Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Spyware blockers: A new kid on the block, and a tried and true remedy

July 8, 2007

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2007, The Post-Standard

   Sunbelt Software, which specializes in security and anti-spam programs for Windows, is selling a new version of its CounterSpy spyware blocker. You can try it free for two weeks or buy it for half price -- only $9.95 -- in a special "competitive upgrade"that lasts until the end of June. (You qualify even if you're "upgrading" from a free anti-spyware program.)
   I tested it on my new Windows XP computer and found it amazingly quick to spot suspicious activity. But CounterSpy V2, as it's called, needs to go back to the engineering lab for an adjustment. As I said, it was fast, but it was also infuriating.
   The problem reminded me of my cockatiel. I love that bird and have spent countless hours entertaining her and, in turn, being entertained by her. She's very clever. She even says "Thank you" in a husky voice when I give her a cracker.
   But she has two faults: She does things I don't understand (she screams without provocation or reason) and she can't be controlled (meaning, of course, I can't get her to stop screaming).
   CounterSpy V2 is surely trying to protect my Windows PC when it drives me crazy, but the effect is just as maddening as dealing with my bird. Every now and then, CounterSpy V2 tells me that an unnamed program -- it doesn't identify it in any way -- is trying to put itself into the Windows startup sequence or trying to do something else that could be a sign of spyware.
   Without the identity of the possible invader, I'm stuck. I can't do anything using CounterSpy V2 that I couldn't do on my own. After all, I can look at the Windows Registry to see that something's trying to sneak into the startup sequence, and I can monitor traffic going in and out of my PC using a firewall. Sunbelt needs to get CounterSpy V2 to report the name of the process when it shows an alert, or at least provide more detail.
   So I'm giving CounterSpy V2 a thumbs-down. But you might find it less annoying, so don't feel that I'm saying you shouldn't try it. Go to www.sunbelt-software.com for more information.
   I'm sticking with Ad-Aware (www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware)and SpyBot search & Destroy (www.safer-networking.org) for my Windows PC. I use both for better protection. Here's my review: www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec111404.html.
   But I'd be negligent if I didn't mention the alternative Windows users have. No one should be forced to deal with spyware or, for that matter, with the other frustrations of Windows -- viruses, computer worms, trojan horses, browser hijackers and spam-relaying zombies.
   The alternative is simply to stop using Windows. Both Linux and Apple's Mac are free from spyware of any kind. They're also immune to Windows viruses and have none of their own. And both meet all the requirements of modern computing, offering superb office suites (Microsoft Office for the Mac, OpenOffice for both Macs and Linux) and thousands of commercial and free software programs.
   Making Linux PCs and the Mac even more appealing is the fact that both are also able to run Windows, for those times when you absolutely need to run a Windows program that's not available in a Linux or Mac version.