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Removing Spyware

Spyware removal is an imperfect process that could take several tries before completely successful.  In common practice, each different spyware removal tool has strengths and weaknesses, meaning that you may have to use several programs in sequence to eliminate the spyware threat.

The more primitive spyware programs can be removed with either Spybot – Search & Destroy, or Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware.  Simply run the respective program’s spyware checker, and it will spit out a list of identified cookies and programs for removal a few minutes later.  Choose the ones you wish to remove, and the program should in theory remove them!

Strengths and Weaknesses

Ad-Aware enjoys a very fast ’smart scan’ that will only search known areas of spyware activity.  Doing so helps to reduce the scan time to a minimum.  Ad-Aware also provides free ’definition’ files to keep you updated for protection against the newest spyware around.  The thing I don’t like about Ad-Aware is the glossed-over interface, and the absence of real-time protection.  If you want more power, you’ll have to cough up some money for their retail edition.

Spybot S&D, on the other hand, is great for nailing those exotic variants of spyware that are difficult to detect and remove.  It’s completely free and does offer both active immunization of Internet Explorer and a handy ’download blocker’ that will stop known Spyware from being executed on your computer.  The downside?  The scan takes a long time, but it’s worth it.  If you like to know exactly what’s happening, you can even activate the ’advanced mode’ for tons of options and tweaks.


Sometimes, Spybot and Ad-Aware will report that a spyware program could not be deleted.  This happens if the spyware is particularly troublesome and has managed to load into your system memory at Windows’ startup.  Both programs offer a way to get around this: they’ll run another spyware scan after a restart of Windows, and before any spyware programs have a chance to load into memory.  This usually gets rid of the culprit, but beware: sometimes a spyware program is persistent in that it has redundant registry or dynamic linked library components that will automatically repair any ’damage’ that Spybot or Ad-Aware may do to it. 

I’ve found that if you’re really in hot water, you should disconnect your hard drive, hook it in to another computer as a non-bootable hard drive, and then proceed to do a full scan with the safe computer.  Spyware doesn’t spread, so there’s no risk of infecting the scanning computer.