Which Programs Should I Run To Scan A Computer For Malicious Software?

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 15, 2008
Updated • Aug 20, 2013
Antivirus, Software

The amount of security applications for end users has reached a point where the choice is starting to confuse users more than it is helping. Not only are programs using different terms, it becomes increasingly difficult to find out how those terms differ from one another. Could you explain the different between malware, spyware, trojans, worms and viruses to a layperson?

So called experts all have their set of tools that they recommend for certain situations but it can happen that you get a set of totally different applications for the same task when you are asking two advanced users.

To give an example. Should a user run Ad-Aware, Spybot Search And Destroy, Spyware Terminator or one of the other dozen or so anti-spyware applications that can be used freely for personal non-commercial use.

Too much choice can be confusing and this article tries to narrow down the list to security applications that are recommended most of the time. Some users will disagree with the choices and they have every right to do so. You can rest assured on the other hand that the selection of tools should be sufficient to scan a computer system thoroughly


Spyware usually refers to malicious software that tries to spy on the user or serve advertisement while the system is running. This can be done with tracking cookies, changing the user's homepage or showing popups from time to time.

  • Spybot Search And Destroy - Spybot Search and Destroy is updated regularly and does not confuse the user with different versions like Ad-Aware does with Ad-Aware Free, Plus and Pro.
  • Spyware Terminator - A tool that has been downloaded more than 17 million times should do a good job. Spyware Terminator is fast and efficient.


Anti-virus applications create probably the most controversy. There is so much choice of free and commercial applications so that it becomes nearly impossible to make a decision. The applications protect the computer in realtime and can scan the computer thoroughly.

  • AVG Anti-Virus - A classic anti-virus software that provides protection against viruses, rootkits and spyware.
  • Free AV - Antivir protects the computer against viruses, rootkits, dialers and phising.


Rootkits have been gaining popularity in the last years and one could say that Sony did not have a small part in raising the public's perception of rootkits with their music CDs that contained a rootkit in order to prevent customers from copying the music.

  • Rootkit Unhooker - a portable rootkit scanner with a size of under 100 Kilobyte.
  • Gmer - is another tool to scan the computer for rootkits.

Is the list missing any categories? Would you put other applications up there (I know you would so let me know)?


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  1. Pietzki said on September 17, 2008 at 8:49 am

    oh, and I forgot to include spywareblaster in my list. But if you already use a good hosts file there is no need for it, so this one is probably more useful for inexperienced users..

    @ neem, I used to use threatfire, but I found that my pc was protected well enough without it. True, it adds an extra layer of protection, but that little bit wasn’t enough to justify the false positives and resource use imo…

    Martin, any chance of an updated list?

  2. Doug Woodall said on September 17, 2008 at 12:21 am

    Avast and AVG are pretty good as per alot of happy users.
    Ad-Aware and SpyBot are pretty well liked too.
    Im using BitDefender myself. I like it.
    Never thought I’d settle for a all-in-one.

  3. Starboykb said on September 16, 2008 at 9:09 am

    Combo Fix is recommended to fix some corrupted windows and removed trojons and Vundo like.

  4. Jojo said on September 16, 2008 at 5:04 am

    Suggest you review the programs and thread discussions here:

  5. neem said on September 15, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    I use AntiVir (the best of all the freeware AVs and probably better than most of the paid); SuperAntiSpyware, MalwareBytes, and AVG Anti-Spyware (yes you can still download it/update definitions.. check filehippo.com) for AS; ThreatFire to supplement my traditional AV (threatfire.com)..

    Of course a router and safe browsing practices are the first line of defense..

  6. Pietzki said on September 15, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    Good work on including Avira antivir, it is definitely one of the best (if not THE best) AV’s out there.

    But if I were you I would remove spyware terminator at once. It was once listed as a rogue app on spywarewarrior. It was de-listed in 2006 http://www.spywarewarrior.com/de-listed.htm but that doesn’t mean it’s trustworthy. In my books any company that was once involved in distributing malware (like Crawler LLC, the makers of spyware terminator were) does not deserve to be trusted, EVER.

    I’d replace it with malwarebytes anti-malware instead. It is a great app, and is updated frequently. The other day there was a problem with it, and within a few hours (!!!) the makers had fixed it and released an update. That really shows commitment.

    What about adding a category for preventive measures? I’d include McAfee siteadvisor (the only mcafee product I’d ever use) and keyscrambler. Another obvious one would be the firefox extension noscript.

  7. Bill said on September 15, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Great starter discussion on PC security!

    To round it out a bit, take a look at Gizmo’s extended reviews and comments:

  8. john said on September 15, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    -free kaspersky avptool
    -superantispyware (free)
    -avira personal free(& avira rescue cd)

  9. zaxta said on September 15, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    Have you tried Ad-aware?

    Kaspersky is a pretty cool shareware, but one of the things I don’t like is it blocks those ads like adsense and tribalfusion by default.

    “Anti-virus applications create probably the most controversy. There is so much choice of free and commercial applications that makes it nearly impossible to make a decision.”

    If so, why don’t you create a guide on how to choose the best anti-virus? I’d love to know about it

  10. rruben said on September 15, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I have bought kaspersky and am pretty happy with it. It has saved me a couple times, but also malwarebytes will do a great job indeed with vundo and winantiviruspro which sneaked on my pc between the time I removed kaspersky and when I bought it again. But when I used kaspersky again I saw that malwarebytes had left some crap over.

  11. Martin said on September 15, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Ben Antivir is in the list;)

  12. -=Ben=- said on September 15, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I suggest AntiVir for an AntiVirus solution

  13. slapjimmy said on September 15, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    malwarebytes is pretty good too – gets rids of vundo and winantiviruspro2008

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