NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, December 2011
More Portable Utilities for Your Flash Drive
By Ira Wilsker, Radio Show Host,
Columnist, College Professor and deputy sheriff
(click to email author)


Continue to make extensive use of the 8GB flash drive that I carry on my keychain along with my car keys. Just yesterday I was called to a relative's house to rescue a family computer that had been devastated by malware, such that the computer was nearly useless. Using the utilities on my flash drive, I was able to remove some stubborn malware, clean the hard drive, remove useless items from the startup, defragment the hard drive, and return the computer to good health. My relative had complained that the computer had previously been so sluggish that it took several minutes to boot, then another three minutes just for Internet Explorer to load, and that it took so long for web pages to load that he gave up using it. In less than an hour, using those portable utilities, the computer ran like new; my relative was pleasantly surprised when the computer booted up in a few seconds. I asked him to time how long it took for Internet Explorer to load after the fix, and he was shocked to see IE load in about two seconds! Without my flash drive loaded with portable utilities, this would have been a much more difficult and time consuming job.

Yesterday's desperate call for help from a relative was not an uncommon occurrence; just Wednesday, four days ago, another relative called in a panic saying that she had clicked on an apparent legitimate website, and her computer had been instantly hijacked by a type of malware referred to as a rogue antivirus program "Security Suite 2011". This scumware would not allow her to do anything on her computer until she "activated" the extortion-ware by paying a Russian cyber criminal $40 to clean her computer of the hundreds of (false positive) viruses and trojans that it found. Of course the program was a scam which actively loaded other malware on her computer, and took control of it for nefarious purposes, such as sending out spam emails. This malware took over her computer even though she had a top-selling name brand security program on her computer. Within an hour, I had sequentially run three antimalware programs from my flash drive, and her computer was cleaned of malware. These two calls for urgent assistance are in-line with the norm, as I get about three such calls in a typical week. It would have been very difficult for me to quickly clean these computers if it had not been for the portable versions of popular free software that I always carry with me on my flash drive.

My 8GB flash drive attached to my keychain has been getting a lot of use lately, mostly on other people's computers. I have been steadily adding and updating software to it, enhancing its potential. One of the recent additions to my flash drive, which I used to remove the malware on the two computers discussed above, is the Sunbelt Software "Vipre Rescue" program, a free portable malware scanner and cleaner available for download from live.sunbeltsoftware.com. Vipre Rescue is an 81MB executable file which can be downloaded to a flash drive, and then run to clean the target computer. It is the latest updated version that is available for download from the Sunbelt website. When run, the executable will install the software to a selected location, and then run itself in a DOS (command prompt) window. By default, Vipre Rescue will perform a deep scan, looking for all malware, including the otherwise difficult to detect rootkits that can often slip by more conventional security software. While the default is for Vipre to run a deep scan, which may take a substantial amount of time to thoroughly disinfect a computer, the user can manually select other options from a command line such as "VIPRERescueScanner.exe /quick" which will perform a less thorough but faster quick scan. Using the command line "VIPRERescueScanner.exe /restore" will undo any repairs and restore any quarantined items. Other command line switches allow the user to specify paths to be scanned, and display the logs of prior scans. While I prefer the default deep scan, which is very good at detecting deeply hidden malware, I often select the quick scan from the command line, knowingly sacrificing some potential detection for increased speed. Since I routinely perform multiple scans with different products, I feel reasonably confident that I will detect and neutralize any malware on the computer.

Some of the most frequently used utilities on my flash drive are the freeware portable versions of software published by Piriform, including CCleaner (one of my all-time favorites), Recuva, Speccy, and Defraggler. CCleaner (piriform.com/ccleaner/download/portable), in its different versions and builds, is likely the world's most widely used hard drive cleaning software, with over 500 million copies downloaded! The portable version is intended to be installed to a flash drive, where it can be used to clean unnecessary and obsolete files from a hard drive; it is precisely this portable version that I used to clean the hard drives of the above computers. CCleaner will do much more than just clean the hard drive; it will also clean the registry of obsolete data, uninstall unwanted programs, clean the programs in the startup that load at boot (a critical function in enhancing performance), create or restore a system restore file, and securely wipe deleted files. All of these functions are appropriate to improve computer performance.

I frequently use the portable version of Recuva (piriform.com/recuva/features/portable-version) to undelete files that had been accidently deleted, or to recover files from discs that had been accidently formatted. Recuva can also be used to recover deleted emails, music files, videos, images, word processing files, and other files that had been deleted, provided that these files had not been overwritten or wiped. While Recuva offers a wizard to guide an inexperienced user in the process to recover files, I choose to directly recover them. Recuva can recover files from hard drives, flash drives and other flash media, digital cameras, MP3 players, and other devices.

The portable version of Defraggler (piriform.com/defraggler/download/portable) can defragment entire hard drives, or just selected files. When a drive is fragmented, pieces of files are written to widely separated places on the hard drive, which reduces the ability of the hard drive to quickly locate and utilize those files, making the hard drive work hard and slow. Defraggler can defragment the hard drive bringing these separated file pieces together into one orderly file; it is precisely this function that I used on the Internet Explorer installed on the computer mentioned above, which led to an almost instant loading of IE after it was defragmented.

Many people are not aware of Speccy (piriform.com/speccy/download/portable), but I use it regularly from my flash drive to determine the specifics of the hardware and software in a computer. With this information I can find updated drivers on the component manufacturer's website, where the latest drivers can be downloaded for installation. Comprehensive information is presented on the operating system, motherboard, RAM, graphics card, hard drive, and other components installed in the computer. This information is often necessary to properly configure, repair, or update components.

These utilities referenced above accompany the additional utilities on my flash drive, including those that I have written about in the past. These additional utilities include the portable versions of SuperAntispyware (superantispyware.com/portablescanner.html), LiberKey (liberkey.com) which is a graphical front end for over 300 other included portable utilities, Emsisoft Emergency Kit (http://www.emsisoft.com/en/software/eek) a powerful antimalware program, and IObit Toolbox (iobit.com/toolbox.html). With all of these utilities instantly available to me from the convenience of my flash drive, I am reasonably confidant that I can resolve a god number of problems on most PCs that I encounter.

With the price of USB flash drives as low as they are today, there is no valid reason why users should not have these utilities available to them just in case they are needed.

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