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The Best Spyware Protection Security Software of 2017

Antispyware for Everyone

Ever feel like someone's spying on you? It's a creepy feeling in the real world, and spying happens in the cyber realm, too. Spyware is just one kind of malware, and the best antivirus utilities should also do the best job protecting you from spyware. However, some security products add unusual features specifically devoted to fending off spying malware. The chart above doesn't aim to call out the best antivirus products. Rather, it identifies products that illustrate seven important spyware protection techniques, from blocking keyloggers to scanning your network for unsecured devices.

Just what is spyware? The term actually covers a wide variety of sinister software, programs that can do everything from capturing your passwords as you type to literally spying on you through a webcam or internet-aware device. Read on to learn about the varieties of spyware, and the technology that shuts down the spies.

Keyloggers Capture Your Keystrokes

As the name implies, a keylogger keeps a log of all the keys you type, everything from personal messages to username and password combinations. If you have a keylogger running on your system, chances are good that some crooked individual planted it specifically to spy on you. The keylogger can even be a physical device, installed between the keyboard and the PC.

We call them keyloggers, but in truth these nasty programs log a ton of information in addition to keystrokes. Most capture screenshots, save the contents of the clipboard, note every program you run, and log every website you visit. The perp can use these various threads of information to, for example, match up a username and password you typed with the website you were visiting at the time. That's a potent combination.

As noted, a first-class malware protection utility should wipe out keyloggers, along with all other types of malware. However, some of them add another layer of protection, just in case a keylogger slips past. When this sort of protection is active, the keylogger typically receives random characters, or nothing at all, in place of your typing, and attempts at screen capture come up blank. Note, though, that other logging activities may not be blocked.

Of course, keylogger protection in software can't prevent a hardware keylogger from capturing keystrokes. But what if you don't use the keyboard? A virtual keyboard on the screen lets you enter your most sensitive data by clicking with the mouse. Some products go to extremes, scrambling the key locations, or creating a flock of decoy cursors to foil screen-capture attacks. Virtual keyboards are often found in password manager tools as well, so you can enter the master password without fear of having it captured.

Virtual Keyboard

Trojans Can Steal Your Data

The historic Trojan horse looked innocuous enough to the soldiers of Troy that they brought it inside the city walls. Bad idea; Greek soldiers exited the horse in the night and conquered the Trojans. The malware type aptly named Trojan horse works in much the same way. It looks like a game, or a utility, or useful program of some kind, and may even perform its promised function. But it also contains malicious code.

So, now that you've brought it inside your city walls, what can the Trojan horse do? The possibilities are vast, but I'll focus on the ones designed to steal your personal data. They silently sift through your files and documents, seeking information to send back to malware HQ. Credit card details, social security numbers, passwords—the malware coder can monetize these and other kinds of personal information.

One way to foil this sort of attack is to use encryption to protect your most important files. You'll find encryption built into many security suites, among them Bitdefender Total Security, G Data Total Security, Kaspersky Total Security. Note, though, that it's tough to find and encrypt every shred of personal data. Good thing that your antivirus usually whacks these nasties before they launch.

Secure Browser

A variation on this theme creates what's called a man-in-the-middle attack. All of your internet traffic gets redirected through a malware component that captures and forwards personal information. Some banking Trojans take this a step beyond, actually modifying the traffic they handle so. For example, the Trojan might transfer $10,000 out of your account but strip that data from the activity log that you see.

You can prevent man-in-the-middle and other types of browser-based spying by using a hardened browser. Implementations vary from suite to suite. Some wrap your existing browser in added protective layers. Some offer a separate high-security browser. And some move your browsing to a secure desktop, entirely separate from the normal desktop. The smart ones automatically offer the secure browser when they see you're about to visit a financial site.

Secure Browser Offer

Routing your traffic through a virtual private network (VPN) is another way to foil many kinds of browser-level spying. You can definitely use a VPN along with your malware protection; suspenders and belt!

Advertisers Track Your Browsing Habits

Have you noticed how when you look at a product on a shopping site, you start seeing ads for it on other sites? Online advertisers really want to present ads that you might click on. To that end, they use a variety of techniques to pin down your browsing habits. They don't necessarily know your name, or your email address, but they do know "that guy who keeps shopping for leopard-print bikinis."

Creepy, right? The good news is, you can set your browser to tell every site you visit that you don't want them tracking you. The bad news is, they can (and do) totally ignore that request.

Do Not Track

The advertising and analysis networks that perform this kind of tracking are necessarily large. It's not too hard to compile a list of them, and actively block their tracking, or to at least give the user the option to do so. This active Do Not Track functionality is sometimes paired with general purpose ad blocking. Note, too, that using a secure browser or a VPN can help to throw off the trackers.

The most advanced trackers create a fingerprint by quizzing your browser about all kind of details, fiddly stuff like what extensions are installed, even what font are available. The usual active Do Not Track implementations can't help you against these. If you really, really hate the idea of having your online behavior tracked, consider giving TrackOFF Basic a try. This one-trick pony only foils fingerprinters, but it does that one task well.

Webcam Antispyware

That webcam on your laptop or all-in-one computer makes video conferencing super easy. You can tell when it's active, because of the little light next to it. Right? Well, no. There are varieties of malware that can turn on the webcam and watch you without causing the light to reveal their activities.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg famously tapes over his webcam, for privacy. If tape seems cheesy, you can get a sliding webcam cover for just a few bucks. But, with the right security software, you don't need to physically cover the camera.

Security suites from ESET and Kaspersky include a component that monitors any program that tries to activate the webcam. Bitdefender's 2018 line will have a similar feature. Authorized programs, like your video conferencing tool, get access without a problem. But if an unknown program tries to peek through the camera, you get a warning, as well as a chance to give the spyware a black eye.

Internet of Spies

Your home network supports a collection of very visible computers and mobile devices. Behind the scenes, though, it also supports an even bigger collection of Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Connected garage doors, washing machines, light bulbs—everything's on the network these days. Toys, too. It's cool that your child's new doll can learn her name and converse realistically. It's not so cool when it turns out that the doll is spying on you. (No, the doll's name is Cayla, not Chuckie.)

There are occasional instances like the connected doll and Samsung TV spyware incident where IoT devices deliberately collect data about you. But the lack of security in most connected devices is even more worrisome. Spending extra bucks to secure a smart lightbulb makes no financial sense, in some manufacturers' eyes. The competitor who skips security can get to market faster, and for less. Ultimately, you may pay the cost for their negligence, however.

Any unsecured IoT device can potentially offer spies a view into your house, and your habits. Ironically, hacked security cameras provide a lovely view for the hackers. Even something as simple as a thermostat that adjusts the temp when you're home can reveal that you've gone on vacation.

You can't go around installing antivirus on each connected doorbell, refrigerator, and bathroom scale. Securing these devices requires network hardware like the Bitdefender Box or any of the many competitors that are springing up. But you can at least keep track of just what lives in your home network

Network Scan

Some security products now include variations on the theme of a network scanner. Features include verifying your network security settings, cataloging all devices on the network, and flagging devices that may be vulnerable to attack. If your antivirus or security suite includes this feature, be sure to take advantage of it, and learn as much as you can. If you didn't get this feature as part of your protection, consider trying the free Bitdefender Home Scanner.

Other Spyware Protection Strategies

The spyware protection features I've mentioned are important, but they're not the only tools available. I mentioned encrypting your sensitive files. For maximum security, you must also use secure deletion to erase the originals beyond the possibility of forensic recovery. And yes, quite a few antivirus and security suite products offer secure deletion.

If spyware does get a foothold on your PC, it can't hoover up data that isn't there. Many security products can clear traces of your browsing activity, general computer activity, or both. As a bonus, getting rid of unnecessary files can free up disk space and may boost performance. Products like Data Discover take the concept one step farther, locating unprotected personal data and helping you delete or encrypt it.

It's unlikely that a spy would get physical access to your computer and copy sensitive documents to a USB drive. That's something that happens in the movies. But if you have the slightest worry about that possibility, consider choosing a security suite that lets you ban use of any USB drive that you haven't previously authorized. G Data Total Security, ESET Smart Security Premium, and Avira Antivirus Pro are among the products that offer this kind of device control.

In the end, though, the most powerful tool you can apply to keep yourself safe from spyware is a top-of-the-line antivirus or security suite. These products handle all kinds of malware, threats much tougher than mere spyware. The blurbs below list all of the antivirus and security suite products we've reviewed that received an excellent rating, four stars or better.

  • Avast Free Antivirus 2017 Review

    $0.00 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Avast Free Antivirus 2017 combines a great free antivirus with a surprisingly extensive collection of bonus features.

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  • AVG AntiVirus Free (2017) Review

    $0.00 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: AVG AntiVirus Free has a new look, and some new technology, but our hands-on tests and independent lab tests show that it's just as reliable as ever.

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  • Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 Review

    $39.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Bitdefender Antivirus Plus 2017 combines top-scoring antivirus protection with so many bonus features it would almost qualify as a security suite.

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  • Bitdefender Internet Security 2017 Review

    $59.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Bitdefender Internet Security 2017 packs every feature you expect in a security suite, along with a wealth of bonus features. An updated user interface revitalizes this excellent suite.

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  • Bitdefender Total Security 2017 Review

    $89.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Bitdefender Total Security 2017 offers a cornucopia of security features for Windows, with plenty of bonus features. You also get award-winning Android security and antivirus for Mac.

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  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus (2017) Review

    $59.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: The independent testing labs consistently award Kaspersky Anti-Virus their highest ratings, plus it aces our own antiphishing tests, adds plenty of bonus features, and it's fast. That's enou…

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  • Kaspersky Internet Security (2017) Review

    $79.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: With best-ever ratings from independent testing labs and a huge range of security-centric features, Kaspersky Internet Security is one of our top picks for keeping your PC and devices safe.

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  • Symantec Norton AntiVirus Basic Review

    $39.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: After a few years on hiatus, Symantec's standalone antivirus is back. Norton AntiVirus Basic earns top scores from the independent labs and in our own tests. It's a winner.

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  • Symantec Norton Security Premium (2017) Review

    $89.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: In addition to a raft of top-notch suite features, Symantec Norton Security Premium comes with 25GB of online storage and a top-tier parental control system. Furthermore, you can install it …

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  • Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus Review

    $39.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Webroot SecureAnywhere AntiVirus remains the smallest, fastest antivirus around, and it aced our hands-on malware-blocking test.

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  • Kaspersky Total Security (2017) Review

    $89.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: To the impressive feature list of Kaspersky's entry-level suite, Total Security adds password management, excellent parental control, file encryption, secure deletion, and more. It's a top c…

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  • Symantec Norton Security Deluxe (2017) Review

    $79.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Symantec Norton Security Deluxe offers award-winning antivirus and a tough, self-sufficient firewall, without dragging down system performance. It can protect up to five Windows, Android, ma…

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  • McAfee AntiVirus Plus (2017) Review

    $59.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: McAfee AntiVirus Plus doesn't score as high as other Editors' Choice products in testing, but it covers vastly more than the others. One subscription lets you protect every Windows, Android,…

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  • McAfee LiveSafe (2017) Review

    $89.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: In addition to protecting all your Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, McAfee LiveSafe offers a unique encrypted cloud storage system.

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  • Avast Pro Antivirus 2017 Review

    $39.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Avast Pro Antivirus 2017 offers the same wealth of features as its free edition, and not a lot more. It's an excellent product, but for most people the free version will suffice.

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  • Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition (2017) Review

    $0.00 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition includes precisely the same antivirus technology found in the commercial Bitdefender Antivirus, without the paid edition's many useful bonus features.

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  • Check Point ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ 2017 Review

    $0.00 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus+ combines a top-notch firewall with antivirus protection licensed from award-winning Kaspersky. This free program can be a good choice if you don't want a full-scale…

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  • Check Point ZoneAlarm PRO Antivirus + Firewall 2017 Review

    $39.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: With the powerful ZoneAlarm firewall, antivirus licensed from Kaspersky, and a unique new approach to phishing protection, Check Point ZoneAlarm PRO Antivirus + Firewall 2017 is worth a look…

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  • Emsisoft Anti-Malware 2017 Review

    $39.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Hence the name, Emsisoft Anti-Malware focuses on the core task of keeping your PCs free of malware. It does a good job, and with a clean, simple interface, it looks good too.

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  • ESET NOD32 Antivirus 10 Review

    $39.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: ESET NOD32 Antivirus 10 scores well with most independent labs and in most of our hands-on tests, and its full system scan is faster than most.

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  • F-Secure Anti-Virus (2017) Review

    $39.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller%

    Bottom Line: F-Secure Anti-Virus's fast full scan and DeepGuard behavior-based detection system make it a powerhouse against malware, but it doesn't offer many bonus features.

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  • McAfee Total Protection (2017) Review

    $89.99 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: To the feature set of McAfee's entry-level suite, Total Protection adds file encryption and four additional licenses for the True Key password manager. Best of all, you can install it on eve…

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  • Sophos Home Review

    $0.00 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Sophos Home brings the company's sophisticated business-grade antivirus technology to the home user, for free. It scores very well with the independent labs, and in most (but not all) of our…

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  • Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security (2017) Review

    $39.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Trend Micro Antivirus+ Security earns high scores in our hands-on tests, though not in every independent lab test. Ransomware protection is a welcome addition in this latest version.

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  • Trend Micro Internet Security (2017) Review

    $59.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Though it lacks an integrated firewall, Trend Micro Internet Security (2017) includes antivirus, antispam, and parental control, along with loads of bonus features that actively help to ensu…

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  • Trend Micro Maximum Security (2017) Review

    $89.95 MSRP
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    Bottom Line: Your Trend Micro Maximum Security lets you protect up to five Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS devices, but it's best on Windows and Android.

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  • Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete Review

    $79.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller%

    Bottom Line: Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Complete includes a powerful, unusual antivirus, 25GB of hosted online backup, and a system optimization system, yet has a light touch on system reso…

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  • Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus (2016) Review

    $49.99 MSRP
    %displayPrice% at %seller%

    Bottom Line: Webroot SecureAnywhere Internet Security Plus adds Android support and a password manager to an already-excellent antivirus app.

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