Protect yourself and your PC with this collection of useful free security tools
Panda Cloud Antivirus
When it comes to protecting your computer from the latest malware, why should you pick this relative newcomer to the freebie scene? Is it easy to use? Check – the user interface is one of simplest we've seen. Is it light on system resources? Check – it only uses around 10MB of memory, meaning it won't slow down even low-specced PCs.
Ah, but what about the essential protection? Check, check and check. When it comes to malware detection and blocking, Panda is up with the very best, and only loses a little of its sheen when it comes to cleaning up already infected systems.
Even here, however, it's on a par with most other freebies on the market. The program utilises an online database ("Cloud Intelligence") for its AV scans, which is updated hundreds of times a day to keep it ahead of the latest threats. All in all, Panda has raised the bar for free anti-virus, so you should definitely take advantage – if you haven't already.
No security tool is infallible, which is where Malwarebytes comes in. The free version has no real-time protection, so won't interfere with existing protection, but it can scan and remove threats missed by other programs. It's an essential addition to any armoury.
Threatfire bends the rules of security software: despite its real-time protection against malware, it won't conflict with any anti-virus tool already installed on your PC.
It's designed to sit alongside existing security software, to strengthen your protection by flagging up what it considers suspicious behaviour. Review the details in the dialog, then either allow or deny the action based on whether you trust it.
If your computer is vulnerable to outside use or even theft, you owe it to yourself to make sure any important data is encrypted, so thieves can't steal your personal information as well as your laptop.
TrueCrypt is the best free tool for the job: not only can it encrypt individual files and folders inside a special encrypted container, you can use it to encrypt your entire hard drive too, preventing people from using your computer when you're not around.
If you want to protect your data, create and mount your container. Once done, you'll see a new drive appear in Windows – just drag your sensitive files into here, and you can edit and open them like any other.
The difference is, when you click Dismount or restart your computer, your files will be safely hidden and encrypted from prying eyes. Just open TrueCrypt and follow step four again when you want to regain access.
Step 1. First steps
Click "Create Volume", tick "Create an encrypted file container", and click Next. Leave "Standard TrueCrypt volume" selected, and click Next.
Step 2. Create container
Click "Select File" to pick a folder and unique filename for your container. Click Next, tick the default encryption options, and click Next.
Step 3. Select properties
Make the container big enough to hold your files, click Next, assign a password, and click Next. Change the file system to NTFS and click Format.
Step 4. Access container
Click Continue if prompted, then OK > Exit. Click "Select File", browse to your file, and select a drive letter. Click Mount and enter your password.
Switching from one security app to another can be problematic. AppRemover recognises a wide variety of security tools, and ensures all traces are wiped before you install your new tool to prevent possible conflicts.
Free firewalls are less common than anti-virus tools, and they're not as good as their paid-for cousins. ZoneAlarm is by far the most popular of those available, and offers superior protection to that offered in Windows.
To scan your PC for the effects of malware, HijackThis! can generate a log of areas commonly infected. It also has tools to fix malware problems.
Virus Effect Remover
An essential tool in your security armoury, VER enables you to undo any lingering effects of malware infection.
Rather than a single password for all your accounts, KeePass can manage multiple logon details with just one master password, beefing up your security.
This tiny tool specialises in deleting files that are in use, and therefore protected – many malware infections protect themselves in this way.
Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer
Malware infections often exploit security holes in Windows and other Microsoft products; MBSA will quickly scan your PC and verify you're fully protected.
Prevent spam and virus-laden email by vetting all new mails while they're still on your mail server. Just select any dodgy mail, click Delete, and you're done.
File and folder apps
Manage your files more efficiently with these useful freebies
Microsoft's handy free tool enables you to keep the contents of two folders (also known as folder "pairs") perfectly in sync. Just select the two folders in question – one of which can be a shared folder on another networked PC – and then choose how you want the files to be kept in sync.
Once done, click Preview, check which changes will occur, and then click "Run" to update your two folders.
SyncToy is simple and easy to set up, but if you need more options – including automatically syncing two folders – then SyncBack Freeware is without doubt the best free synchronisation tool.
If you're ever faced with the unappealing task of renaming dozens of files, Rename Master makes it as simple as possible. There's a powerful set of options including MP3/JPG tag support.
Duplicate files can quickly clutter up your hard drive, but it can be a dangerous game if you start deleting what appear at a superficial glance to be identical files.
DupKiller will hunt for replicate files in locations you may not consider, and does more than simply search by filename or file-size. You can also search by date stamp and even content, and you can even set a percentage match to ensure that only identical files are picked.
This enables you to create virtual CD and DVD drives on your PC. You can then mount special ISO fi les and access them as if they were actual physical discs.
ISO Recorder can burn discs directly from ISO images by double-clicking an ISO file; you can also rip CDs and DVDs to ISO images for use with MagicDisc.
This CD and DVD-burning application is lightweight, with all the features to burn audio and data discs. And it behaves nicely with other CD-burning utilities.
If you need details of a specific folder or drive, this displays its content in interesting ways. Perfect for finding out what's taking up all that space.
Frustrated by your external hard drive powering down to save energy? This tool prevents it, by writing a small, empty file to the drive every few minutes.
This tiny program adds an additional column to the Explorer window, enabling you to see the size of a folder without opening it. It runs in Windows XP only.
This handy free tool simplifies the process of installing and updating your software – just tick the program you wish to download or update. The program will tell you what version is available, and then enable you to easily download and install it.
This handy tool enables you to view a large number of different file types without having to open the parent application, including image files, text and Office files, and many more. Plus you can add additional types with the help of free plug-ins.
Frustrated by Windows' inability to store more than a single item in the Windows clipboard? ArsClip enables you to store multiple entries in a wide variety of formats – including HTML, RTF, plain text and images.
These can be catalogued permanently if you frequently have to perform repetitive tasks such as form filling, and the bonus is that the program requires no installation, so won't bog your system down unduly.
Do you ever run into an error message telling you that a file or folder can't be deleted or moved because it's locked, or still in use?
The solution is to install this handy free tool; you can then simply right-click any file and choose "What is locking this file?" A dialogue box will pop up revealing what's locking the file or folder – just click "Unlock It!" and it will be freed up for whatever you need to do.
This handy little tool provides an alternative to the confusing Windows file type manager, enabling you to quickly edit and view current file associations.
This is actually a free online conversion service, so you can convert files up to 100MB in size between a variety of image, office and other file formats.
Speed up copying large files from one folder or drive to another using TeraCopy; it provides quicker file transfers than the Windows file manager.
The File Splitter
This tiny program enables you to split large files into smaller chunks, making them easier to transfer using floppy disks and other media, or via email.
This comprehensive file archiving tool will compress files to save space, and has a mind-boggling array of obscure archives: there's RAR and LZW, as well as ZIP.
Want to find where all that free disk space has gone? JDiskReport enables you to view a pie chart showing the largest folders or files in a selected directory or disk, plus you can view a selection of bar and pie charts (and top 100 lists).
These can be based on criteria such as when files were last modified, or what file types are taking up most room; it's perfect for managing your cluttered drive.