AdAware

This adware and spyware removal program can be downloaded free. Installation on your computer is a simple matter of running the downloaded file and following the prompts.

Once you have installed the program the next step is to download the latest signature file containing the list of adware and spyware that the program can identify for you. The program is smart enough to identify that the signature file included with the program is out of date so it should ask you if you want to download the latest version. You may need to update your firewall settings at this point in order to allow AdAware to access the internet. One problem that I found with the software was that it would download the new signature file and then give a server error just as the download finished meaning that the updates would never install.

Running a scan of your computer for adware and spyware using the AdAware program is very straightforward, what to do once you get the scan results is not so obvious. All you need to do is to start up the program and then select the Scan button. There are a number of configuration settings that you can go in and update to change what gets scanned and what it is scanned for but you can go in later to change that if required once you become more familiar with the program. When you first start using the program, scanning using the preconfigured settings should locate most of the problem files and entries on your system.

Running a scan of your computer will take quite a while because there will be tens (or hundreds) of thousands of files on your computer and thousands of entries that the program will want to check for. You may as well leave the program going in the background while you continue on with doing something else. The program will let you know when the scan is finished by making a rather noticable noise.

Once the scan is complete the Scanning Results page will be displayed. If any adware or spyware has been found on your system then the Scan Summary tab will give you a list of the types of entries that have been found and how many entries there are of each type. The following two tabs provide a breakdown of these entries into Critical Objects and Negligible Objects.

Those objects listed as negligible will include such items as "Most Recently Updated" lists that are stored on your computer to make it easier for you to open files again where you have had them open in the same software before. These items are listed by AdAware because there is a possibility that this information could be made use of for the purpose of targetting you for particular ads. In practice the convenience of being able to quickly reopen a recently accessed file far outways any danger in having these lists stored on your computer under most circumstances and therefore you can ignore anything that appears on this list.

The AdAware scanning results critical objects window

The entries that you need to worry about are the ones on the critical objects list. Most if not all of the entries that appear on this list will be references to items that you are better off not having on your computer. In some instances you may have downloaded a piece of "free" software that you consider to be essential or you may have provided information to a web site that does not have an acceptable privacy policy where you feel that the access to the site is worth more than the potential privacy breach. If either or both of these applies then there may be entries in the critical objects list relating to these entries and you will want to check these items and then add them to the ignore list. You can easily do this by right clicking and selecting "Add to Ignore List" from the context menu.

In my case with the list shown in the image above, all but the top entry (highlighted) are just tracking cookies for a few web sites that I regularly visit. The top entry is a very special case in that it is a registry edit that I applied myself to block browser hijacking attempts by disallowing any attempts to change the browser home page. AdAware is detecting this because most hijackings will set this entry themselves to try to stop you changing your home page back. Having obtained this list I then set it to ignore the top entry plus the Bravenet cookies which I know are completely harmless and quarantined and then deleted the rest. What is more disturbing is what this program didn't detect since other antispyware that I ran on the same computer immediately afterwards found some far more significant entries.

Everything else including anything that you don't recognise in the critical items list needs to be quarantined. What this does is to remove the database entry or file from the location where it was found and stores a copy of the information in a special quarantine file. Since it is no longer where it is supposed to be the adware or spyware will no longer be effective at providing information about you and your actions back to the originating web site.

If you attempt to run some software or access a web site that is dependent on information that you have quarantined then that software or site will behave as if the quarantined information doesn't exist. This will probably have the effect of breaking the functionality of the program or site. You then need to make a decision as to whether the program or site is more important to you than the personal information that the adware or spyware gathers in exchange for access. If you decide that you just can't live without that program or site then you need to either restore the necessary entries from the quarantine or (probably easier) just reinstall the application. You should then run AdAware again and add the required items to the ignore list.

More than likely you will decide that you don't want to run any risk of giving up private information in exchange for access to use a particular program or web site. In the case of a program you can then attempt to uninstall the program off of your system or if that doesn't work, delete the folder that it is in (most if not all of the registry entries ought to have been stripped out and quarantined by AdAware anyway).

If you are having trouble deciding whether particular entries that AdAware finds are worth accepting in order for you to access a web site or program then the type of entry that has been found needs to be taken into account. Entries defined as Data Miner mean that their system is tracking what web pages you are visiting (and or other similar things) in order to decide what advertising ought to be displayed that will be of interest to you. Such tracking is relatively safe particularly if the specified files are actually cookies (but you still need to make your own decision as to whether allowing such tracking is a fair exchange for what you get in return - my answer has almost always been NO). The other categories that AdAware reports on reflect far more invasive actions than data miners perform. I do not recommend using any software or accessing any web site that requires that you have any of these more dangerous items installed on your system in order for them to work.

To simplify the process of working out what adware or spyware is associated with a particular program that you have decided that you simply must download and install, I suggest that you first run AdAware before installing the new software and clean up anything that it finds. If you then install the downloaded program and run AdAware again then you can be certain that anything appearing in the list is related to that specific program. You can then either set all of the entries to be ignored if you decide to keep the program or uninstall the program and then quarantine anything left behind.

AdAware appears not to check for cookies saved by any browsers other than Internet Explorer so if you are running and other web browser then this is not an appropriate choice of antispyware program since any entries saved by your browser will go undetected.

Also in order to get real time spyware blocking and/or scan scheduling it is necessary to upgrade to the full version for which a payment is required.

My Rating: yesyesyesnono

 

This article written by Stephen Chapman, Felgall Pty Ltd.

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