If you like experimenting with free media players, photo editors and the like, you'll probably know the frustration that comes with a malware infection. Suddenly there are strange links on your desktop, your browser homepage has been hijacked, and strange toolbars are telling you the best prices on things you searched for three weeks ago. That's why you need Spybot – Search & Destroy.
SpyBot – Search & Destroy searches your Windows PC for malware with the click of a button. If it finds suspicious software on your PC, it can get rid of the parts that are responsible for the advertising and surveillance without impairing the functionality of the actual program. Immunization and quarantine functions are available for additional security.
Another of Spybot – Search & Destroy's best features is the deletion of usage traces, which makes it difficult for anyone to track your activity. This tool will remove your browser history, opened files, programs and cookies – all things you could do from within Windows and your web browser's settings, but not nearly as easily.
There's an easy mode for beginners, and experts are able to use the advanced mode with its additional tools and settings.
It's important to note that the free version of Spybot – Search & Destroy doesn't include a virus scanner, so you'll need to run a separate antivirus program alongside it.
When you install Spybot – Search & Destroy for the first time, you'll be asked whether you'd prefer to let the software take the reins and do as much work as possible automatically, or if you'd rather take manual control and adjust as many settings as possible yourself. This is a nice touch that helps avoid intimidating new users, and you can easily switch between versions once the software is installed.
After starting the software for the first time, select the option to update the program's malware signatures, then go and make yourself a coffee and put your feet up for a while – it'll be a while before it's ready to begin scanning.
Once it's done, you can choose to either scan your whole system or just selected files (those in your Downloads folder, for example). Again, expect to wait some time for a full system scan to complete – it's thorough. Any threats it identifies will be flagged up for deletion. Unfortunately there isn't much information about what each malicious program or file is, so you'll need to do your own research if you're curious.
Spybot – Search & Destroy's immunization tool works by blocking access to websites known to contain malware, as well as slamming the brakes on tracking cookies and nasty plugins. It doesn't yet work with Microsoft Edge, but is particularly handy if you share a PC with someone with a cavalier approach to link-clicking.
The main issue with Spybot is speed – it's simply not as fast as rival programs like Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, making it a chore to use.