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Don't buy that security software!

Carla Schroder | Aug. 2, 2012
Why spend money when you don't have to?

Open source doesn't have to mean free of cost, but thanks to the generosity of open source developers many thousands of great applications are free. Why spend money when you don't have to? Though if you like and depend on an app, nothing says thanks like clicking the "Donate" button.

Open source applications have advantages other than free or low cost. The best security products are open source, for example OpenSSH, OpenSSL, GPG, and the iptables firewall. Most commercial products are for Windows only, or sometimes Windows and Mac, while their open source cousins serve Mac, Linux, Unix, and other platforms. In this roundup we look at some good open source apps for securing and rescuing our data on PCs, and for protecting our mobile devices.

[ 7 free network apps for rooted Androids ]

Secure delete, data recovery, clone, encrypt

The real gold on any of our computers is our personal data. These fine free open source programs scrub hard disks, undelete, recover data from failing and damaged storage media, and securely encrypt our files.

Darik's Boot and Nuke

Don't let your used computers out the door without first securely erasing all their hard disks. Unless you like being the victim of identity and data theft.

Darik's Boot and Nuke, DBAN for short, is operating system-independent and works on IDE, SCSI, and SATA hard drives on x86 and PowerPC systems.

DBAN is easy to use: download and copy it to the bootable media of your choice -- 3.5" diskette, CD/DVD, USB stick, or PXE boot over a network-- fire it up, and let 'er rip. You can wipe all hard disks on a system, or just selected ones. (Replaces BCWipe Total WipeOut, Secure Erase, HDShredder.)

TestDisk and PhotoRec repair and recover

Oh no, you hit the delete button and now you want your file back! What do you do? The first thing you do is stop and don't do anything. When you delete a file it's still there on your hard disk, with the space it uses marked as available for new files to be written on, so as long as it's not overwritten you can recover it. (If you ran DBAN, sorry, it's gone for good.) PhotoRec (for "recovery", not "wreck") recovers individual files of any kind and not just photos. TestDisk is a marvelous companion program for repairing damaged partition and boot tables. Both work on all major operating systems and filesystems, and have excellent documentation that tells you exactly what to do.

You can install these on just about any operating system (Mac, Linux, Windows, the BSDs and other Unixes), but the best way to run them is from bootable media. TestDisk and PhotoRec are included on a large number of Linux-based system rescue distributions like GParted LiveCD and Knoppix. My favorite is System Rescue on a USB stick, because it is fast even on older, less-powerful computers. My preferred method is to copy any restored files to a USB stick, USB hard drive, or to a different partition on the original drive, in order to disturb the bits I'm trying to recover as little as possible. (Replaces Recover Lost Partition, Active@ Partition Recovery, Disk Doctors.)


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