Recently my colleague Erik Larkin opined that dedicated antispyware applications are a waste of time and money. But while his argument is compelling, his opinion has caused a stir among those who earn their corn selling antispyware.

Eric used the example of PC Tools' Spyware Doctor - the best antispyware we've tested in recent times. He said that as it detected 'only 38 percent of inactive spyware samples' users would be better off combining an antivirus software program - they generally have a much better malware-detection rate - with a free antispyware app such as Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware - download Ad-Aware here.

Not so, says PC Tools. (But then, when was the last time you saw a turkey voting for Christmas?)

PC Tools' Magida Ezzat told PC Advisor that saying AV software can detect and remove spyware threats is "a bit like saying you can cure a headache with a sticking plaster".

"Spyware is not an inactive infection, unlike most viruses," says Ezzat. "Spyware lands on a computer active and executes immediately, it hides in the kernel, embeds itself in the registry and in running processes."

Unsuprisingly, Ezzat dismisses her product's 38 percent of inactive spyware result, saying that testing antispyware in an inactive environment isn't a "real-world scenario". Furthermore, even though PC Tools flogs antivirus software, Ezzat says that AV isn't effective at detecting malware such as rootkits and keyloggers:

"The majority of viruses do not use spyware techniques to ‘spy’; rather they aim to simply annoy and disrupt the computer. Their potential for damage is much less worrying that that of spyware, whose main objective is for monetary gain.

"The aim of hackers today is to overload AV companies with threat variants, to increase their window of opportunity. Can traditional AV cope with this explosion of malware? No."

Which is a hefty thing for a security software company to say. So what's antispyware-vendor PC Tools' solution? Er, buy antispyware.

PC tools thinks that customers should cover their PCs' backs with both antivirus and antispyware products.

For myself, I'm inclined to play safe and use both antivirus and antispyware on my PC - but only because I fear what I don't fully understand. Magida Ezzat says: "This is the real world and not a controlled laboratory where spyware lands inactive and does no harm." But she would. So I'm confused.

I mean, Erik Larkin is an associate editor of PC Advisor's US sister title PC World, and a very sharp cookie indeed. And if he feels safe without dedicated antispyware...

What do you think?

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