Spybot Search and Destroy 1.4 review: Spybot Search and Destroy 1.4

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CNET Editors' Rating

2.5 stars OK
  • Overall: 5.8
  • Setup and interface: 5.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 6.0
  • Service and support: 5.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Spybot - Search and Destroy is free; offers more features than some paid antispyware products; includes a tutorial.

The Bad Spybot - Search and Destroy lacks full technical support.

The Bottom Line The free Spybot - Search and Destroy 1.4 offers many features, but when it comes to detection and removal, there are better free products on the market today such as Microsoft Windows Defender.

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Spybot - Search and Destroy appears to be resting on its past laurels; the version we tested this year, 1.4, is unchanged from previous years. And that has cost Spybot in terms of detection and removal. Spybot, once the apple of our eye, has fallen to almost the bottom of our Top 10 pile. While its shields blocked a majority of samples, and its scanner detected a majority samples, its removal paled among the 10 applications we tested, removing only one sample out of eight. Still, Spybot includes more features than even the paid antispyware products we tested. Since it's free, there's no harm in having it installed (it also plays well with others), but for serious, free antispyware removal, we give the nod to Microsoft Windows Defender.

Spybot - Search and Destroy is freeware, meaning you can use it without paying a dime; however, the author asks you to submit a donation if you like the program. After a quick download and installation, the Spybot setup includes a user-friendly wizard process. Step three creates a registry backup (a good idea if you haven't done one in a while), step five searches for updates, and step six asks whether or not to immunize your system (that is, setup active shield defenses against known spyware).

Should you want to remove Spybot-Search and Destroy 1.4, there's an uninstall icon provided in the All Programs list. However, don't expect Spybot to remove everything. After we uninstalled and rebooted, we found more than one system registry entry and a system file folder with various subfolders remaining. Most of the other antispyware apps we tested had clean uninstalls.

The overall interface for Spybot-Search and Destory 1.4 has not changed over the years.

We like that Spybot still warns upon start-up that removing adware and spyware could disable software on our system. It's a small touch, and we'd like it if other vendors reminded us as well. There still are two interfaces within Spybot, the default mode and advanced mode. Default mode consists primarily of large buttons for Check for Problems, Recovery (in case you remove something that's important to a program you want to keep), and Search for Updates, with a left-hand navigation option to immunize your system against future installs of known spyware. The Advanced menu offers more left-hand navigation options, such as language settings, skins, a scheduler, exclusion lists, tools such as a data shredder, Internet Explorer browser tweaks, and a list of applications that have registered an uninstaller with your system (making it easy to remove these applications).

Spybot continues to rival paid antispyware products by offering a number of features not found elsewhere, such as its unparalleled language support. We also like the ability to apply various skins, but it's the tools that impressed the most. Of all the antispyware apps we tested, Spybot is one of the few to include a free file shredder, which means Spybot can overwrite deleted spyware with 1s and 0s, so the deleted file is truly removed from your system.

Spybot's a la carte method of downloading software updates can cause one to easily miss an important file.

However, we do not like the a la carte system of software updates. Users on dial-up systems may appreciate not having one large download and being able to prioritize what files they load, but those users also may skip an important update feature in the interest of convenience. We'd prefer that updates be made to the download file itself--that way new users will have smaller updates to contend with.

Spybot - Search and Destroy is very fast, scanning our entire laptop within several minutes. To achieve that speed, Spybot at times used up to 50 percent of our system's resources, but did so for a significantly shorter amount of time than other products we tested. That said, overall, Spybot fell from number one a few years ago to just below average among the antispyware apps we tested. In exclusive testing by CNET Labs, Spybot's active shields identified and blocked five out of eight spyware samples we attempted to install, missing Compare-Prices.zip, Clickpix, and MarketScore. For scanning and removing existing spyware samples, Spybot caught five out of eight, missing Compare-Prices.zip, Clickpix, and JustFindIt toolbar. But Spybot only removed spyware residue from one of eight samples, ISTBar/AccuSurf, leaving the rest to possibly reinstall at a later date on our test machine.

PMK Software survives on donations, so support of Spybot is spotty at best. Spybot includes a text-based tutorial that is rather thorough, along with a detailed in-program Help index. However, we found that our technical support e-mail to PMK went unanswered.

Spybot is overdue for a thorough update. It's good at finding various cookies, but in our tests it missed a few apps through both active shielding and scanning and failed to remove almost all the spyware we loaded onto our test machine. While we like the many features that are offered for free, chances are you downloaded this app for spyware removal and not its pretty skins.

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About The Author

As CNET's resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security. Listen to his podcast at securitybites.cnet.com or e-mail Robert with your questions and comments.