Go shopping for security software right now and you'll be bombarded with companies telling you their suite offers the total solution to all your security needs - but the reality is a little different.
Installing a good security suite will make you safer, but no matter how bulky it is, how lengthy the feature list, you can always benefit from adding a few extra tools. If your antivirus engine misses some malware, for instance - and this will happen, as nothing is 100% accurate - it could be very useful to have a second antivirus option to hand, just in case.
What to choose, though? Adding another heavyweight security package is usually a bad idea. It'll probably conflict with the first, maybe cause crashes and slow your system down.
What you really need is one of our tiny tools. We have programs to find malware, encrypt confidential files, track PC usage and more; they include some useful functions you won't find in even the largest security suite; and yet they're all free, super-lightweight and very easy to use.
1. System Security Guard 3.1.0 portable - 3.33 MB
If you think your PC is infected by malware then you could use Task Manager to check what's running - but there's no way to tell which processes are safe, and which could be risky. Unless, that is, you run System Security Guard.
Just click "Security Check" and the program will check all your running programs against its online security database, and highlighting any potential dangers. It's not a complete solution - find something bad and you'll still have to remove it yourself - but this is still a useful way to at least identify malicious programs.
2. Encryption Wizard 3.3.4 - 1.24 MB
File encryption is a great way to protect confidential files from snoopers. If you're working on someone else's PC, though, you may not have an encryption tool available - and that's where Encryption Wizard comes in.
Designed for the US military, but free for anyone to use, Encryption Wizard is Java-based. So copy the EW-Public-3.3.4.jar file from the download file onto a USB key, and you'll be able to run it on any computer where Java is available: Windows, Mac, or Linux.
Once launched, just drag and drop files onto the program and enter a passphrase to encrypt them. Decrypting the files is just as easy, but a PDF manual is available if you need it.
3. Free USB Guard 1.30 - 248KB
USB drives are small, convenient, easy to carry around. Unfortunately they're also easy to forget, and if you leave one behind somewhere then you're giving any passer-by free access to all your data.
Free USB Guard may be able to help, though. Set the program running and it'll automatically monitor your PC. And if you try to shut down with a USB key connected (or a disc in the DVD drive) then the program will pop up to warn you. Which of course won't help you at all if you're leaving the PC running, not closing it down, but Free USB Guard is probably still useful enough to justify adding to your portable security toolkit.
4. ESET Rogue Applications Remover 18.104.22.168 - 2.57 MB
If you're stuck with stubborn malware which just won't go away, then don't immediately look to install a complete new antivirus package. Most antivirus vendors produce a host of tiny portable tools which will scan your PC and try to remove any dangers.
The ESET Rogue Applications Remover, for instance, specialises in exterminating rogue antivirus programs and similar menaces. It's a command-line tool, but very simple to use - just double-click the download file and watch as it checks your system for dangers.
5. FolderChangesView 22.214.171.124 - 92KB
If your PC's hard drive is being accessed regularly and you don't know why, then you might wonder if a virus is to blame - but FolderChangesView can give you more information.
Launch the program, and choose the drive and base folder to monitor (the default C:\ is a good place to start). Click OK, then keep watching. The next time a file is created, changed or modified, anywhere under your base folder, FolderChangesView will tell you all about it. And just looking at the names of the files and folders involved will probably reveal which of your applications is responsible for all the excess activity.
6. KeyScrambler Personal 2.9.2 - 3.39 MB
Keyloggers are a particularly dangerous type of malware, which burrow into your PC and then record everything you type: user names, passwords, everything.
KeyScrambler Personal can offer at least a little protection, though. The program encrypts everything you type in IE and Firefox, so even if you are hit by a keylogger, it won't be able to steal your web logons.
What about Chrome, Safari, other applications? The author also produces commercial versions of KeyScrambler which offer extra protection. Check the QFX Software site if you're interested.
7. PC On/Off Time 126.96.36.199 - 540 KB
Has someone been using your PC without your knowledge? PC On/Off Time may be able to help you find out. Just launch the program on your system and it'll immediately show you a daily timeline of when the computer was running for the last three weeks, so if someone has been firing it up at an odd time then this will be very obvious.
Better still, there's no need to install any monitoring tool to make this happen. PC On/Off Time pulls all its information from the Windows Event Logs, which makes it super-lightweight: everything you need is in a single portable 490KB file.
8. FreeFixer 0.62 - 3.37MB
Your PC is infected by something nasty, but your regular antivirus tool hasn't raised an alert? Then FreeFixer may be able to help.
Essentially the program produces a lengthy report detailing all the common places where malware might hide: drivers, startup programs, browser toolbars, Windows services, Explorer addons and the list goes on. Known safe files aren't displayed, so FreeFixer quickly draws your attention to potential problems, and if you're sure you've found something dangerous then the program can try to remove it in a click.
This can be a very effective program, but be careful - delete the wrong thing and you could trash your system. FreeFixer is really only for experienced PC users, and even then you shouldn't run it unless you have a full backup available.
9. TinyWall 2.0 - 1.05 MB
The Windows firewall gets a lot of criticism, but this is often unfair: the underlying technology is fine, it's just that the interface and configuration are poor. And that's where TinyWall comes in.
This smart security tool takes the Windows firewall and extends it, allowing the program to learn which programs should go online, and then automatically blocking everything else (no annoying pop-ups here). And TinyWall does a good job of preventing malicious files from tampering with your settings, too (there's HOSTS file protection, for instance).
The only problem is that security is so tight that the program may occasionally block legitimate programs, which can be worrying as you won't get a prompt warning you about this. And so TinyWall probably works best for experienced Windows users, who'll take the time to understand exactly what it's doing.
10. F-Secure Easy Clean 1.2 - 3.97 MB
No one antivirus tool will detect 100% of threats, so it pays to have one or two alternatives scanners around, just in case - and F-Secure Easy Clean 1.2 could be the ideal choice.
The program is small and portable, for instance, so there's nothing to install. Keep the program on a USB key and you can run it on any Windows system you use.
It's very simple, too. There's nothing to configure, no complex decisions to make, just click the Scan button and leave Easy Clean to check your system. (It will want to reboot your system, but you'll be warned before this happens.)
And yet, despite all this, the program still does a good job of removing many of the most common threats. And it can even contact F-Secure's servers for information on the very latest dangers. If you need a little extra antivirus help then grab a copy for yourself, see what Easy Clean can do on your own system.