With all this talk about computer viruses, never underestimate how dangerous spyware can be. We store a ton of sensitive information digitally, including things like our banking info, passwords, and even credit card numbers. It’s essential that we protect our computer from spyware as well.
We already know that our personal information is at risk whenever we’re online. Cybercriminals can use spyware to access your information without your consent, putting you at risk for identity theft.
You might unintentionally download spyware thinking it’s just a regular program. Once installed, it tracks your personal data such as:
- Your online browsing activity
- Your login information
- Your location
- Even your keystrokes
Spyware can infect both internal storage (hard drives and SSDs) and external storage (USB thumb drives). Well-designed spyware runs quietly in the background, making it hard to detect. However, some common signs your machine might be infected include:
- The operating system or certain programs are running slowly.
- Pop-up advertisements appear.
- Your web browser redirects or refreshes itself at strange times.
- Spam emails are being sent from your account without your knowledge.
Protection against spyware is greatly overlooked in the antivirus market. Since spyware is only one type of digital threat, some programs designed to protect against malware or viruses don’t do enough to combat spyware.
However, plenty of anti-spyware software is available, some even for free. We’ve tested and analyzed several options to find a list of reputable recommendations.
Do you want an all-in-one solution that covers all the digital security for your PC? One that protects against viruses, malware, ransomware, and other threats in addition to spyware? Here are some of the best full antiviruses that include spyware protection.
Avast is one of the greatest all-around antiviruses for Windows. It scores near the top of malware detection tests like AV-Comparatives. When running, it effectively takes down spyware programs before they do any damage.
Plus, it offers a slew of useful security features, including:
- A network security inspector
- A Virtual Private Network (VPN)
- A file cleaner for freeing up hard drive space
- Software updater
- Web protection
- A password manager
Keep in mind that Avast attempts to install Google Chrome and the Google Toolbar during installation, so opt out if you don’t want the extra baggage. Also, while there is a paid version, the free version is enough, especially when it comes to spyware protection.
AVG and Avast actually come from the same company and use the same engine. Both have stellar malware detection rates. However, the products are distinct in certain ways. Unlike Avast, AVG doesn’t offer network security or a software updater. In return, it offers:
- Data theft protection
- A file shredder for getting rid of sensitive data permanently
AVG’s automatic protection against threats, as mentioned, scores comparably with Avast’s. It also offers web and email protection, as well as a feature called Deep Scan that can search for spyware hidden behind unknown extensions or archived directories.
Because AVG scans files in the order they appear on the hard drive, scanning is exceptionally fast as well. Another plus is that registration isn’t required to install AVG, unlike Avast.
A common choice for PC veterans is a Malwarebytes and Windows Defender combo because these programs work well together.
Malwarebytes has strong detection rates and a no-nonsense, unobtrusive design. It scans your registry and your processes and provides a heuristic analysis for finding more resilient spyware.
Any threats can be quarantined at the end of each scan. On top of that, the antivirus is capable of catching rootkits. All of these features make it a reliable anti-spyware tool.
The free version of Malwarebytes covers everything need in terms of scanning. The paid version, which you can try free for a month, adds in some non-essential but solid features such as:
- Scheduled and automatic scanning
- Real-time protection
- Browser protection
Dedicated Anti-Spyware Solutions
If you want a more specialized option, there are many programs that focus solely on combating spyware. Here are a few options:
Adaware tries to block incoming spyware before it can infect your PC. Its real-time protection, scheduled scanning, and automatic updating make it a solid choice. There’s even a dedicated gaming mode for disabling notifications during games. Adaware also offers protection against:
- Registry attacks
- Suspicious processes
The free version of Adaware is enough to defend against spyware, but if you want web, email, or network protection, you’ll have to pay for the pro version.
As its name suggests, SUPERAntiSpyware targets malicious programs that threaten your personal data and privacy, including:
- Trojan Horses
During scans, the program skips over previously-scanned files and low-risk directories, resulting in a faster scan. It can also catch spyware hiding in compressed files.
SUPERAntiSpyware is completely free, though scheduled scanning and automatic definition updates are locked behind the optional paywall.
Like Adaware, SpywareBlaster doesn’t remove spyware that’s already installed on the system, but it does prevent spyware from installing in the first place through web browser plugins that scan for malicious scripts and cookies that track your activity.
It comes with a couple of unique features as well:
- System Snapshot to backup and restore your machine to a previous state should any spyware manage to enter your system
- Hosts Safe to backup and encrypt hosts files, which are popular targets for spyware
Emsisoft Emergency Kit
Here’s a small and portable option for PC users wanting spyware protection on the go. Weighing in at only 700 MB, Emsisoft does not require installation to run. In addition to scanning emails and compressed directories, the program can detect and remove:
Not only that, but Emsisoft also looks for traces of spyware in your registry that can suggest potential problems.
Spybot: Search and Destroy
Sure, its name sounds like a cheesy 80s action film, but Spybot: Search and Destroy is the most advanced anti-spyware solution we’ve looked at. For advanced users looking for total control, Spybot blocks threats at the web browser level by disabling tracking cookies that compromise your privacy.
The “search and destroy” part refers to the system scanner that efficiently detects and removes spyware and rootkits from your system. While powerful, Spybot is hardly easy to use, so it’s not recommended for novice users or those just looking for basic protection.
Stay On Top of Spyware
Just like any threat, spyware designed to steal your sensitive information should be avoided. For that reason, it’s worth installing something to combat spyware. Just look at it this way: installing a spyware program is easier than having to change sensitive information like your passwords, credit cards, and other essential data.