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PestScan: free spyware checker

Spotter, not killer

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Review A free online spyware detection service, which its developers claim is the first of its kind, was launched yesterday.

PestScan from security software outfit PestPatrol is a Web-based program that runs from the PestPatrol Web site, downloading just a few small ActiveX components to a user's computer. In this respect the service can be compared to McAfee FreeScan.

But PestScan is after different potential nasties. Also PestScan doesn't automatically squish the bugs it finds.

I consider Active X controls to be a security risk in their own right and dislike scanning services on principle. But Pestscan is designed for the mainstream user and it offers the potential to alert them to possible spyware on their machine.

PestScan provides a quick, easy way to scan Windows PCs for spyware, keyloggers, and other computer pests in the places they are most likely to be hiding. The PestScan results link directly to PestPatrol's extensive pest information database, enabling users to find out how exposed they are.

PestScan only works on Windows PCs, but then this is possibly where the biggest problem lies.

We gave it a spin on an Windows 98 PC and (after clicking on permissions to allow various ActiveX controls to run on the machine eight times) run the test to discover all we had to worry about was 63 "spyware cookies". The test was over suspiciously quickly so we were left wondering how comprehensive it was. We removed the cookies using Clean Disk 2002, but you could also use IE to much the same end.

PestPatrol informs users that it is not completely safe to remove all traces of the pests it finds after an online scan because "many of them change registry entries and other settings deep in the heart of your computer's operating system".

It therefore advises any users concerned about the problems a scan has thrown up to either "manually remove" pests or to "purchase a licensed copy of PestPatrol to automatically remove what PestScan has found - and protect you against any further invasions". Alternatively, users might simply choose to live with the problems PestScan has found.

PestScan is in effect a marketing tool for Pest Patrol, and there's nothing wrong in that, per se. One good thing is that users don't have to submit their personal information in order to use PestScan. And it's free.

Readers interested in using PestScan can access it either through the PestScan button on the PestPatrol site or directly at a PestScan microsite here.

The technology behind PestScan represents the "first publicly available implementation of an overhauled and streamlined engine that will underlie future releases of the PestPatrol product range", according to the company. PestPatrol said it was in discussion with a number of companies to license its PestScan technology. ®

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