Editor's note: This article, originally published by Brian Satterfield, was republished on 3/5/08.
These days, using only one antispyware program is like playing with fire: sooner or later, you're going to get burned. Since not all spyware-combat tools share identical databases, we recommend running as many tools as you can get your mitts on--and Spybot - Search & Destroy, a time-tested and free application, should be part of your arsenal. The program might not have as pretty a face as some of its competitors, but it's certainly adept at eradicating spyware. It also offers a wide variety of settings and tools for maintaining your security and privacy that might not be immediately obvious. Read on to get the lowdown on removing spyware with Spybot, and to get tips for using some of the program's most important features.
Step 1: Set it up
Some antispyware programs aren't highly customizable, but Spybot caters to the user by offering a number of tweaks. The app's primary screen emphasizes scanning your machine for threats and updating spyware definitions. If you switch from the default to the advanced mode from the Mode menu, though, you open up a world of options. The unobtrusive Settings button, located way down in the lower-left corner of the advanced window, contains tons of ways to fine-tune Spybot's behavior. This screen may at first appear overwhelming, but the Settings window lets you customize the app so it works for you.
Once you get to the Settings window, click the Settings subsection. You should definitely spend a few moments scrolling through it carefully, especially the part labeled Main Settings. In particular, you'll probably want to check all the boxes related to backups and system-restore points. This way, if Spybot happens to accidentally remove a key that's crucial to your PC's OS, you can easily roll your Registry back to its pre-scan state. From this screen, you also can configure Spybot to automatically start a scan when you launch the program or each time you boot up your machine. Finally, you'll find check boxes that enable Spybot to search for and download the latest updates every time you fire it up. These automation features not only will save you time, they'll also help ensure your computer stays safe--even if you tend to be a space cadet.
Step 2: Search and destroy
Once you've configured the program to your liking, it's time to get down to the business of locating and removing any harmful programs that might be hiding in the dark corners of your PC. Head back to the main screen by clicking the tab labeled Spybot-S&D. Once you hit the Check for Problems button, the program will begin scanning your machine for malware. As is the case with many antispyware apps, Spybot may take a while to look through the contents of a large hard drive or an extremely infected Registry, so you may want to take a break while the program plugs away.
When you return, you'll see a list of all spyware components the program detected on your computer. Clicking the tiny plus-sign icon next to each threat will let you view individual infected Registry keys, but Spybot is configured to eradicate them all by default. Move up to the top of the main window and click the button labeled Fix selected problems, then confirm by answering yes to the pop-up window. Within a few moments, your computer should be free of all the malware Spybot has encountered.
Step 3: Schedule your scans
If your job keeps you so busy that computer maintenance takes a backseat, you'll appreciate the ability to schedule spyware scans daily, hourly, or even every few minutes. To access the scheduling tool, you'll need to head back to the Settings tab, then click the diamond-shaped Scheduler icon. To begin configuring this feature, hit Add, then Edit. On the window that pops up, browse over to the Schedule tab and hit New again.
Spybot lets you schedule scans on a weekly or monthly basis by choosing the appropriate option from the drop-down menu (there are seven choices total,) but hard-core downloaders and frequent Web surfers should probably scan their machines at least once a day. If you really want foolproof protection--or you're just extremely paranoid--you can click the Advanced button, which lets you perform multiple spyware searches in the same day. To do so, check the Repeat Task box, then tell the program how many hours or minutes should pass between scans. After you enter the duration time and hit OK, Spybot will prompt you to enter a password, providing yet another layer of system security.
Step 4: Permanently delete files
If you're still in a tidying mood after you get rid of any nasty spyware infections, check out Spybot's file shredder, which destroys documents once and for all. To obliterate your private data, head to the Tools tab, then hit the Secure Shredder button. Adding files you want to shred is a simple matter of right-clicking in the queue and browsing your PC. Unlike specialized data-deletion applications, Spybot's built-in tool won't let you choose from a bunch of government-sanctioned algorithms, but you can specify how many times it should overwrite files via a small menu item near the bottom of the interface. Once you've taken those steps, just hit the Chop it away! button to initiate the erasing process. Remember, if you've chosen to overwrite files 30 or 40 times, you'll be in for a bit of a wait, but the extra peace of mind may be worth the extra time.