Despite a notable backlash from some Ad-Aware SE fans, Ad-Aware 2007 is still a very powerful weapon in the fight against malicious software. Ad-Aware 2007 is bigger than its previous editions and it tends to use up more system resources. Most unfortunately, all of Ad-Aware 2007's premium (paid) features, and even applications such as Ad-Watch 2007 and the Host File Editor, are included with the free version, but are nonoperational. Despite those minor complaints, the new program did add valuable features, including support for multiple browsers, a Web privacy tool, and multilingual support (although French is the only available language thus far).
This tutorial is a detailed walk-through for installing, setting up, and running Ad-Aware 2007. My screenshots are taken from a PC running Windows XP SP2. Ad-Aware 2007 supports Windows 2000, XP, 2003 Server, and Vista, but only the 32-bit versions. Ad-Aware 2007 does not support any 64-bit versions of Windows at this time. The rest of its requirements are minimal: 600MHz processor, 50MB RAM, and 50MB free hard-drive space.
Step 1: Download the Ad-Aware 2007 installer to your computer.
If you've ever used Download.com before, you're already familiar with the process: browse to the Ad-Aware 2007 product page and click the "Download Now" link. Alternatively, you can search for "Ad-Aware 2007" and then click "Download Now" from the Download.com search results page.
Click the "Save" button in the ensuing dialog to download the installer to a specific location on your hard drive. Depending on your browser settings, Firefox or Internet Explorer will ask you where you want to save the file, or place it directly into a specified directory on your machine. I personally use a directory at the top level of my hard drive called "DL" where I save all applications I download.
Step 2: Run the Ad-Aware 2007 installer
There are a variety of ways to run an application in Windows, so I'll focus on the most commonly used path--using Windows Explorer, navigate to the local directory where you saved the Ad-Aware 2007 installer file (currently named "aaw2007.exe") and double-click it to start the installer.
At this point, you'll be asked to select your language. As mentioned, Ad-Aware 2007 recently added support for French users, so your choices are "English" and "Francais." I always love a chance to show off my high-school French, however, I'll stick with the English version, since it applies to more of our audience.
Step 3: Follow the steps in the Ad-Aware 2007 installation wizard
Wizard! Proceed through the Ad-Aware 2007 installation by following the steps provided, clicking "Next" to advance through each step. First, Ad-Aware 2007 will remind you that the software is only free for home users. Next, you'll need to read and accept the end-user license agreement. I always recommend reading EULAs because they are supposed to be legally binding, but if you're too lazy and just want to scan it for problem issues such as privacy concerns or third-party applications, the freeware program EULAlyzer can help you out.
Next, select whether you want the settings for Ad-Aware 2007 to be applied for only the current user or for all user accounts on your computer. If you like, you can associate your real name with the program's settings at this point, but I don't see much reason to do so.
Now you'll be asked to choose which type of installation you would like to perform: Standard or Advanced. Don't be afraid of the word "Advanced." Selecting that option simply allows you to customize the post-installation actions of Ad-Aware 2007. You can decide whether you want Ad-Aware 2007 to start automatically after you install it, as well as if you would like it to automatically perform a full or "smart" scan of your computer. I'll explain more about "smart scans" later. The wizard also lets you choose to start Ad-Watch 2007 after installation, but that real-time protection is only available in the paid version of Ad-Aware 2007.
The "Standard" installation simply skips that step of specifying what Ad-Aware 2007 will do after install. By default, the standard install runs the Ad-Aware 2007 application but does not automatically start a scan. The last step of both the standard and advanced installation process lets you decide where the program files for Ad-Aware 2007 will be installed. The default directory is "C:\Program Files\Lavasoft\Ad-Aware 2007\" if "C" is the name of your hard drive, though you're welcome to put it elsewhere. If you specify a directory that doesn't exist, the Ad-Aware 2007 installer will create it for you.
If you're going to use the free edition of Ad-Aware 2007, I recommend the default standard installation because you'll want to update your malicious software definitions before running a scan.
Since the installer is the same for the free and paid versions of Ad-Aware 2007, when the installation completes you'll need to add your license key for a paid version or simply click "Free" to use the free version.
Step 4: Run Ad-Aware 2007 and learn how the interface works
If you followed the standard installation, Ad-Aware 2007 will start automatically after installation. If you chose another option, run the application now by double-clicking on "Ad-Aware2007.exe" in the directory you installed it, or by selecting it from the list of programs in your Windows Start menu. You should now see the basic graphical interface for controlling Ad-Aware 2007.
The program shuns the conventional File, Edit, etc. menus and puts all of its functions in the body of the interface rather than drop-down menus. The left-hand navigation presents the application's six main sections: Status, Scan, Ad-Watch (paid versions only), Web Update, Tools & Plug-Ins, and Settings.
The Status section loads by default when running Ad-Aware. It displays your general system protection status, the status of your definitions (the files that Ad-Aware uses to identify malicious software), information about your last system scan and any quarantined or ignored items, and your license status. In the left-hand navigation, two links for the Status section offer scan statistics and log files for any previous scans.
The Scan section mostly lets you choose whether you want to run a full scan, which is a thorough examination of your entire system, including all of the files in all local drives. A "smart" scan only evaluates the most critical parts of your system, including processes, the Windows Registry, and other important system folders. The Settings sections lets you customize these scans slightly, such as deciding whether to include cookies and MRU (Most Recently Used) lists. The Quarantine & Ignore subsection of the Scan section displays all items that have been detected and set aside, as well as items that you have chosen to exclude from the Ad-Aware scans. Scheduling scans is only available in paid versions.
The Ad-Watch real-time protection features are only available in paid versions, so I'll skip that section. Web Update allows you to update your definitions file to the latest version, which is essential for catching the newest variations of malicious software. You can also update the definitions from the Status screen, so I'm not exactly sure why this screen exists. The settings submenu of the Web Update section allows you to specify whether Ad-Aware notifies you when the definitions file is outdated, back up the definitions file, or specify a proxy server for updates.
The Tools & Plug-ins section is again mostly only for paid users. One notable free feature is TrackSweep, which will clear your Web tracks--specifically caches, cookies, history, last typed URL, and tab information--from Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Opera.
The final section, Settings, offers a long list of little tweaks you can make to Ad-Aware 2007, such as automatic removal of especially dangerous items, creating log files, skipping files larger than a certain size, and many other customizations. Unlike the rest of the application, the majority of settings are available to free users, but most won't need to change them at all.
Two persistent buttons at the top of the Ad-Aware 2007 interface, an "i" and a question mark, provide links to information about the program and help content, respectively.
Step 5: Update your definitions file
So you've learned a bit about the Ad-Aware 2007 interface and you're ready to scan, yes? No. First, you'll want to get the most recent definitions file from Lavasoft. These definitions are generally updated weekly, and sometimes more often. Return to the Status screen and hit the Update button under Definitions Status. You can likewise update your definitions from Web Update.
Most likely there will be a new definitions file for you to download. When asked if you want to download it, click yes. Now things get a little confusing. Most likely, Ad-Aware 2007 will next tell you that there are "new software updates" available. Wait a minute--didn't I just download the most recent release, version 126.96.36.199? Why do I need to update the software again?
Lavasoft likely receives some deserved criticism for this step. It's quite unclear to the user what these software updates are and why they might be necessary. Selecting yes brings up the Lavasoft Update Manager, with a list of available updates. In my case, there is a graphical user interface update, a LangEng update, and a LangFr. Even though I certainly don't need the French language update, there's no way to deselect it. Boo. Regardless, I generally update because I want to have the latest release of the software, and I haven't seen any reason not to. Still, the Update Manager is one of the most confusing facets of Ad-Aware 2007, and Lavasoft would be wise to improve the experience or provide more transparency into what's new and why it might be necessary. At least now there is a progress bar that shows the status of your update. Your new definitions file will likely finish downloading in the background, while the software update continues.
Step 6: Scan your computer with a Full Scan
After updating your definitions file and perhaps the software itself, you're finally ready to scan your machine. Click the "Scan" button in the left-hand navigation, select "Full Scan" in the middle of the page, and then click the "Scan" button in the bottom right-hand corner of the interface. And now you wait--for quite a while. A smart scan is generally much faster than the full scan, but for the first run, I would recommend running a full scan of your machine.
You can certainly run applications and browse the Web while the scan continues without much interference from Ad-Aware 2007, depending on the amount of RAM in your system. The Ad-Aware service that powers the scan, "aawservice.exe," takes up a fair chunk of memory, but I haven't had much problem with it hogging CPU.
While the scan is running, Ad-Aware 2007 will provide information about the process--such as overall progress, number of files already scanned, total infections detected, and the running time of the scan--in a "Performing Scan" screen. If you're a fan of watching paint dry, you can sit and see Ad-Aware 2007 scour each file on your system. I prefer to take a break from the PC and take a walk or grab a cup of coffee.
Did I mention it would take a while? In fact, that's one of the most valid complaints about Ad-Aware 2007 versus Ad-Aware SE (the previous edition). Scans simply take longer. The reason for that is still unclear to me. A button in the lower-right corner lets you stop the scan at any time, but you cannot pause it and restart from the same point. You'll need to start your scan again.
Once the scan is finally complete, you'll be presented with a list of all of the problematic items that Ad-Aware 2007 found, broken out by Critical Objects (possible malicious software) and Privacy Objects (cookies and MRUs). A third tab display a log file of the most recent scan, including all of those objects, plus information about your system and running processes.
Step 7: Remove or quarantine infections
First, take a look at any Critical Objects that Ad-Aware 2007 may have detected. In my test case, it picked up a possible browser hijack attempt that seems to be in my Firefox bookmarks. Although the "tryfreeaol" bookmark is described as a potential false positive in the Lavasoft forums, I certainly didn't add that bookmark myself, so I'll remove it.
For all Critical and Privacy Objects, Ad-Aware 2007 uses a rating system called the Threat Analysis Index to quantify the danger of any suspected malware. My possible browser hijacker has a TAI rating of 3, which puts it on the lowest end of the "Medium" scale, but again, I have no need for it, so I'll kill it.
You can either remove items directly by selecting their check box and clicking the "Remove" button, or Quarantine them in a special section of your computer where they can do no harm. The benefit of quarantining is that you can bring an item back if you discover that it's actually legitimate and that you need it. Again, I don't need to try AOL, if that's even what that bookmark does, so I'll remove it.
Under your Privacy Objects, you'll like see a list of tracking cookies and MRU objects. Tracking cookies are generally placed by advertising companies looking to see what you click on, but they can be much more insidious than that. I personally clear my cookies and cache every time I quit Firefox, but you should review the list of cookies to see if there are any sites listed that you trust. All of mine appear to be advertising cookies, so I'm going to delete them.
Most Recently Used objects are Windows features that make it easier for the system to find recently used files, etc. These generally aren't malicious, but from other users' reports, they seem to be particularly vulnerable to infection by spyware, so I usually delete anything that Ad-Aware 2007 detects. If you recognize something that you know you use, simply add it to the Ignore list to keep Ad-Aware 2007 from detecting it on every scan.
Once you've removed or quarantined all of the items that you want to get rid of, click Finish to complete the scanning and removal process. You'll then be presented with a Scan Summary that you can export as a .log file if you would like to keep the results for future reference. By default, that log file is accessible in the Ad-Aware 2007 interface via Status -> Log Files.
Step 8: Update definitions and run Smart Scans on a regular basis
After you've run your initial Full Scan and removed any problems from your machine, you should run Smart Scans on a regular basis. I usually don't run another Full Scan unless I believe that my computer has been compromised by a bad link or a suspicious file. It's also important to update the definitions file on a regular basis. Lavasoft generally releases definitions files every Tuesday, but it's easiest to simply check for new updates before you scan, to ensure you've got the latest information about new malicious software threats.
Although you cannot schedule automated scans using the free version of Ad-Aware 2007, you can choose to run a scan every time Windows starts. If you're the sort of person who can't remember to run scans on your own, that's one cheap method of ensuring that your machine is checked regularly.That option is in the Auto Scans tab of the Settings. If new problems arise in any future scans, deal with them the same way as we did in Step 8.
Phew! Thanks for staying with me through the long walk-through. I hope I managed to cover most of the important areas of the software without boring you too much. If you have any questions about Ad-Aware 2007 or personal experiences or tips, be sure to add them to the comments. If you're concerned about Ad-Aware 2007 using a Windows Service to power its scans, read Lavasoft's official statement about aawservice.exe, and then we can discuss the subject more in the comments.