Hardware

Five must-have apps for your USB stick

Don't get caught out in the field without the tools you need. A USB stick equipped with a few essential apps might just save the day.

Ah, the USB stick -- one of the IT admin's best friends. It travels with you and helps you rescue machines, work magic, and make end users sigh with relief. Some of these apps you copy to the hard drive and install; others can be run from the stick itself. A few of them are full-blown operating systems that can help you completely recover a corrupted or infected platform.

Whatever the style and purpose, there are plenty of portable apps for the USB stick that can be hard to live without. Here are five tools I deem must-haves.

Note: This list is also available as a photo gallery.

1: SystemRescueCD

SystemRescueCD (Figure A) is the Linux distribution to have if you're going to carry one around on a USB stick. With this distribution, you can recover partitions, recover data, image a disk, test a hard disk, edit configuration files, burn a disk, check for rootkits, run an antivirus scan, securely wipe a hard drive, and much more.

Figure A

SystemRescueCD

2: Portable Firefox

Portable Firefox (Figure B) is there when you need it. Sometimes, a Web browser is a necessity for solving a problem. But when the browser on the desktop won't run, what do you do? You break out your portable edition of Firefox. This version of Firefox has all the great features you're used to. In fact, some will be hard-pressed to figure out that Firefox is running from a USB stick.

Figure B

Portable Firefox

3: ComboFix

ComboFix (Figure C) makes almost every recovery tool list for me. No admin kit is complete without this powerhouse. It is my go-to tool when I encounter some of the nastier viruses and rootkits. Almost without fail, if an antivirus can't catch it, ComboFix can. Unlike common antivirus and anti-malware applications, ComboFix will display (upon completion of running) a detailed report of exactly what it took action on. Note: To run ComboFix, you'll need to copy the .exe over to the computer and install it.

Figure C

ComboFix

4: FileZilla Portable

FileZilla Portable (Figure D) is the one and only FTP client to carry around with you. Why would you need an FTP client? There will be times when you must load a file from a troubled computer to another machine. The easiest way to do this (when all other methods fail) is by using a portable FTP client. This is especially crucial when the file is too large to fit on a USB drive or if the file must be loaded to a remote machine you do not have physical access to. This application is run directly from the USB drive and isn't installed on the PC.

Figure D

FileZilla Portable

5: Explorer++ Portable

Explorer++ Portable (Figure E) is a file manager with all the usual features you've grown to expect from a file manager. But why should you carry a file manager with you? Have you ever had to repair a machine where Explorer won't run? Makes for a major challenge. Having a portable file manager gets around that issue with ease. And why not have a file manager with features like tabs, keyboard shortcuts, a customizable UI, drag-and-drop support, and merging and splitting? In the end, the file manager is one of the most important tools on a PC. Without it, a machine can easily become crippled.

Figure E

Explorer++ Portable

PortableApps

You might have noticed some of these apps link directly to the PortableApps site. That is a tool designed to make your life much easier. You can install PortableApps on your USB drive and then have a user-friendly system to add and remove apps to and from that USB drive with ease. I highly recommend this application for any and all IT admins.

Your picks

What other apps are on your must-have list for carrying with you on a USB stick? Share your recommendations with fellow TechRepublic members.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

52 comments
mark16_15
mark16_15

I never go anywhere without Thunderbird Portable. You might say use the webmail interface when you're out, but with T-Bird, I can check my multiple accounts all in one go.

wiggledbits
wiggledbits

I try MBAM first because it is a little less harsh than Combofix. If MBAM doesnt get it all then go to Combofix.

ilovesards
ilovesards

the blue ray disc could be wiped out. but cd's , specially write only= are very useful in these scenarios. viruses cant over write , unlike usb, sd metal drives and etc. daviddag is right. but if the thing you are fixing wont command a cd drive, yAs= you must have two usb's= usb1 and usb 2. use usb2 for your fixings. usb1 as back up only. after fixing=format usb2 and copy usb1 to usb2 . your pc was maybe infected also= so better have these files from usb1( you may secure first your pc using usb1(updated) before copying usb1 to usb2) . world of mis trust.

brian.jenkins
brian.jenkins

Downloaded the Cornice Portable application and when installing McAfee detected the Artimus! trojan. BE CAREFUL!!

James Brown
James Brown

HFS (http://www.rejetto.com/hfs/) is a stand alone 'file server' that runs over HTTP. A great tool for setting up a quick file transfer to another box. Essentially it provides a web server interface to whatever files YOU choose to share. It has a 'virtual file system' where you can essentially link to files that you want to make available without having to copy them. HFS is free, open source, and portable (runs directly from your USB stick without installing).

Regulus
Regulus

At the checkout counter (all over) get a box of ALTOIDS. After you finish freshening up, line the box with a thin, plastic-foam lining. You can fit 4 to 7 USB sticks in here! Label makers help you keep them straight. Use another box for AA & wafer batteries, also extra USB cords for connecting your cell & tablet; don't forget ear phones. Use label maker to label the boxes also - I use nearly 10 of them (maybe more.)

dbielaski
dbielaski

ComboFix is usually a malware utility "of last resort", that shouldn't be used unless you're fully aware of what it does. Normally, we carry other malware utilities like MalwareBytes and TDSS (Root) Killer on our USB sticks carried for work (IT). On my personal USB drive, I have many of the PortableApps programs like LibreOffice, FireFox, Thunderbird, etc. For those who have any sensitive data on the drive, TrueCrypt is a must.

wpshore
wpshore

How anyone can live without Everything Search [drive must be NTFS formatted] I don't know - remarkable program; CalendarScope is password protected personal calendar that works nicely; xyPlorer is just an excellent portable file manager (only Everything is free but the other two are well worth it..); MyInfo is excellent PIM (although non-portable askSam is my all-time favorite info organization app.. just say'in..).

meronbar
meronbar

They are still here, and big size too. Just search carefully. :) Because first thing you should have is write protected stick. And only then put some tools to them.

josua24vs15
josua24vs15

I carry a mini flash drive with medical information. It is labeled ICE but a Medical symbol would help. Doomsday Preppers might use the flash drives as miniature HD's.

michaewlewis
michaewlewis

I don't really keep track of any one "must-have" app. The only must-have that I keep on my flash drives is LiberKey Ultimate, with over 200 portable apps, including most of the one's you mentioned. I used to have Portable Apps installed on my flash drive, but found Liberkey was a lot more useful and better updated.

p.cumpston
p.cumpston

The portable version of Total Commander is a veritable swiss army knife of useful tools for navigating and transferring files. Check it out on: http://www.ghisler.com/ It couldbe used to replace explorer++ portable and filezilla

Frank-JH
Frank-JH

I just don't get it. When one of these articles comes out in Tech Republic I simple find the "Note:" and click on the link and read it in a blog. On the opening page there is this note: Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog. I simply click on that and continue on. What's the issue, one extra click???

kendrkin
kendrkin

For my toolkit to work on infected and broken machines, I use SARDU. It's a multi boot configuration tool to put multple tools, ISO's, and distributions onto one stick. It can configure multiple LIVE anti-virus scanners, diagnostics, drive copiers, Linux distros, Windows boot discs, Hiren's Boot CD, Ultimate Boot CD, password recovery tools, etc. I use a 16GB stick to hold all of the goodies, but I don't need anything else. As for Portable Apps, I use them in various other sticks/drives. I have a USB terabyte hard drive the has portable music apps, so I can play my tunes on machines that don't have the right codecs for FLAC, OGG, Theora, etc. I have a portable drive for video, as well. And just in general, I use Portable apps on all my flash drives so I don't need to worry if this program is loaded or not. It's on the stick.

Tater Salad
Tater Salad

I carry these around along with some of the others already mentioned: DirLot - utility that shows bar graph graphical representation of drive usage as a percentage. Extremely helpful for locating space wasters. Free and no install required. It doesn't allow you to change anything, just shows the amounts. Autoruns - also free and requires no install, but local Admin rights required. Identifies running processes loaded at startup. I usually run this before ccleaner.

ekelleytech
ekelleytech

In addittion to combofix, firefox portable and explorer++, i like the following: 1. Super Antispyware tech edition. This is a portable app version of the anti-spyware tool. http://www.superantispyware.com/portablescanner.html 2. HDD-scan. This is a portable tool that reads the S.M.A.R.T. data from hard drives. http://hddscan.com 3. 7-Zip Portable ( for times I need to un rar a file on the fly). http://portableapps.com/apps/utilities/7-zip_portable 4. OpenOffice portable. This is useful when I need to convert a document in the ODF format to a Word format. http://portableapps.com/apps/office/openoffice_portable 5. Notepad++ Portable. This is great when I need a better text editor than notepad. http;//portableapps.com/apps/development/notepadpp_portable I also carry the installers for Malwarebytes and SpyBotSD. As for worring about putting my USB stick in an infected machine, I don't, because I have my stick backed up. It's only a 4GB stick, so after i am done cleaning a machine, I update all the apps and reformat the stick.

martin.english
martin.english

.... although I use dropbox for this, so that it's available via my phone and tablet as well. I also store the installation exe on dropbox, so I can get to the passwords from ANY windows machine where I can access the internet and install KeepPass Portable. I also have Revo Uinstaller Portable, Unlocker Portable and 7-zip portable. Considering the state of some of the machines I've seen, if you have a big enough drive, you may also consider the SP updates for XP and Windows 7... FWIW, I also have a copy of Putty Portable installed on my c:\ drive, as this version stores the session details in a disk file, making sharing them easier (Standard Putty stores these in the registry).

daviddag
daviddag

Stick my flash drive in a virus/malware infected machine, I don't think so! I have already found viruses that can turn of the write protection software on a flash drive. I don't see flash drives with the switch on the side any more. The best option for me would to use an external optical drive, if there is none installed, to copy whatever anti virus sofware to the machine. some sofware amy even run off a cd. I always try to have a least 2 flash drives one for using on the client machine with the relevant apps (mostly portable / standalone apps) and the other for my personal use. this way I minimise the risk of infecting my own machine at work or home.

floryje
floryje

Although not portable, essential tools to carry for copying to the ailing PC are: CCleaner, Malwarebytes, MS. Security Essentials, and TDSSKiller (Kaspersky).

ieperez
ieperez

Total Commander. Best file manager ever. It's a real Swiss knife.

Cynyster
Cynyster

I have been using USB apps for years. Even back in the sandisk "U3" days. (small tear of loss when that went away) PortableApps.com is my tool of choice and not just for recovery options another is pendriveapps.com While the majority of the apps I use are free there are a coupe that are not. Roboform, FlashFXP, Directory Opus, Tag & Rename, QuickPhrase are some of them. What I would really like to see is a windows 7 based USB boot disk. (Barts is awesome but crashes on many windows7 based systems and especially netbooks and windows devices not designed with a cd-rom) I have made up a USB drive using the Windows7-USB-DVD-tool. But it is far from an elegant solution. If anyone has a better option please drop me a note.

Shiroko
Shiroko

Smitfraudfix is an amazing piece of kit, as with Avast! BartPE, Chrome portable + addons and the UBCD (Ultimate boot CD)

syhprum
syhprum

All very interesting, I have a USB dongle to hand how do I get these "apps" onto it ?

mustafaozkan77
mustafaozkan77

My favorite application for USB is YUMI, it is a tool to build multi-iso boot USB. I have installed Hiren's boot CD, Knoppix and built 1G read/write storage area for Knoppix. on same USB

dominoscr
dominoscr

I have used both of these myriads of times. I'd never leave without them!

JRez
JRez

1. Clean40 2. Defraggler 3. Malware Bytes 4. Open Office 5. IE 8

TraineeMonkee
TraineeMonkee

Downloaded McAfee and my computer detected a chunk of crapware and slowed right down! BE CAREFUL!

Gisabun
Gisabun

I use ComboFix as a last resort. I've heard stories where it may clean out the crap but causes some issues as well.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Why use McAfee? THey have gone down hill when it comes to reliability. This false positive proves it.

kylehutson
kylehutson

It's a false positive. The file ComboFix uses to determine whether something is a virus triggers McAfee's detection system because it also looks like a virus. As an oversimplified example, let's say the real virus has the string "kannan rules!" in it. ComboFix has a list of virus signatures, and among them is "kannan rules!". Now McAfee comes along and says "ComboFix has the string 'kannan rules!' - it must be that virus."

edyshim
edyshim

yeah. you are right. i use that too. it's a very good apps.

intreb
intreb

SD and microSD cards still have the physical write protection on them. Many higher performance cards (class 10) come with a USB adapter and a regular SD adapter for machines without a reader.

Fyrewerx
Fyrewerx

... via a USB adapter. Easier to carry around than a portable CD player, and all SD cards still have the lock switch.

Marykay
Marykay

I used to be constantly wiping the USB drive I used in virus-infected machines. Until I discovered that Imation has a drive with the hardware write-protect switch: http://www.amazon.com/Imation-Clip-Flash-Drive-66000105602/dp/B000OEV1O6 I have two of these that I have set up with tools for various situations, always making sure that it's properly switched to read-only before I use it in any machine (regardless if a virus is suspected up front or not).

Scott.Geiger
Scott.Geiger

I have a dedicated USB (small 2GB) that I use for dealing with infected PCs. In essence it's "disposable". If I need to completely wipe it and rebuild it there is no great loss there. I have another drive I use for my own utility tools that NEVER goes into an infected PC.

SKDTech
SKDTech

Of course I also use Linux to clean and reformat my stick after it has been in a questionable system. I carry several sticks with different setups and keep copies of each setup so they can be easily and quickly reconfigured. Using your thumbdrive is not a problem if you take proper precautions.

James Brown
James Brown

Most of the apps mentioned in the article are 'portable' meaning that they do not require installation in the conventional sense. You just copy the file onto your thumb drive and run it from there. Check out the portableapps.com website for more information.

jfuller05
jfuller05

I use the cd version. It has been my tool to use many times.

mark
mark

years ago... dont know where it has gone to now and I suspect that it is too small to be utilised as a recovery tool these days.

daviddag
daviddag

I will look for Imation, although I think this will have to be ordered, since I have'nt see this brand in South Africa

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

I've always wondered why USB sticks didn't have mechanical write-protect switches. It seems like a no-brainer to me. You don't want your repair kit getting infected and spreading that infection around.

daviddag
daviddag

This could work if you have a linux box available which is no always possible. Then you need to be 100% sure that your drive is clean. I don't trust any anti virus that much.

daviddag
daviddag

As stated above. I will look for this brand, although I think this will have to be ordered, since I haven't see this brand in South Africa

daviddag
daviddag

I remember the old flash drives would just stop working, not sure if this was due to the write protect swith or the drive itself.

e_saucedo
e_saucedo

Kanguru also makes them with the hardware protect switch.

mark
mark

I would boot linux on a live CD on a diskless system using a portable DVD drive if I need to clean a USB stick that I suspect might be infected with nasties. Once it has been cleaned and reformatted, I can then plug the stick into a machine that contains all the images I use on various USB sticks. A couple of minutes to reload an image... off I go again. If you have trouble trusting anti-virus, make sure that your image machine doesnt have network access.