8 essential free tools for Windows server admins

Andrew Tabona

Everyone likes a freebie! And if you’re a Windows server admin on a strict budget you’re sure to love these 8 essential free tools that I’ve handpicked for you.

Whether you’re needing to fix a broken MBR, analyse network traffic or simply store passwords securely, we’ve got you covered. You’ll find something worth adding to your toolkit for a range of common server admin tasks; from managing passwords, permissions, and remote desktop connections to performing troubleshooting, disk imaging, monitoring systems and carrying out digital investigations.

1/ KeePass


All server admins need a good password manager! With the vast amount of system passwords they are expected to remember, having an application that will securely store your passwords in a central location is a must. KeePass does just this! It includes strong algorithms to encrypt the password database, the ability to easily transfer the database from one location to another, intuitive searching, an in-built password generator and a portable version of the tool.

Download from: http://keepass.info/download.html 

2/ Hiren’s Boot CD


Although it hasn’t been updated for a while, Hiren’s Boot CD is still considered one of the best rescue disks around. Available as an ISO for easy installation onto a USB or burning to a CD, it contains defrag tools, driver tools, backup tools, antivirus and anti-malware tools, rootkit detection tools, secure data wiping tools, partitioning tools and many more.

Download from: http://www.hirensbootcd.org/download/ 

3/ Microsoft SysInternals Suite
Microsoft SysInternals Suite is a collection of over 60 lightweight troubleshooting tools all bundled into a single download package. Whatever issue you’re trying to get to grips with, you are sure to find a tool in this package to help you manage, troubleshoot and diagnose your systems and applications.

Some of the most popular tools bundled in the SysInternals Suite include AccessEnum for quickly viewing and comparing permissions of file system directories and Autoruns for viewing which programs and services are configured to run at system boot up, in the order in which Windows processes them.

Download from: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb842062.aspx 

4/ Nirsoft NirLauncher


NirLauncher bundles more than 170 portable freeware utilities into one application. You’ll find password recovery tools, networking monitoring tools, and low-level system utilities – all of which are extremely useful for general troubleshooting and gathering information from servers.

Download from: http://launcher.nirsoft.net/downloads/index.html 

5/ WireShark
WireShark is an interactive network protocol analyzer and capture utility. It allows for low-level inspection of hundreds of network protocols and runs on various platforms. Once you’ve bound to a network interface and captured what you need, you can use the in-built filter to drill down and analyze packets at a deeper level or export the data to a file for analysis in another application.

Download from: https://www.wireshark.org/download.html 

6/ CloneZilla Live


CloneZilla Live is a bootable Linux distribution used for disk imaging, which allows you to easily clone servers and desktops. When you boot the machine using CloneZilla you are presented with a menu that allows you to boot into the CloneZilla Live application, following this you choose your source disk to clone and the destination disk where you want the image to be stored.

Download from: http://clonezilla.org/downloads.php 

7/ SetACL


SetACL allows you to automate and manage Windows permissions and facilitate domain migrations. Its main features include editing, copying, listing, and removing permissions, as well as setting multiple permissions at once and support for Unicode and long paths. SetACL comes as a command-line tool for scripts and batch files as well as a COM DLL for programming.

Download from: https://helgeklein.com/download/ 

8/ SANS SIFT Workstation


The SANS Investigative Forensic Toolkit (SIFT) Workstation is an Ubuntu based Live CD, which includes an abundance of open source tools that can be used to conduct an in-depth forensic or incident response investigation of a desktop or server. SIFT includes tools such as log2timeline for generating a timeline from system logs and libevtx for collecting and analysing Windows event logs.

Download from: https://digital-forensics.sans.org/community/downloads 

All these tools will be great additions to your toolkit to help you do your job more effectively, but as ever they’re only my choice so feel free to share your favourite tools with us on the SolarWinds MSP Twitter using the hashtag #FreeITtools .