The term anti-spyware refers to products that are dedicated to removing or blocking spyware.
Anti-spyware programs can combat spyware in two ways:
- They can provide real-time protection against the installation of spyware software on the computer. This type of spyware protection works the same way as that of anti-virus protection in that the anti-spyware software scans all incoming network data for spyware software and blocks any threats it comes across.
- Anti-spyware software can be used solely for detection and removal of spyware software that has already been installed onto the computer. This type of spyware protection is normally much easier to use and more popular. With this spyware protection software a user can schedule weekly, daily, or monthly scans of the computer to detect and remove any spyware software that has been installed. This type of anti-spyware software scans the contents of the Windows registry, operating system files, and installed programs on the computer and will provide a list of any threats found, allowing the user to choose what to delete and what to keep.
Such programs inspect the contents of the Windows registry, the operating system files, and installed programs, and remove files and entries which match a list of known spyware components. Real-time protection from spyware works identically to real-time anti-virus protection: the software scans disk files at download time, and blocks the activity of components known to represent spyware. In some cases, it may also intercept attempts to install start-up items or to modify browser settings. Because many spyware and adware are installed as a result of browser exploits or user error, using security software (some of which are antispyware, though many are not) to sandbox browsers can also be effective to help restrict any damage done.
Earlier versions of anti-spyware programs focused chiefly on detection and removal. Javacool Software's SpywareBlaster, one of the first to offer real-time protection, blocked the installation of ActiveX-based and other spyware programs.
Like most anti-virus software, many anti-spyware/adware tools require a frequently-updated database of threats. As new spyware programs are released, anti-spyware developers discover and evaluate them, making "signatures" or "definitions" which allow the software to detect and remove the spyware. As a result, anti-spyware software is of limited usefulness without a regular source of updates. Some vendors provide a subscription-based update service, while others provide updates free. Updates may be installed automatically on a schedule or before doing a scan, or may be done manually.
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