Shaken but not stirred

As well as running anti-spyware tests for PC Pro and advising small-business clients about the problem, helping friends and family deal with spyware takes up much of my time nowadays. In the most recent anti-spyware group test, we stated that no single software solution is enough, as even our A-Listed product, Spyware Doctor, detected only 94 per cent of threats, removed 88 per cent of them and only prevented reinstallation of three of them. To properly protect your privacy and data integrity, you’re now forced to mix up an anti-spyware cocktail by installing at least two standalone anti-spyware applications.

Shaken but not stirred

Ongoing tests suggest that the best balance between security and stability involves splashing the cash for either Spyware Doctor 3.2 or the newly released Spy Sweeper 4.5, on top of which the freely available Spybot S&D and Microsoft AntiSpyware should also be run. Provided you ensure that definition downloading and system scanning are scheduled so as not to clash, these should all live happily together without sucking the life out of your system resources. The payoff is an improvement in overall accuracy (removal+detection+blocking) in the region of 10 per cent. Spyware Doctor’s detection rate was 82.7 per cent to start with (94+88+66÷3) and I managed to improve that, bringing it up to 90.5 per cent, which is better but still leaves a 9.5 per cent margin through which the nasties can attack.

I also recently spent a couple of weeks doing nothing but testing Internet security suites, which was fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. Nowadays, any point release worth releasing has an anti-spyware component built in, so I took the opportunity to run yet more spyware experiments in my spare time. I’d love to say that running such a suite brings you nearer to the elusive 100 per cent mark, but I’m afraid I can’t – some suites ‘repurpose’ old versions of current anti-spyware software, usually rebranded so you don’t recognise it, while others simply tip the scales too far in the direction of system instability by excessive resource usage.

With so many variables it’s impossible to make any specific recommendations, as the other applications that you run and the computers you run them on all make a difference. However, without my consultant’s cap, on the AMD Athlon 64 3400+ homebrew desktop (2GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, XP Professional) that serves as my family hub here, the recipe for anti-spyware success would seem to be either ZoneAlarm Security Suite 6 plus Spyware Doctor and Microsoft AntiSpyware, or else Trend Micro PC-cillin 14 plus Spyware Sweeper 4.5 and Spybot S&D. Both these combinations achieved 95.6 per cent on what I think deserves to be known as the Wavey Scale. Still not perfect, but used behind a decent router in conjunction with a grown-up attitude towards Internet use and abuse, that’s as good as it gets.

Summit New, Summit Old

I might be accused of getting a little obsessive when it comes to these percentage points, especially when a wise choice of router (NAT obviously, but paying extra for one that’s also firewall enabled won’t hurt) and even wiser choice of online activities can make you pretty much immune to infection anyway. It’s that ‘pretty much’ that worries me, especially in the light of zero-day attacks and rootkit threats – more on both in a moment.

Indeed, I’m so worried about the problem that I accepted an invitation to attend the first Parliamentary Spyware Summit in late October. Facilitated by Webroot and hosted by Nick Palmer MP (secretary of the All Party Internet Group), it had a remit to debate the impact of spyware and develop an action plan to help overcome the problem. All the right faces were present to get things moving: the Secretary General of EURIM (an influential all-party parliamentary lobby group); the chief executive of Webroot; the head of operational security at Experian (the credit report people); the head of security with the clearing banks association APACS; and the crime reduction co-ordinator at the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU).

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