We’re so used to big, do-everything security suites these days that the idea of opting for an plain antivirus tool instead seems a little, well, inadequate.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though, and there’s no better example of this than the new PC Tools Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011.
Just as you’d expect, the program provides a very capable core antivirus engine. And in August 2010, its previous incarnation was awarded AV Comparatives highest ADVANCED+ rating, in their on-demand comparative tests.
What you also get is PC Tools IntelliGuard, which monitors nine areas of your PC for other signs of potential problems. Behaviour Guard (essentially PC Tools ThreatFire technology) keeps an eye on running processes, looking out for signs of malicious behaviour. Network Guard monitors key network files and settings (the Hosts file, Layered Service Providers, DNS settings, more), preventing malicious tweaks. The new Download Guard looks out for dangerous downloads, and joins a host of other browsing-related tools that will variously protect your browsing settings, block phishing and other malicious sites, wipe malicious cookies and more.
There’s no firewall here, no spam filter, no parental controls: but Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 offers plenty of real-time checks. If you like its features, you can always add a standalone firewall.
We installed the latest build (184.108.40.2066) and put it through its paces, to find out.
The Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 interface is straightforward and clear.
Open the program’s console and reassuring green ticks should immediately tell you that all its systems are active, and you currently have no security issues. And General Protection Information pane displays useful data like the time of the last scan, and when the program was last updated: it’s much better to have this visible up-front, rather than hidden away in an obscure dialog somewhere.
Common tasks are easily accessible, too. You want to launch a scan? Click Scan Now. Need to check some aspect of your IntelliGuard status? Just click the IntelliGuard button. Just about every setting or feature you might want to use is visible within a couple of clicks, so within perhaps a couple of minutes you’ll have discovered everything important (something you won’t get in any of the big suites) and be ready to launch your first scan.
By default Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 will launch an “Intelli-Scan”, checking only the most likely places to find infections (running processes, startup locations, ActiveX Objects, the Registry and so on). It’s reasonably effective, and also quite fast, taking a little under 5 minutes on our PC.
If you’d like to be more thorough, though, you can run a full system scan. There’s also a Custom Scan option, that allows you to choose both the drives and folders you’d like to check, and the type of threat you want to look for. So you could do anything from, say, scanning every file on your backup drive N:, to running a simple check on your Hosts file for malicious entries.
Explorer integration means you can right-click any drive, folder or file, and choose the Scan With Spyware Doctor option to give it a quick check.
And there’s also a scheduler to run unattended scans whenever you like, or you can allow the program to run background scans when your PC is idle. (The latter option can now be disabled, a new feature in this version.)
If you’re short on RAM then you may prefer one of the final two options. Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 consumed a considerable amount of memory in our tests, more than 230MB on occasions, and this could easily impact on your other PC activities.
The program used other resources very sparingly, though, and on our test PC (equipped with 4GB of RAM) its scans had little effect. Other programs launched and ran almost as they would do normally, allowing us to work while scans ran in the background.
And elsewhere, Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 intelligently modifies its behaviour to suit your situation. So there’s no need to trigger Game Mode yourself: it automatically detects full-screen apps and hides unnecessary pop-ups. And if you have a laptop, the built-in Power Saving Mode will postpone energy-sapping tasks until you’re connected to the mains, extending battery life. We did notice that browsing was occasionally slower, but that may have been a consequence of another Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 feature: IntelliGuard.
In-depth real-time protection
IntelliGuard adds multiple layers of real-time anti-malware protection to your system, monitoring many different entry points – downloads, email attachments, web pages and more – for incoming threats and blocking everything it finds.
You’ll probably first notice this when running a search at Google, Bing and other major search engines: your search results will have icons added to highlight any dangerous sites. A click will take you to a full report on PC Tools BrowserDefender site, where they explain their reasons for the site rating. And unusually, if you disagree then you can visit anyway, although a bar on the page warns you to “take extra precautions”.
While this sounds good, the system displayed up-front warnings for only 30% of the malicious sites we tried to visit, not overly impressive. Still, that’s better than nothing, and importantly it’s just one layer of protection. When we reached sites with malicious content, other components of Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus successfully detected and disarmed them all, so we were never exposed to any malware.
Other guards seemed more reliable, though. The File Guard caught all our test malware on access, as you’d hope; the email guard did the same with email attachments (it runs at the SMTP and POP3 protocol level so works with any client); and the cookie guard cleaned up tracking cookies with ease.
And while we didn’t test it, the Network Guard looks very thorough, blocking malicious access to your Hosts file, Layered Service Providers, the Messenger service, DNS and network Registry settings.
If you do have any problems, though, then IntelliGuard can be tweaked in various ways.
You’re able to add exceptions, for instance, that tell Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 to ignore legitimate programs that may try to adjust your system settings.
Some guards have settings of their own. Behaviour Guard has a Sensitivity Level that can be increased to catch more malware, or reduced to cut false positives; and File Guard can be adjusted to check just processes, processes and scripts, processes and executable files, or everything you touch – it’s your call.
Individual guards can be disabled, if they’re causing problems elsewhere.
And IntelliGuard can be deactivated entirely for a defined period of time, from 5 minutes to an hour. Which could be useful if you intend to run a program that you know will conflict with the system, or you just need the maximum performance from your system, perhaps to play a game, and want to free up as many resources as possible.
If we’ve a complaint here, it’s a small one. Every guard’s settings page includes a history link, and so you would think that, say, clicking on “View History” in the Network Guard would highlight any recent attempts to change settings that it’s detected. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. All the View History links lead to the same list of actions by every part of the program, and there’s no way to filter them to view only the actions of a particular guard. Which is a pity, as that would be useful if you’re troubleshooting possible conflicts.
That minor issue aside, though, IntelliGuard does a good job of surrounding your PC with multiple protective layers, and it leaves the program feeling more like a full internet security suite than a simple antivirus tool.
Interesting bonus features
Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus 2011 now also includes a Tools section, with some bonus programs that may help you cope with particularly stubborn infections.
The Threat Removal Tool is a stand-alone program designed to hunt down malware that interferes with antivirus software, for example. It runs extremely quickly, as it’s checking running processes only. And unlike the similar Norton Power Eraser, we could run the program on our test system without it recommending we delete a bunch of useful and entirely legitimate programs.
The PC Tools ISO Burner will automatically download the latest image of PC Tools’ Linux-based rescue CD for you, and burn it to disc, or a USB key. This could then help you detect and remove stealthy threats that had infected your PC before you’d installed Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus.
The Malware Detective creates a report of the executable files on your PC, then passes it to PC Tools. This may allow their support team to help you out, if you’re discussing a problem with them; otherwise, if this is a new threat, they can use the report to create virus signatures that will make this particular specimen easier to detect.
And there’s a compact File and Registry Tool that accesses your system through a custom kernel driver, and which may therefore allow you to delete hidden and locked files or invisible Registry keys that would otherwise be protected by malware currently on your PC.
It’s worth noting that these are all available for free at the PC Tools site.