"Our product is officially considered an anti-spyware product," said Michael Helander, vice president of marketing for Swedish-based Lavasoft. (Indeed, the company wants to stress that Ad-Aware is not specifically anti-spam software.) Datamation readers enthusiastically voted Ad-Aware 2007 Pro as tops in the category. The other nominees were Spam Assassin 3.2.3 (a past winner) and MX Logic Email Defense Service.
Ad-Aware began in Germany in 1999, created by Nicolas Stark, a video game designer. Stark saw a need in threat-prevention software and worked to fill it. At the time, most of the prevention efforts were focused on fighting spam, which was a nuisance, but didn't hold the long-term threat potential of newer types of malware. Stark created the first version of Ad-Aware, and released it for free. Years later, he still co-owns this privately held company, and Lavasoft still offers a free version of Ad-Aware.
"That free program will always exist for Lavasoft. It's the reason why we are who we are today. We're a company that's grown through word of mouth," said Helander.
One malware expert, Ben Edelman, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School and a leading computer security researcher, agrees that the free version has helped raise Lavasoft's profile.
"Lavasoft, to its credit, has long offered a free version that removes the advertising software that harms the most users," said Edelman. "It was among the first to offer this kind of software, and has generally remained firm even in the face of threats from adware vendors seeking favorable treatment."
A Much-Needed Overhaul
With Ad-Aware 2007 Pro, which launched in June 2007, the company gave the aging program a much needed overhaul, and paved the way for even more important future releases.
While this version relies on a static database to identify known malware code, the new system architecture is part of a stronger identification system that won't debut until the 2008 release. The company recognizes that today's malware writers are well-paid and highly motivated. They've learned to outwit static database systems, so computer users need a program that can identify malware by its behavior, not by whether or not its name is in a central database.
While that release is still in the works, Ad-Aware 2007 Pro still offers plenty of other features for safety-conscious professionals. The program now works with multiple browsers, so users don't need to stick with Internet Explorer, and it runs on either home or business networks, protecting all the computers on that network. While there's an enterprise version for companies with an IT staff, smaller companies prefer the ease of the Pro version.
Ad-Aware 2007 Pro can erase cookies from all networked browsers with a single click, and it works with Lavasoft's malware database, which grows daily. The company sends out updates twice each week to its users.
"We pay a lot of attention to trying to educate computer users about why spyware and malware are such a critical issue," said Helander. According to Datamation readers, they're doing an excellent job.