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Spybot Search and Destroy

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Updated October 11, 2004
Spybot Search and Destroy, a.k.a. Spybot-S&D (or just plain Spybot), is one of the most capable anti-spyware packages available. It is also free. Developed by Patrick M. Kolla of PepsiMK, the Spybot-S&D program has won numerous awards - including the coveted PC World Best Buy and World Class awards.

In Three Minutes With Spybot's Patrick Kolla, PC World author Andrew Brandt chats with the developer about how he got started and why he continues to offer Spybot for free. (Patrick does graciously accept donations).

In the interview, Patrick also discusses the downside of Spybot's popularity - the name is often hijacked by nefarious advertisers who hope to piggyback on his product's success.

To see the problem firsthand, use your favorite search engine to search for the term 'spybot'. You will undoubtedly find many spurious results in addition to the legitimate http://www.safer-networking.org that is the true home of Spybot Search and Destroy.

Why the problem?
Spyware, adware, and browser hijackers have quickly outpaced the traditional virus/worm/Trojan problem. The situation is made worse by affiliate ad programs that can be used to dish up nefarious code on even the most reputable of websites - unbeknownst to the keepers of those sites and hard to trace back to the culprit. These blitzkrieg spyware attacks may be short-lived, but they manage to capture a large number of victims in the process. Worse, the attack vector shifts from site to site, making it even harder to pin down and easier to obtain victims.

Because the problem is so pervasive, many companies capitalize on users' fears, offering anti-spyware that is, in fact, spyware itself or at best offers little protection. To push their substandard wares on unsuspecting users, these nefarious marketeers often hijack the name of reputable and worthwhile programs.

Default security settings in the popular Internet Explorer browser, coupled with numerous security vulnerabilities, make the problem even worse. Though proper use of the security zone settings, keeping the system patched, and up-to-date antivirus, firewalls, and anti-spyware can all help mitigate the risk of attack, others are recommending switching to a different browser altogether.

Firefox: short-term patch or long-term solution?
To allegedly offer better protection, many recommend the open source Mozilla Firefox browser, claiming it is inherently more secure. However, before the product was even out of beta, the Firefox browser was found vulnerable to exploit and several other patches have been released. The browser has also been found vulnerable to url obfuscation - a technique often used to con victims into relinquishing their financial details. (A list of released patches can be found here). While this doesn't in and of itself mean that Firefox is more or less secure than IE, it does imply that security vulnerabilities can and do exist in nearly all products, whether open source or from Microsoft. The Firefox browser is also less than ideal for those who enjoy any number of Java applications (including games) via the web. Firefox relies on Sun Java, which simply does not enjoy the same website support as can be found with the IE browser.

Until a better browser comes along, one that offers both full website support and out-of-the-box security, products such as Spybot offer the best hope of keeping spyware-free. Thanks, Patrick!

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