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The five best emergency toolkit apps to have in the field

Maybe you can't anticipate every type of tech crisis you're going to run into. But these five recovery tools will help you resolve a lot of dicey problems.

Quick: If you had to narrow down your portable toolkit to just five tools, what would they be? Hard to name them, isn't it? Well, never fear. I have put together a list of five tools, and I think you will agree they all have a place in the perfect emergency toolkit. Each tool serves a different purpose. Together, they make up a kit that I think will make your life a heck of a lot easier.

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

1: ComboFix

ComboFix (Figure A) is the Mac Daddy of virus and malware removal tool. It goes even further and removes rootkits and Trojans. But this isn't one of those tools you can install on a machine and let it work in the background. ComboFix must be added to the machine, run on the machine, and removed from the machine. And while this tool is running, don't let anyone use the machine it's cleaning. ComboFix can cause panic on a PC if things go south.

Figure A

ComboFix

2: KNOPPIX

KNOPPIX (Figure B) is a live Linux distribution that can fit on a flash drive. With it, you can boot into a full-blown Linux distribution that contains many helpful tools. You can recover data from an unbootable drive, troubleshoot various aspects of a non-booting Windows drive, remove corrupt files, and much more. Many people don't realize just how valuable it is to have a full-blown, bootable Linux distribution with more than 2 GB of software ready and waiting.

Figure B

KNOPPIX

3: PuTTY

Being able to secure shell into a remove machine at all times is invaluable. For many, the use of the simple RDP protocol is fine. Problem is, it's not nearly as secure as it should be. So if you want your remote logins to be secure, add a little ssh goodness to your toolkit. PuTTY (Figure C) gives you just that -- a Windows executable that allows you to connect to any remote machine running a secure shell daemon (so long as you have the credentials to get through).

Figure C

PuTTY

4: BlueScreenView

When Windows blue screens, it spits out a core dump. That core dump contains a lot of valuable information that can help you figure out what caused that blue screen. Trust me, that is a heck of a lot better than trying to write down what the blue screen message displays --and usually, that's not much. There is one catch here. I am a fan of the Ccleaner tool. Ccleaner is set up, by default, to remove all those memory dump files. So if you use Ccleaner, be sure you uncheck the option to delete those files. Otherwise, a tool like BlueScreenView (Figure D) will be of no use.

Figure D

BlueScreenView

5: Roadkil's Unstoppable Copier

Roadkil's Unstoppable Copier (Figure E) does one thing and it does it well: It copies data from broken drives. And it's good at it. But UC isn't just for getting data off broken drives. You can also use it as a daily backup (using the Batch Mode function). That's right. Not only will it recover data, it will help prevent you from needing to recover that data from a bad drive. This tool works by attempting to recover any readable piece of a file and then tries to put the pieces together. It's pretty amazing how well it works.

Figure E

Unstoppable Copier

First aid for field emergencies

If you've been looking for the perfect toolkit to handle emergency recoveries, look no further than the five tools above. With this combination, you should be able to tackle just about any software crisis you encounter in the field.

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.

16 comments
ThatDevilForrest
ThatDevilForrest

I second the use of SARDU. I have a 16GB SARDU drive that I keep with me wherever I go. It has been a life saver on more than one occasion when a system or external drive would not cooperate.

kendrkin
kendrkin

I use the SARDU Multiboot USB builder (http://www.sarducd.it/) to create a wonderful Swiss Army USB drive. Okay, Italian. It can create a multiboot environment for multiple anti-malware engines, utility discs such as Hiren's or UBCD, Live Linux distros, and Windows PE's, recovery discs and installers. A full blown USB drive is over 16 GB, but it will have pretty much everything one could ever need. Password hacking, got it. Drive recovery, done. Want to show off Linux Mint or Ubuntu? It's in there. I usually carry two drives; one to use, and the other to hand to whoever's computer I'm fixing because I know they are going to ask for one.

nick
nick

I am not familiar with what is on the Knoppix and Hirens distributions. There is no one tool that does everything I like UBCD it has many tools on, including partition managers (Zenith545). You also need a tool for cracking windows passwords.

Zenith545
Zenith545

I'm sorry, which of these programs will restore/inspect the partition table(s) or fix/rebuild/inspect an MBR or boot record??? In the real world, you need much more than your recommendations.

marcjuice
marcjuice

I am constantly amazed at how useful my subscription to Techrepublic is. I was only thinking about my USB toolkit the other day and here we are - an article on the best e-tools out there. Brilliant.

treibs
treibs

I think that under 3: PuTTY, you meant "remote machine" rather than "remove machine."

jfuller05
jfuller05

I'm adding these five to my tool-kit.

a.portman
a.portman

I have become sold on Hiren's Boot CD http://www.hiren.info/pages/bootcd. The opening interface takes a few tries to get right, but the plethora of tools on a single disk has me sold. Need a live Linux partition tool, its there. XP virus removal, yep. Want an XP-esque desktop to copy files to a new hard drive, yep. Reset passwords, yep. And one more bonus, I learned about it at TechRepublic.

paradoxstorm
paradoxstorm

The only problem with ComboFix is that it does not get along with AVG. Malwarebytes is a great alternative.

r_widell
r_widell

As a live distro Knoppix contains a number of tools. The tool to do what you're asking for is called "testdisk". It will manage/fix partition entries on hard drives with DOS/Apple/Sun (among others) partition tables. If you want to get really down and dirty, "dd" and a hex editor will let you get as low-level as you wish.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

I use this as well and have been quite pleased with it.

Jetskier77
Jetskier77

Seriously? I continue to be amazed at the amount of people who rely on freebie A/V programs to guard their computers. Who cares if ComboFix does not get along with AVG? Maybe the reason you need ComboFix in the first place is because you were using AVG and were too cheap to invest in a decent virus scanner.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

We've done EXTENSIVE testing of AV products and even McAfee (which I hate) had done a better job at finding and eliminating malware than Malwarebytes. Microsoft's Safety Scanner tested as the best stand-alone scanner with a fantastic find/kill rate.

jbuffington
jbuffington

Combofix is just one blade of the tech support "Swiss Army Knife". In addition to AVG and Malwarebytes (and SuperAnti-Spyware), that's a winning combination.

Madsmaddad
Madsmaddad

When I changed my Virus checker for VIPRE and had problems with email, The techs at VIPRE had me remove Malwarebytes, superantispyware, Spybot search and destroy. Now that I have my system back running with VIPRE and a different firewall (Comodo) I have not seen the need to put these back. Machine runs faster now. Knoppix is the name of a linux distro that happens to have some tools on it. How does it compare with Backtrack or Helix? It's a good article. I will add some of these to my toolbox. And thanks to everybody for all the comments.