Pest Patrol has been around for some time, and was recently acquired by Computer Associates, leading to it now having perhaps the longest and most unweildy name of any anti-spyware package on the market today. What we've reviewed is more or less the personal version of the company's enterprise product, reviewed here.
We installed a boxed CD version of Pest Patrol Anti-Spyware 2005; it's also available as a downloadable package from the Pest Patrol Web Site. One sensible thing that Pest Patrol does during installation is force a check for updates as part of its installation procedure; that way when you do your first scan, you're theoretically protected from the most up to date spyware problems that CA knows about. During our testing, Pest Patrol indicated that a system reboot would be mandated once updates had finished, although curiously it failed to actually do so on our test Windows XP Pro machine. One manual reboot later, and we were ready to get to grips with Computer Associates eTrust Pest Patrol Anti-Spyware 2005. Just try saying that fast five times -- we dare you. For the sake of brevity, we'll just call it Pest Patrol 2005 from now on.
CA's background is in corporate/enterprise level applications, and while Pest Patrol is an application that's been acquired by CA rather than internally developed, you can still see that enterprise level thinking in Pest Patrol's interface. The Welcome screen is relatively empty, and seems more pre-occupied with making sure that your subscription is up to date than in getting you to perform an actual spyware scan.
Pest Patrol 2005's Scan interface offers only two basic options -- a Standard Scan, which checks typical spyware locations, and a Custom Scan, which performs a Standard Scan as well as checking user-selected drives. From here you can also schedule a scan on your chosen system.
Pest Patrol includes a resident scanner, referred to as "Active Protection", which continually scans for malware in memory and potentially spyware-laden cookies. One irksome factor with Active Protection is that unless you choose the option to have it started when your computer boots, it won't by default run -- even when you launch the Pest Patrol application; you've got to go into advanced settings, pick Active Protection and then click the "Start Active Protection" button. Admittedly, it's a good way to force users to keep Active Protection running by making it run by default, but at the same time, is there some reason why this very useful function can't be switched on and off on the main splash screen?
We weren't overly thrilled with Pest Patrol's scanning interface, which doesn't really impart much information as it scans, apart from the number of items scanned, as wella as a Scanner Status bar that shows the currently scanning item -- usually too fast to actually read. When it does locate spyware it fills it out in the main display, although you can't check details on it while it's still scanning. Our test custom scan took quite some time to make its way through our test system; this isn't the quickest spyware scanner on the market by quite a wide margin.Once completed, you can click on any threat to see CA's assesment of its severity. The online encylopedia can only be called extensive; for some of the tracking cookies Pest Patrol detected, we not only got an explanation of what a cookie is, but details on the originating company, right down to the mailing address, phone and fax numbers of the registered companies behind particular cookies.
Ultimately Pest Patrol is the tortoise of the spyware world. Yes, it's not pretty, and it can't be described as fast, but it did do a stellar job of checking systems for spyware threats, and an unsurpassed job of explaining each and every threat. If you can get past its mundane and sometimes obtuse interface, it's a solid spyware fighting product.