Utility cleans your system of spyware

Your shed or garage probably has a hunk of Lava soap, that gritty, industrial bar that not only takes grease and grime off your hands but also, it seems, the top layer of skin.

I don't know whether Lavasoft, a German developer, had Lava soap in mind when it developed a utility called Ad-aware, but hard-working systems, like hands, require periodic scrubbing of accumulated schmutz.

If you are responsible for mobile or field PC users outside your firewall, and if they spend any time surfing the Web, it's worth looking into Ad-aware. The free download, recently updated to Version 5.83, searches a hard drive for spyware programs and gathers them for elimination. Think of it as a weapon of mass destruction for bloodsucker programs.

By spyware I mean little applications that a user probably installed without realizing it.

Typically delivered via Web sites' pop-up ads, they remain on a target system collecting information about what sites the user visits and sending it back for sale to marketers.

Some such applets are persistent. For example, the annoying MSBB.exe from 180Solutions Inc. of Redmond, Wash., cannot be removed by either Symantec Corp.'s Norton CleanSweep or Microsoft Windows' built-in uninstaller.

Spying degrades performance

If the spying doesn't bother you, the performance degradation caused by spyware apps should. They take up RAM and CPU cycles and, over time, their accumulation can slow down a system noticeably.

Plus, spyware is a security concern. If unknown parties can put executable cookies on your system despite antivirus shields, they have the means to do more than simply monitor Web viewing patterns.

I ran Ad-aware 5.83 on an older, 500-MHz system under Windows 98. It detected'and generated a log file about'a dozen processes and several hundred files. I gathered them all into a folder in Windows' Recycle Bin in case some dynamic link library or other component might be needed again. Then I zapped them with Ad-aware's eliminate option. MSBB.exe thankully was flushed.

The interface was a bit confusing for a first-time user. After a few wrong clicks, I ended up erasing the results of my scan of the 40G hard drive and had to start over, each scan taking about 20 minutes.

After I'd scrubbed away the spyware, the computer ran noticeably faster, and mysterious error messages stopped appearing.

Lavasoft recommends running Ad-aware periodically, and I agree. For $15, you can buy a registered version with lifetime updates'a good investment.

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