar malware. With the help of various tools, the digital helper searches the computer for unwanted intruders, detects suspicious actions and initiates appropriate countermeasures.

Few vendors offer anti-spyware tools as a separate product. They are usually part of the anti-virus or Internet security suite portfolio. In our test all tools are part of antivirus software, except SpyHunter and Spybot. An integrated scan tool scans the computer and notifies the user in case of a potential spyware infection. The dangerous finds are then deleted directly or collected in a special quarantine folder. This folder allows the user to have a look at the finds and to decide on the whereabouts of the respective file in individual cases. With just one click of the mouse, he can then restore the useful programs and finally remove the really harmful files.

4. Do free programs also protect reliably?

In addition to paid products, there are also free anti-spyware products such as SUPERAntiSpyware on the Internet. Once installed on your PC, these free protection programs promise maximum effectiveness against spyware, adware, malware, worms and other types of viruses. If you want to keep your spyware protection without any financial outlay, you will find such an alternative as SUPERAntiSpyware attractive at first glance. With SUPERAantiSpyware, the user receives all important defense tools at no charge, which also provide programs that require payment. A firewall to protect against unauthorized network access or a scan mode for regular control of the stored files are also part of the basic equipment for free anti-spyware. But what about their efficiency? Can freely downloadable antivirus programs withstand the comparison with their paid counterparts?

Free anti-spyware is often even spyware itself

Users who decide to use a free program should inform themselves about the software before installing it. Many products simply do not keep what they promise. For example, the firewall has large security gaps or important extensions have to be purchased separately. Free anti-spyware can even be harmful to your computer. Behind free tools often even Adware and Keylogger hide themselves.

The protection is inadequate or does not work properly

Free anti-spyware programs rarely contain sound products. Compared to the competitors, these programs have a very limited range of functions. The malware scanner often works with an outdated signature database, and the quarantine folder may also be of limited use. The consequences are unpleasant for users: the protection system does not detect the real threats, but instead deactivates useful programs for no particular reason.

5. How to detect spyware and do something about it

Although spyware is acting in the background, there are clear signals indicating an attack. Among other things, a slow CPU operation or unexpected malfunctions in the browser are the usual consequences of an espionage action of the malware. These typical signs indicate an attack by spyware:

Desktop PC

Spyware often slows down the speed of a computer noticeably. Some functions do not respond to user input, the operating system crashes regularly.

The Browser

Further symptoms also show up in the functionality of the browser. It may happen that it does not load the desired web pages or that strange results are displayed during a web search. It is not uncommon for spyware to change the start page of your browser. As a result of a spyware attack, Internet browsing is extremely slow. Activities such as downloading programs and upgrades are affected.

Spyware on mobile devices

Even smartphones and tablets are not immune to spyware attacks. The symptoms are similar on mobile devices as on the desktop. An infected smartphone, for example, works slowly because the malware is running at full capacity of its processor. Too much data consumption also indicates a possible attack. Spyware programs use the mobile phone’s Internet connection, so that the available gigabytes can be used much faster than expected. If such inconsistencies occur, it is advisable to delete suspicious programs. It also makes sense to install an anti-spyware app on your mobile device. Mobile phones and tablets now have numerous protection programs that guarantee maximum security.

 

How to avoid spyware

Not only for real diseases, but also for digital viruses and malware: Prevention is better than cure. Preventive measures help users increase computer security and reduce the likelihood of a spyware attack.

Careful Surfing

As with other cyber threats, the general rule applies to spyware: The more dubious the website, the greater the likelihood of infection. When surfing, the user should therefore only visit secure and trustworthy websites in the best case. If, on the other hand, an unknown website is called up, it is advisable to deactivate the execution of active content. These features are often responsible for activating spyware. Regular updates of the web browser and operating system help to keep the risk of security vulnerabilities on your computer as small as possible.

Check terms of use

Spyware and espionage apps often hide behind free plug-ins. Downloading such programs and other tools often leads to the activation of dangerous malware. Users should therefore first consider whether the application is really necessary before each installation. It is also a good idea to take a look at the licensing agreements, as they usually contain important information about data protection regulations. Such documents contain important information about the handling of sensitive data by the software manufacturer.

Installation of reliable protection

Good and up-to-date anti-spyware is essential. Before purchasing, the user should pay attention to the program equipment. An anti-spyware scanner is particularly useful for detecting potential threats at an early stage. A firewall is also useful. It informs the user if an application connects to the Internet.

6. How we test

Inexperienced users looking for anti-spyware for the first time have many factors to consider when searching. Some products have extensive customizable tools for defending against sypware, but require more in-depth computer knowledge from the user in order to be used efficiently. Other applications, on the other hand, are characterized by a high degree of user-friendliness, but have limited scan configurations. Last but not least, compatibility with the operating system is another aspect the customer has to consider when purchasing anti-spyware.

In order to give prospective customers a general guide, we have taken a close look at the best anti-spyware solutions and compared them with each other. Basically, these include anti-virus or Internet security programs. Exceptions are SpyHunter and Spybot. In our tests, readers can quickly find out which functions and applications provide the various programs to protect their computers. From the grading of the individual categories – in each category a maximum of 5.00 points can be achieved – we calculate a total score for each product. This results in the placement of the software in our ranking. However, the reader should not forget that the comparison only serves as a guide. Which aspect of a good anti-spyware software is of the greatest importance to every prospective customer must be considered individually for himself. In order to analyse and evaluate the various products as objectively as possible, we are committed to the following four evaluation criteria:

Features

In our anti-spyware test, we first examine the various tools that the software packages provide to protect your PC. The focus is, of course, on the functions against spyware threats, such as the scanning system. Using the knowledge of independent test laboratories such as AV-Test and AV-Comparatives, we document the efficiency of the various search functions. The best anti-spyware solutions are able to scan large amounts of data for potentially malicious files in minutes. On our test PC we perform a complete check of the computer hard disk several times and measure the average time required by the software for this. The F-Secure Anti-Virus, which scans an SSD hard disk with a data volume of 100 gigabytes in less than five minutes, has achieved particularly satisfactory results in terms of scanning speed.

Additional applications such as anti-spam protection and anti-keylogging, which prevents the spying out of sensitive user data, should be part of the repertoire in high-quality anti-spyware software. A good program also provides users with a precise overview of PC operations so that they can conveniently disable all those they consider to be disruptive or dangerous. Particularly well-equipped anti-spyware programs – such as Bitdefender Antivirus Plus – also have an online banking tool for securing financial transactions on the Internet. In addition to reliable basic equipment against spyware, high-quality programs also include various protection features against other threats such as Trojans, worms, viruses or phishing programs. In this way, the user removes all malware from his or her computer.

Performance

In order for the software to function smoothly, the technical requirements must match the respective end device in an anti-spyware program. In this evaluation criterion, we first check whether the security software causes noticeable delays in the PC system. For each product, we measure the load on computer resources and collect information on how much of the CPU and how many megabytes of memory a system scan takes, for example. If the programs are also equipped with a real-time scan, the test reports also provide information about the resource requirements of a normal web search. In comparison, the Panda Antivirus Pro software is particularly resource-saving. With 25 percent of the CPU, the utilization of computer resources during a complete system scan is extremely low.

The evaluation criterion also deals with the technical requirements of the respective antivirus programs. Readers can find out whether the software is only compatible with Windows or whether the vendor also provides a version for Mac systems. We list the different versions of the operating systems supported by the anti-spyware software. The installation method also influences the grading. An installation must be quick and easy and must not interfere with other computer processes.

Handling

The third evaluation point focuses on the handling and user interface of the programs. The various interfaces of the program must be clearly structured so that even newcomers to the computer can use all functions. Certain comfort functions also influence the evaluation. Some programs, for example, provide a backup folder that gives you an overview of the files removed from anti-spyware. Recovery features help the user to recover deleted files when they are safe. Like any antivirus software, anti-spyware requires a regular update of its protection features; good products such as Norton Security or Kaspersky Antivirus install the necessary updates early on system startup, saving resources and automatically without user intervention.

Help & Support

Even with very intuitive software, questions or problems can arise on the part of users. The last test aspect deals with the support of the various manufacturers. At first, the focus is on the homepage of the providers. In addition to detailed information about the tools, a FAQ button is essential for first aid. Some manufacturers also offer a community forum where users can ask for advice from other users. For some products, such as McAfee AntiVirus Plus, a wide range of help tools are available to help solve problems quickly.

If the problem cannot be solved in these ways, direct contact is of particular importance. For this purpose, good providers provide e-mail support or a telephone hotline, which can be used by those seeking help in the event of an emergency. In our test we contacted the customer service of the various software manufacturers either by phone or e-mail. Readers will find out whether the support responded to our suggestions with helpful advice or whether it fobbed off with standard answers in the corresponding test reports.