Ad-aware 6.0 Professional
by Berislav Kucan - Thursday, 20 March 2003.
More and more freeware and shareware software developers are trying to get some financial support for their own work, and because of that incorporate various additional "marketing" tools into their products.

On the other hand, a number of other proclaimed software products secretly snoop on their users. It became normal that every now and then, you'll find a new mysterious folder in your Windows programs directory, an unknown key will get its place in your Windows Registry or an unfamiliar process will start running in the background. These kind of programs usually open pop-ups or collect information about your computer. As another disruption to your on/line privacy and security, there are web sites that will mess with your browser settings, do installations over ActiveX controls or destroy your surfing pleasures by opening those pesky pop-us. There are number of tools that concentrate on fixing and stopping these kind of problems and Ad-aware is one of the best ones.

Ad-aware was always a popular name when talking about dangers and problems with spyware and adware software. I have been using several different versions of Ad-aware in the past couple of years ago and I'm happy to see that the state of this useful piece of software is always progressing. As for this review, we will take a look at the latest Ad-aware 6.0 Professional.

Installation Overview

The installation went really smooth, without any problems. The user can configure the folder the software will be installed in and has the ability to chose installing just the core program or also installing couple of additional plug-ins, a manual and a German language support. As you can see from the image below, the graphical user interface (GUI) looks intuitive and easy to use.



System Scan

The main purpose of this program is to scan your computer and deliver the information on the installed programs and files, which are endangering the system's security and privacy. There are three ways to scan with Ad-aware: using default options as set in the product's initial configuration, scanning by selecting the desired directories or drives and quick system check scan. All of these options can be powered up with a recommended step of activating in-depth scan mode. For making your scan even more productive, there are several options giving you the possibility of customizing the scanning process. Some of the options presented can make Ad-aware scan within archives, skip non-executable files or skip files larger than desired and scan active processes or registry keys.

After the scan is done, you will be presented with a list with all suspicious files residing on your computer. Mostly, there will be a large number of cookies received from the various web sites, but you will be surprised how many spyware or adware installations your computer hosts. Ad-aware gives you the opportunity to manually read about every file or program that has been found, making it easier to decide whether you will delete it or just let it be.

As with the Anti Virus solutions, the most important step besides having the scanner is to regularly update it. Ad-aware's status screen offers information on your current installation and the usage statistics. Besides these information brackets, clicking the appropriate button gives you the possibility to update the reference file.



Plugins

Updating the plug-ins and extensions is done in an simple and easy way - By visiting the Ad-ware Professional homepage, check the right corner for the information on available plug-ins. To differentiate these two phrases, plug-ins are standalone programs which can be activated from within the Ad-aware user interface. On the other hand, extensions allow you to examine objects from within the results list after the scan was done. The files are downloaded in the EXE format, and their setup procedures include searching for the Ad-aware directory and automatically installing to the appopriate plug-ins sub-folder.

Currently there are two plug-ins available for download:
  • Specs - FileResource Dump Plug-in
  • HexDump - allows to view the data of any suspicious file through a Hex dump of the file content (This plug-in can be installed directly from the Ad-aware setup).


Ad-watch and Process-watch

Ad-watch is a very useful module, which makes Ad-aware even better solution for Desktop protection. It provides an additional layer of security by constantly monitoring the processes and alerting the user if some kind of possible malicious activity is taking place. There are few protection mechanisms incorporated in Ad-watch, and they take care of the boring and hateful browser hijacking attempts, suspicious processes, registry modifications, web based pop-up advertising (black lists can be created) and malicious from-the-web installations.



Process-watch is another module of a great use. As you can see from the module name, it focuses on watching the active processes on the system and provides information on them in the easily viewable and understandable way. The module gives you the possibility of snooping on the processes running on your system, terminating them, doing hex-dumps, extracting file details from active programs and outputting the lists to easily readable HTML and TXT formats.



Final take

What a great piece of software Ad-aware is. It provides some great functionalities and I'm really impressed with the state of the Ad-watch and Proc-watch modules which make Ad-ware a complete Desktop security solution, rather than just a spyware remover tool. This 6.0 version was eagerly expected and the developers quite successfully created a killer-app.



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