Not long ago a neighbor came to me with a malware-infested laptop. Some particularly nasty trojan had made its way onto the system (despite the presence of a certain big-name security suite, cough, ahem), rendering it more or less inoperable. The Start menu wouldn't work, programs wouldn't run, and I couldn't even get Task Manager to appear.
In cases like these, I always turn to my trusty flash drive, which I keep equipped with a few of my favorite malware-busting security tools. And the best way I've found to make sure I have the latest versions of those tools is with SSDownloader (short for Security Software Downloader).
This open-source utility reminds me a lot of Ninite, the fab freebie that downloads and installs your favorite software. SSDownloader works much the same way, but obviously focuses exclusivley on security. The app is portable, meaning it runs fine from a flash drive. (There's no installation required.)
When you launch it, you'll see five pretty self-explanatory tabs: Free Antivirus, Security Suites (Trial Versions), Malware Removal, Firewalls, and Other Tools. Within these tabs you'll find around 50 programs; check the box next to the ones you want to fetch, then click Download. It's that simple.
Impressivley, SSDownloader can auto-detect your operating system (Windows XP or Vista/7) and even whether it's 32- or 64-bit; it'll download the correct software versions accordingly. It doesn't run or install any of them, though--that part's up to you.
Here's a random sampling of what's available: Avast! Anti-Virus Free, Panda Internet Security (trial), Malwarebytes Anti-Malware (a personal favorite), HiJack This, Comodo Firewall Free, WinPatrol, LastPass, and CyberGhost VPN. In other SSDownloader makes it a snap to download a wealth of essential software--most of it freeware.
The interface is a little rough around the edges, but if you own a flash drive (or even if you don't), I can't recommend this tool highly enough.
Contributing Editor Rick Broida writes about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums.