The following tools are unique compared to many of our software Hive Fives in that they are entirely independent of the main operating system installed on the computer. Live CDs load into the memory and allow you to use operating systems and accompanying tools without having to perform a permanent installation on the machine.
BackTrack isn’t going to help you recover your lost vacation pictures, but it will make sure nobody can get into your network to steal them. Packed with 300 tools covering everything from packet sniffing to hot spot probing to brute force password attacks, BackTrack is live CD designed to facilitate penetration testing of computers and networks. Deployed by a skilled user, BackTrack will leave no corner of your computer and network security un-poked, scanned, prodded, and analysed. If BackTrack was your friend, he’d be the friend who responded to you bragging about how secure your new house was by throwing a brick through the front window to prove otherwise. (You have weird friends.)
Ubuntu’s enormous popularity as the mainstream Linux distribution certainly helps bolster its rank among live CDs. Many a new user to Ubuntu has messed around with the operating system using a live CD before using that very same live CD to install the full operating system. Even if you don’t intend to do a full install, just like Puppy Linux you can do all manner of computing tasks without leaving a trace on the computer you’re using. The Ubuntu live CD comes packed with Open Office, Firefox, Pidgin, the BitTorrent client Transmission, and the open source image editor GIMP—a decent stable of tools for using Ubuntu as a portable computing platform.
The following live CDs are worthy of honorary mention: Ophcrack is an extremely efficient rainbow-table based Windows password cracker (here’s how it works). Hiren’s Boot CD is a DOS-based boot disk that is absolutely packed with utilities like Partition Magic, Disk Director Suite, and Norton Ghost. A final nod goes to Gparted, a tool incorporated into many of the above live CDs. GParted is robust disk partitioning tool for creating, destroying, organising and mirroring hard disks.
The five and accompanying honorable mentions merely reflect the most popular portion of the live CD based tools out there. If you have a tip, trick or tool to add to the heap, sound off in the comments below.