Class: Anti-Spyware/Anti-Adware program
License: Commercial product, Sunbelt Software.
Version Reviewed: 1.5.82
Why Run an Anti-Spyware/Anti-Adware Program?
I believe that all computer users should have an anti-spyware/anti-adware program that runs all the time. Periodic scans are not a precaution — they are an attempt to identify a problem after it already exists and then to try to cure it!
Prevention is the key. Why let your computer get infected and then try to clean it? An always-running program can prevent many spyware/adware infections from occurring. We should also have deep-scanning programs, that run on a schedule, to find anything that might have gotten through the blocking efforts.
Getting Started With CounterSpy
Before using CounterSpy, I was using Microsoft Antispyware, which is also descended from Giant Anti-Spyware. Sunbelt Software licensed the technology from Giant before Microsoft purchased Giant.
During mid-2005, I became dissatisfied with Microsoft Antispyware after noticing the “Ignore” recommendations on some applications that were generally viewed as being Adware. I also didn’t like that Microsoft Antispyware defaulted to automatic handling of its recommendations.
About the same time, Microsoft started taking a lot of flack on the web about its lenient treatment of programs that used an EULA (End User License Agreement) to disclose that it would install tracking software and ad software. The final straw for me was the rumor (later denied) that Microsoft was in negotiations to license some of Claria/Gator’s adware technology.
So, I decided to try CounterSpy…
General Thoughts About CounterSpy
CounterSpy has an always-running prevention program that watches system activity and tries to block, or immediate reverse, changes that adware and spyware might make to Windows and our web browsers.
CounterSpy also has a deep-scanning program to periodically scan your hard drive to see if anything got through. CounterSpy checks for program and signature updates every time you reboot, too.
I downloaded and tried the 15-day full-function trial of CounterSpy. After the trial, I purchased two licenses for CounterSpy. These were for my wife’s and son’s machines.
I continued to run Microsoft AntiSpyware on my notebook until later in the year, when I signed up for the CounterSpy v1.5 beta. When v1.5 was released, I purchased a license for my notebook. The other two computers were automatically updated from the older v1.029 version to the v1.5 when it was released, and I purchased my notebook’s license before the beta expired.
For a long time, I continued to run Microsoft’s Antispyware, and then Windows Defender, on my desktop for comparison purposes — until I finally became frustrated with it and gave up on Windows Defender.
The extremely reasonable price for CounterSpy ($19.95 for one computer, with discounts for multiple computers), which offers both scheduled scanning and always-running, real-time protection, made the decision to purchase CounterSpy very easy.
CounterSpy works with Windows XP/98SE/ME/2000/SP2+/NT4 SP 6a.
You can read my articles about Microsoft Anti-spyware, now called Windows Defender, for more information. While I don’t recommend them often, they’re better than not having any always-running anti-spyware/anti-adware.
Let’s Look at the Program
CounterSpy’s Main Screen
While CounterSpy is scanning, it shows a rapidly-changing display of which files it is checking. I normally run a Deep Scan, which I schedule during the night on our desktops. Since CounterSpy scans my notebook during times that I’m using the notebook, one feature I appreciate is the "Abort Scan" button. This button returns full memory and hard drive priority to me (I’ll trigger a scan later, when I’m leaving).
The Active Protection functions of CounterSpy are designed to protect or protect agains: ActiveX Installations, Application Restrictions, Browser Helper Objects, Context Menu Handler, monitoring for an Explorer.exe Trojan, IE’s “About” URL’s, Ini File Mapping, IE Explorer Bars, IE Extensions, IE Security Zones, IE ShellBrowser, IE Toolbars, IE Trusted Sites, IE URLs, IE Web Browser (Internet Explorer itself), Internet Safe Sites, monitoring executables against known threats, Startup Files, Startup Registry Files, User Shell Folders, Windows Directory Trojans, Windows Hot File, Windows Logon Policies, Windows Password Protection, Windows Restrict Anonymous, Windows Shell Execute Hooks, Windows System.ini File, Windows Update Service, Windows Win.ini File, Winlogon Shell, Winlogon Userinit,and Winsock Layered Service Providers.
What does all that mean? It means that CounterSpy is watching for changes and watching for possible signs of adware and spyware activity, in addition to scanning for adware/spyware using its definitions.
When a change occurs, such as a change of the I.E. home page, CounterSpy will pop up a confirmation window to ask if the user wishes to allow it to happen.
CounterSpy’s System Tools include:
- "My PC Explorer", an easy-to-use interface to check and control some system settings
- "My PC Checkup", a checkup wizard designed to help tighten system security
- "History Cleaner", a privacy tool to delete logs, history and temporary files from several common Windows programs
- "Secure File Eraser", a tool to overwrite files to make data unrecoverable
As with most security programs that use identification signatures, CounterSpy includes an annual subscription to their spyware definitions.
My first purchase was a license for 2 computers and expired after a year. I renewed that subscription a couple days after it expired (you can renew as early as 30 days before expiration). My trigger to do that was when I rebooted my wife’s computer and saw that the automatic updates started flagging the expiration.
Sunbelt manages the subscription as part of the delivery of updates, so when a license expires, no additional updates are supplied.
The renewal process was simple and smooth. I clicked of File, Register CounterSpy, “I need to extend my subscription.” CounterSpy passed me to the renewal page on the web site and included my license code, too. (Alternatively, I could have gone to their site, clicked Renew Subscription and entered my license code.) I purchased the renewal through the Sunbelt site, priced at $9.95 each (50% of the regular $19.95 single license price).
That was all it took — no additional effort needed on my computer. CounterSpy’s next attempt to update went perfectly.
CounterSpy — The Bottom Line
CounterSpy is my choice for anti-spyware/anti-adware. My family uses CounterSpy on each of our computers. This is the anti-spyware program that I trust to protect our systems. We’ve been using CounterSpy since August 2005 and I have no intention of changing to something else.
CounterSpy has a fully-functional 15-day free trial. Not only does it scan for spyware and adware during the trial period, it actually removes adware and spyware without requiring that you purchase a license (during the trial period).
UPDATE 2008: As soon as Sunbelt introduced VIPRE Antivirus+Antispyware, which included their CounterSpy technology, I switched from NOD32 and CounterSpy to VIPRE.
UPDATE 2010: I now use Sunbelt’sVIPRE Antivirus Premium, which includes not only their antivirus and antispyware, but also their firewall. VIPRE Antivirus Premium works with 32-bit and 64-bit Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. VIPRE is still available without the firewall for those who want it as a separate program.