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Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5 review: Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5

Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5

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
4 min read

Editors' note: On March 5, 2008, CNET revised its antispyware review ratings to emphasize a product's ability to remove spyware. The new ratings are based on the following formula: Installation (20 percent), Features (20 percent), Performance (50 percent), and Support (10 percent). In most cases a product's rating went down, expanding the range between highest and lowest rated.


Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5

The Good

Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5 scored as an upper-ranked antispyware application in our testing; the company offers free technical support, including live telephone support.

The Bad

If you're not vigilant, Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5 installs the Ask.com toolbar; doesn't provide a full-function trial; antivirus protection is $10 more; scans are slow.

The Bottom Line

Although Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5 scored well in CNET tests, it installs the Ask.com toolbar, which seems odd for antispyware product to do.

Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5 offers little change from our previously reviewed Spy Sweeper 5.3. What is new are the CNET antispyware test results that show SpySweeper rising into the top three, buoyed by strong on-demand detection and removal scores. Lowering the product, however, is the intrusion of a third-party toolbar that may automatically install if you don't pay close attention.

Spy Sweeper 5.5 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 for $29. Current Spy Sweeper customers' apps can add antivirus and firewall protection for $10 more; however, we suggest all Spy Sweeper users wait and purchase the antivirus component in a future release. Webroot has an agreement to use the Sophos antivirus engine, but protection from e-mail and IM viruses is not yet included.

Although Webroot advertises a free trial, the trial is not fully functional; it will only detect, but not remove any spyware found--a fact you'll find out only after you've installed, rebooted your computer, and run a complete scan. We think this is wrong and a crude way to force sales. By comparison, Sunbelt offers a full-function trial of its CounterSpy v2 with no strings attached. Speaking of strings, be aware that during installation Webroot will also try to install the Ask.com toolbar onto your PC, even for the trial version. Removing Spy Sweeper at the end of the trial will not remove the toolbar, so be sure to uncheck the Ask.com box before proceeding with the installation.

Should you decide to uninstall Spy Sweeper, Webroot includes an uninstall icon on the All Programs list. After uninstalling the application, a pop-up window will announce that you can have Spy Spweeper for free if you purchase another trial offer from a company called TrailPay. After rebooting, we found no trace of Spy Sweeper in the Program Files directory or the system registry. However, as mentioned, you will need to remove the Ask.com toolbar separately if you had that installed along with Spy Sweeper

The Spy Sweeper 5.5 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. To tweak antispyware scans for individual files or folders, simply use the various Spy Sweeper configuration screens. With antivirus included, Webroot's integration of Sophos is otherwise invisible; for example, there's no separate configuration page for antivirus scans.

Spy Sweeper's interface remains 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 enhances its antirootkit protection in SpySweeper 5.5. 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 5.5 with ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite up and running on our laptop and experienced no conflicts.

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 5.5 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.

For antispyware protection, Webroot Spy Sweeper performed well, rounding out our top three in our current CNET antispyware tests. CNET labs conducts three separate tests using spyware found to be bundled within free applications rejected by CNET Download.com (as part of its software policies, Download.com does not host applications containing known spyware). In the first test, active detection, Webroot Spy Sweeper detected 60 percent of the spyware. In the second, on-demand test, Webroot Spy Sweeper detected 75 percent of the spyware. In the final removal test, Webroot Spy Sweeper removed all traces for 70 percent of the spyware in our test.

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.

Despite its strong test results, Spy Sweeper loses points for installing a toolbar and not offering a full-function trial of its product. And for less money you get more antispyware tools and better results from Sunbelt CounterSpy v2. Don't believe CounterSpy is better? Well, you can try its full-function free trial here.


Webroot Spy Sweeper 5.5

Score Breakdown

Setup 6Features 7Performance 8Support 7