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Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus review: Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus

Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus

Robert Vamosi Former Editor
As CNET's former 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.
Robert Vamosi
5 min read
Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus would seem like a powerful combination, given that McAfee, Norton, and Trend Micro all combine their antivirus and antispyware scans. And rather than build its own antivirus engine, Webroot has wisely partnered with top-rated U.K.-based Sophos Anti-Virus, which sells primarily to the enterprise market. But the antivirus scanner included within Spy Sweeper isn't fully implemented and doesn't extend protection to common virus vectors such as e-mail or IM. Webroot says that additional antivirus functionality will be added to later versions of Spy Sweeper, but for the moment, we're nervous about making Spy Sweeper our only antivirus protection. As for traditional antispyware protection, Spy Sweeper 5.3 did well at shielding our machine from new spyware and detecting spyware already established. However, it took the longest to complete its scan, it didn't do so well at removing all traces of found spyware, and not all of Spy Sweeper's defense shields are turned on by default. For now, we think Spy Sweeper 5.3 isn't ready for prime time. For the same $39, we think you're better off with a traditional antivirus product that also includes antispyware protection, such as our Editors' Choice, Kaspersky.

Spy Sweeper 5.3 is available for retail purchase or download, with or without antivirus enabled. We question why Webroot would make antivirus an option--shouldn't it be standard? In light of this, we recommend buying the antispyware version only at $29. Current Spy Sweeper customers' apps will be automatically upgraded to version 5.3 (with an option to enable antivirus for $10 more). We suggest all Spy Sweeper users wait and purchase the antivirus component in a future release. Note: the trial copy of Spy Sweeper will not remove any spyware it identifies unless you purchase the full product; we think this is wrong, and a crude way to force sales.


Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus

The Good

Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus scored as a solid middle-ranked antispyware app in our testing; it offers free technical support, including live telephone support.

The Bad

Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus is optional and doesn't fully implement its antivirus protection; the combined scans are really, really slow; not all of the defense shields, including antirootkit protection, are enabled by default.

The Bottom Line

Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus includes the makings of a powerful all-in-one application, but not every security tool has been implemented or enabled by default. Average users would be wise to use a name-brand standalone antivirus app with antispyware instead.

We experienced no difficulties installing Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus. After installation, we were asked to reboot our system.

Should you decide to uninstall Spy Sweeper, Webroot includes an uninstall icon on the All Programs list. After rebooting, we found no trace of Spy Sweeper in the Program Files directory or the system registry.

The Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus interface remains unchanged from that of Spy Sweeper 5, with the exception of a tiny upper-right corner panel informing you whether antivirus protection has been enabled. Webroot's integration of Sophos is invisible; for example, there's no separate configuration page for antivirus scans, which initially started us wondering just how much antivirus protection exists within Spy Sweeper.

The interface of Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus remains largely unchanged from that of Spy Sweeper 5.

To tweak antispyware scans for individual files or folders, simply use the various Spy Sweeper configuration screens; however, we could find no separate configuration options for the antivirus part of the product, such as protective settings to block incoming viruses from e-mail or IM, a setting found in many traditional antivirus products.

Spy Sweeper's interface is crisp and intuitive, the result of many hours of user-interface testing. For example, we like that during a scan, the color-coded tabs on the scan page mark your progress: Sweeping, Quarantine, and Summary.

Aside from antivirus protection, Spy Sweeper continues to provide first-class antispyware protection and adds new antirootkit protection in SpySweeper 5.3. SpySweeper uses protective shields to protect your hard drive, blocking spyware and adware as it attempts to download. Within the Spy Sweeper Sweep section there are three options: Full Sweep scans all the files on your computer's attached drives; Quick Sweep offers a fast and light pass of your main drive system; and Custom Sweep allows you to select individual drives or folders or exclude extensions.

We installed Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus with ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite up and running on our laptop. In theory, we should have experienced trouble, since both Spy Sweeper and ZoneAlarm include competing antivirus protection. But we were able to run a full Spy Sweeper scan concurrent with a ZoneAlarm antivirus scan. How come? Webroot includes just the On Demand Sophos virus-inspection engine, using it to identify and remove file infections already on the hard drive. Missing is the Realtime Sophos virus engine that looks for active infections, and this includes active infections from e-mail, IM, and other vectors. Webroot tells us that SpySweeper triages all identified malware, letting most of the malware interact the spyware components within the Spy Sweeper engine and sending the viral components to the Sophos engine only when necessary.

Not all of the defense shields within Spy Sweeper 5.3 are active by default.

We also found that deep scans for rootkits--those pernicious little malware packages that hide deep within the system kernel--remain optional in this release. Webroot says that its advanced heuristic rootkit protection can be time- and possibly resource-intensive, so Spy Sweeper 5.3 makes it an optional feature. With traditional antivirus packages, full rootkit protection, when offered, is enabled by default. The average user may not ever think to tweak their configuration settings.

Webrot Spy Sweeper 5.3 is very slow at a scanning, requiring more than one hour to scan our Acer Travelmate 8200 laptop; other antispyware products completed their respective scans in around 20 minutes. That said, Spy Sweeper's remains one of the better antispyware apps we tested. In exclusive testing by CNET Labs, Spy Sweeper's active shields identified and blocked seven out of eight spyware samples we attempted to install, missing only one generic Trojan, Compare-prices.zip. For scanning and removing existing spyware samples, Spy Sweeper's caught six out of eight. As for the removal itself, in a majority of the cases Spy Sweeper left some spyware residue behind, removing only three of the eight samples, creating the possibility that some of the sample spyware could reinstall itself. This last criteria sunk Spy Sweeper's overall performance score. Webroot says Spy Sweeper removes only as much of the potential spyware as necessary to disable it, but we found competing antispyware apps removed all traces of some of the same samples that Webroot chose to leave behind, so that argument didn't wash.

Webroot supports Spy Sweeper by providing online FAQs, a 24-7 e-mail trouble ticket, and toll-free live telephone support located within the country of the caller (Webroot is particularly proud of this fact). All technical support through Webroot is free for registered users.

While we applaud Webroot's decision to partner with the premier antivirus vendor Sophos, we question the decision to rush the Spy Sweeper 5.3 product to market without full its antivirus implementation. And we had trouble with the number of traces left behind by Spy Sweeper, traces that were easily removed by competing products. Finally, Spy Sweeper took the longest duration to scan more potential spyware than the faster, lighter competition. We look forward to version 6.0, which should hopefully remedy most if not all of these concerns.


Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.3 with Antivirus

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 6Performance 6Support 8