Free utility suite bundles over 100 tools

Ryan russell By Ryan Russell

A popular Windows utility maker offers its suite of apps as a single download with a new application launcher that makes picking and running a utility quick and easy.

The suite covers everything from an application-crash reporter to a Windows updates viewer — and over 100 other titles in between.

Make a portable troubleshooting toolkit

Software publisher Nirsoft is well known for its diverse selection of Windows utilities. Most recently, I wrote about its browser-inspection tool in my Jan. 21 column, and Windows Secrets has discussed other Nirsoft apps for the past several years. I’m fond of the company’s tools because they’re small, well designed, useful, and free!

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Downloading and managing a bunch of small utilities can be a chore, but Nirsoft has packaged many of its most-useful apps into a single, 7.6MB download called NirLauncher (info page). To make selecting and running the apps as simple as possible, the company includes the NirLauncher app, which lists all the utilities in the suite and gives brief descriptions of what each does.

The launcher works on all Windows versions from Win 2000 on, though some of the individual utilities may have more-restrictive system requirements. Buttons at the top of the launcher display specific categories of utilities such as Network Monitoring Tools, Password Recovery Utilities, and Web Browser Tools.

These categories correspond roughly to the ones on Nirsoft’s Web site, so if you’ve downloaded a Nirsoft app in the past, it should be easy to find what you’re looking for in the launcher’s lists.

As the Nirsoft site notes, you can load the collection onto a handy USB drive and run any of the apps without actually installing them into Windows — ideal for your portable troubleshooting and Windows-management toolkit. I especially like this approach because I can quickly run through a bunch of tools to see which is most suitable to the task at hand.

Obviously, this column would become a tad lengthy if I covered all the utilities in the NirLauncher suite. So instead, I’ll highlight a few themes that will be particularly useful to Perimeter Scan readers.

It’s worth mentioning that Nirsoft is not the only prolific utility producer on the Web. Microsoft’s Sysinternals Suite is a single, 12MB download (page) of troubleshooting apps. The two suites have some overlap, but more tools are always better when you are trying to solve a Windows problem.

Pick the right specialized password-recovery app

In my April 22 column, I discussed boot CDs for recovering Windows system passwords. These are by no means the only passwords you will find on a Windows system, and you need different tools for recovering different types of passwords.

The typical PC user runs a number of programs — Web browsers and IM clients, for example — that save passwords. I use this handy sign-in feature as part of my personal anti-phishing strategy. If I get prompted with empty username and password fields when signing into a site I know I remembered in my browser, I immediately become suspicious.

But that rarely happens. So over time, relying on the application to automatically enter my sign-in information, I forget that all-important user name and password.

This is where some of the NirLauncher’s utilities save the day. Not only might you one day need these utilities to find a lost password, but you should run them now just to see what you have stored. NirSoft has tools that will reveal saved passwords in IE, Firefox, Opera, and Chrome.

If a program stores sensitive information in Windows’s Local Security Authority (LSA) — its so-called secure area — you can use NirLauncher’s LSASecretsDump and LSASecretsView tools to see what’s there. (I’ve seen some Bluetooth hardware vendors use the LSA.)

There are more password tools for specific programs such as PCAnywhere, Outlook PST files, and Virtual Network Computing clients.

Once again, the utility suite approach lets me run each of these tools in rapid succession. On some of my personal systems, especially ones that the kids use, I am often surprised what I can recover.

Get new tricks for easier network monitoring

I’ve written about network sniffers in Perimeter Scan, listing Wireshark as my top choice. However, that app is overkill for many simple jobs, such as sniffing passwords. And it’s difficult to use if you’re not well acquainted with networking and Wireshark. More-specialized network tools that get straight to the answer (without installing a lot of other pieces) can save time and effort.

SniffPass, for example, watches for passwords going by in cleartext on several network protocols. Just leave it running in the background and check from time to time to see whether it caught anything. If it does, consider switching to an encrypted version of that protocol.

You can also use SniffPass to verify that the Web sites you visit always send passwords over the more-secure Internet protocol, HTTPS.

Another useful tool, SocketSniff, pulls out network information in a different way — it works on sockets rather than packets. So it omits all the packet-header stuff and saves network text in much-more readable formats. If you’re troubleshooting network problems, you might want the individual packets. But if you just want to see the contents, the information gleaned by SocketSniff is more to the point.

SocketSniff also has one trick that regular sniffers don’t have. It can monitor traffic on Windows’ internal loopback interface. Windows programs sometimes communicate through network protocols, even when they are all running on the same machine. Because that internal traffic never touches the network card, most sniffers can’t see it.

Other useful NirLauncher apps include NetResView, which lets you explore the local Windows network; and CurrPorts, which tells you which networking ports each Windows process is talking through. Very handy.

Explore them all, and I’m sure you’ll develop your own favorites.

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The Perimeter Scan column gives you the facts you need to test your systems to prevent weaknesses. Ryan Russell is the Director of Information Security at BigFix Inc., a configuration management company. He moderated the vuln-dev mailing list for three years under the alias “Blue Boar.” He was the lead author of Hack-Proofing Your Network, 2nd Ed., and the technical editor of the Stealing the Network book series.
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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2010-05-20:

Ryan Russell

About Ryan Russell

Ryan Russell is a quality assurance manager at BigFix Inc., a configuration management company. He moderated the vuln-dev mailing list for three years under the alias "Blue Boar." He was the lead author of Hack-Proofing Your Network, 2nd Ed., and the technical editor of the Stealing the Network book series.