Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and Safer-Networking Ltd. Spybot Search & Destroy, which are available as freeware, both claim to offer an extra level of protection for computers by detecting, preventing and removing malicious adware, spyware, tracking cookies and rootkits. And both have legions of supporters who swear their product is more effective than the other. Determining which side is correct is no easy task, but there are a few subtle differences that might -- depending on personal preferences -- help you decide for yourself.
Although its January 2008 debut happened to coincide with the release of Windows Vista, Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, with its simple, gray user interface, could easily be mistaken for something out of the Windows 3.1 era. The three radio buttons featured on the welcome screen allow users to choose between “Quick Scan,” “Full Scan” and “Flash Scan.” Each option lets users continue to work while the program searches for malicious spyware, adware and other potentially harmful or intrusive elements. The program includes a standard set of features, including an updater, a quarantine bay, access to scan logs and an ignore list. Malwarebytes also includes a handy feature that Spybot lacks: something its developer calls “Chameleon Technology,” which helps it slip by malware that prevents the installation of detection programs.
Spybot Search & Destroy
Having released the first version of Spybot Search & Destroy in 1995, Safer-Networking Ltd. clearly have had more time than the developers at Malwarebytes to tinker with aesthetics. The result is a more visually appealing program that offers users a choice of several skins. Spybot also offers features beyond adware and malware detection: Immunization helps guard against malicious intrusions; TeaTimer alerts users when questionable registry changes are made; Secure Shredder removes all traces of unwanted files; and Usage Tracks deletes Internet history records. And, unlike Malwarebytes, Spybot allows users to refine the scope of its scans, from the entire system to individual files and folders.
Toe to Toe
Both Malwarebytes and Spybot are available as fully functional free versions, with each reserving scheduled scanning and automatic updating functions for the paid versions. In terms of extras, Spybot handily beats Malwarebytes with its suite of truly useful tools; however, should your computer become infected with malware that prevents the installation of a detection program, you’ll likely appreciate Malwarebyte’s Chameleon Technology. In a comparison test performed on the same computer, Spybot found 14 potential issues, while Malwarebytes unearthed just eight; however, five of Malwarebytes’ findings weren’t included in Spybot’s list. The fact that similar results have been reported by users in various Internet forums could lead one to conclude that each program has strengths in areas its competitor doesn’t.
The Bottom Line
While Malwarebytes and Spybot are regarded as among the best free anti-malware programs, experts tend to recommend using programs such as these to complement full computer security programs. While the question of which program is absolutely superior may never be answered, perhaps the answer to a more pertinent question -- “What is best for your PC?” -- is evident. Considering their small file sizes (15MB for Spybot and 9MB for Malwarebytes when downloaded), there should be plenty of room on any hard drive for both. And because neither program offers scheduled scanning, there’s little danger of concurrent scans tying up system resources.
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