For years, people have sworn by Lavasoft Ad-Aware, both the free (SE Personal) and the paid (SE Professional) versions, for stopping adware and spyware on their PCs. Last year the product placed first among our top 10 antispyware applications reviewed. In this year's tests, however, the paid Ad-Aware SE Professional 1.06R1 fared poorly, neither blocking nor scanning and removing more than three out of the eight files we used. Worse, Ad-Aware failed to remove any of the adware and spyware we used in our testing. That may be because the threat landscape has changed in the last year and the product has not; this is the same version of Ad-Aware we tested last year. Given that Ad-Aware 1.06 ranked first last year, we felt compelled to rank against this year's selection. Lavasoft is in the final stages of testing a new product, Ad-Aware 2007, which will be a completely redesigned antispyware application. We look forward to the release of Ad-Aware 2007 this summer and for its inclusion in next year's roundup.
Our installation of Ad-Aware SE Professional 1.6r1 was quick and easy. We quickly updated to the latest definition files without a problem.
There's an uninstall icon provided in the All Programs list, should you want to remove Ad-Aware SE Personal 1.06R1. After our uninstall, we found no traces of Ad-Aware on our system. Most of the antispyware apps we tested had clean uninstalls.
The interface for Ad-Aware has not change in years. Down the left-hand side are buttons for Status, Scan Now, Ad-Watch (Professional version only), Ad-Ons, and Help. The Status windows provides definition file information and stats on items found, ignored, and quarantined. The results window displays items found (with color bar indicating threat level) and additional information accessible via tabs across the top. The tabs include Scan Summary, Critical Objects, Negligible Objects, and Scan Log.
The paid Ad-Aware SE Professional includes Ad Watch, a feature that provides real-time active shielding from new adware and spyware. The free Ad-Aware SE Personal version does not include real-time active shielding, only on-demand scanning.
Our main problem with Ad-Aware SE 1.06R1 is that, deep down, looking at changes within our system registry, Ad-Aware doesn't stop the source, it just blocks the identified adware and spyware from ever running. That may seem satisfactory to some, but each time a suspected adware or spyware attempted to start, we saw a pop-up informing us it had been blocked. This can get tedious. A majority of the threats Ad-Aware found were cookies, and these were removed. But for spyware threats, the files remained in quarantine, unable to launch but not really removed from our system. No other antispyware application we looked at behaved in this way.
Thus, Ad-Aware ranked dead last in exclusive testing by CNET Labs. Ad-Aware's active shields identified and blocked only three out of eight spyware samples we attempted to install, missing Compare-prices.zip. For scanning and removing existing spyware samples, Ad-Aware caught only three out of eight. As for the removal itself, Ad-Aware left some adware and spyware residue behind in all eight examples, creating the possibility that some of the sample spyware could reinstall itself. Click here for more details on how CNET tests antispyware applications.
Lavasoft continues to offer paltry support options--both for the free and paid versions. E-mail technical support is not available for the free version, of course, but the online support area on Lavasoft's Web site is underwhelming to say the least. That said, the program is fairly easy to use, and the integrated help system is complete and should be able to answer most questions.
Lavasoft appears to be in a holding pattern awaiting the newly redesigned Ad-Aware 2007, currently in beta. Our suggestion is to wait for the final release.