ZoneAlarm's Anti-Spyware 6 catches most spyware and provides a deep level of protection based on ZoneAlarm's excellent firewall technology, but it is an expensive choice that requires a lot of user intervention.
ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware 6 is the latest stand-alone application from venerable Zone Labs, long respected for its excellent free firewall software. Here, ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware 6 uses this firewall technology to specifically address spyware, providing a deep level of protection; unfortunately, it also requires a significant amount of user intervention until it learns your system. In testing done by CNET Download.com, ZoneAlarm did very well, finishing near the top of the list for removing known spyware, and it finished second only to Lavasoft Ad-aware for overall performance. ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware 6 costs $29.95 for one year of updates and is also included in ZoneAlarm Pro and in the ZoneAlarm Security Suite.
Installation and setup are pretty straightforward, though after accepting the license terms and clicking Install, you'll still be faced with some annoying optional survey questions that you must either answer or bypass before you can proceed. When you start the program for the first time, a configuration wizard walks you through the initial security settings and provides a quick tutorial. The interface is intuitive, so new users will find it very easy to use, and the interface will be familiar to past ZoneAlarm users.
Not surprisingly, ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware 6 uses a firewall approach to dealing with spyware and adware, and it actually includes three layers of firewall protection to cover the network perimeter, each program you've installed, and your computer's operating system--including the registry and the file system--from attack by spyware. This approach catches and stops much of the malware out there.
ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware's default protections are pretty aggressive. Immediately after installation, it was necessary to click through two warning dialog boxes just to get a browser window open to view the contents of a link from ZoneAlarm's own interface. The documentation warns that there's a required training period for the software as it learns what programs you use to access the Internet, and this requires responding to a lot of warning dialog boxes--some more easy to understand than others. In our informal tests, ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware 6 had to be trained to allow things such as browser and e-mail access to the Internet, iTunes wireless streaming to a home stereo, and even the operation of screenshot-capturing software.
Besides watching network traffic for spyware, ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware 6 can also quarantine suspicious e-mail attachments and block outbound messages that are identified as containing potential malware. Along the top of the main interface is a dashboard that provides constant access to some basic security indicators and functions and shows the active programs and networks. Network traffic is also indicated in the ZoneAlarm system tray icon, which turns into a real-time bar graph showing incoming and outgoing traffic.
In testing performed by CNET Download.com, ZoneAlarm Anti-Spyware finished its scan in a lightning-fast 3 minutes, 4 seconds. ZoneAlarm includes a Quick Scan button, but to find a deep-scan option, you'll need to dig into the Advanced Settings section. With that said, ZoneAlarm's product performed admirably, finding all of the spyware programs we threw at it and leaving behind only a few trace elements after removal.
ZoneAlarm's integrated help system is fairly thorough, but if you find yourself needing more technical support, there are forums maintained online. You can also pay $2.95 per minute for telephone help during daytime weekday hours (a modest fee compared with pricier phone support from McAfee and Computer Associates) or try your luck with the ZoneAlarm "virtual technical support agent," a program that attempts to field your questions and offer up relevant sections of the documentation.