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My anti-virus suite will surely help me, won't it?

No. If you look at this from the standpoint of AV providers, there is no financial benefit, thus, there is no motivation to add spyware removal features.

Many of the best removal tools are freely available for download. It does not make sense to attempt to develop something better than people already expect for free. Additionally, it is much harder to keep up with spyware than worms, viruses and Trojans because most of the aforementioned were not designed for financial gain and were typically developed by loose bands of unfunded hacking groups to prove a point.

When compared to the financial forces that are backing spyware, the cost to AV companies to keep up would be astronomical. Without a significant increase in product costs, AV companies cannot allocate resources to battle what has become the new front on the assault of your Internet experience.

I have a personal firewall and I patch my system all the time. Shouldn't I be safe?

Absolutely not. For openers, Microsoft is slow to deliver patches in relation to the speed and efficiency that malware developers disseminate their apps. Statistics show that browsing a single site can yield over a dozen infections.

What's worse is that Browser Helper Objects (BHOs) are invisible to personal firewalls. The traffic is seen as originating from your browser, not the malicious helper. Spyware developers know precisely how personal firewalls behave and their apps are written to take advantage of allowed protocols and applications. Adding insult to injury, spyware uses Microsoft's own zone security model against them by simply placing malicious sites in Internet Explorer's trusted zone.

OK so which spyware removal tool is the best?

There is no single tool out there that can rid you of your troubles. Typically, running two or three different scanners will yield different results. A popular tag team approach to vanquishing the unwelcome code includes installing both Lavasoft's Adaware and Spybot Search and Destroy.

Also, detecting spyware is completely different from removing it.

As of late, spyware makers have started delivering apps that cannot be removed with automated tools so even if you ditch IE in favor of an alternate browser you may still find yourself spending hours trying to remediate infections. Sadly, users end up lost in search engine results and scanning forums hoping to find a remediation process that worked for other poor souls.

In some cases, a complete OS reinstall is quicker than bearing this pain. You may also find yourself victimized by your own desire to remove spyware. Some crooked coders have actually developed what look to be legitimate spyware scanners, which are, in fact, spyware propagators.

What can we do?

Sadly, the funding that's fueling spyware development is far greater than the funding devoted to stopping it. Until the playing field evens out, spyware is going to continue to invade our privacy, steal information and cause financial and personal loss.

For now, the best thing you can do is visit trusted sites and be vigilant about scanning your machine with a variety of anti-spyware tools. Keep in mind that most bona fide removal tools are developed by independent groups of developers and small development firms. Paying for anti-spyware software is not an indicator that you are getting a superior product over free, open source alternatives.