Do not rely on flash drives to protect your data
USB flash drives are ubiquitous. We all have several of them that we use to quickly store data, or to transport data from one computer to another. Unfortunately, like all forms of digital storage, flash drives can break or corrupt your data, typically at the most inopportune times.
This article addresses how best to use flash drives, and how to avoid some of the more common reasons that they fail.
THE BOTTOM LINE
- Back up the data from your flash drive to another location regularly.
- Treat your flash drive gently
- Use better quality flash drives
Not every flash drive is equal. As with most things, you get what you pay for. Especially suspect are the free and/or promotional flash drives branded for a sales event or with a vendor’s logo. They are often bottom-of-the-barrel products cheaply manufactured from inexpensive parts. But any flash drive can fail given enough time and enough reads and writes.
Is a flash drive safe to store valuable data?
Valuable data should always be stored in multiple places. No single location is “safe” to store irreplaceable data; this includes your computer’s hard drive, an external hard drive, a flash drive, etc. The sort-of exception to this is cloud storage. You save the data in one location, but most cloud storage services back the data up to multiple locations.
So, the answer to this question is yes, provided that your data is also stored in at least one more location.
What can go wrong with storing data on a flash drive?
- You can lose it: This keeps you from retrieving the data, and can put the data into the hands of someone else.
- The hardware can fail: any component, including the USB connector, can fail preventing you from gaining access to the data.
- Your data can become corrupted: An individual file on the flash drive (or on any drive) can become corrupted. There are many ways that this can happen. If it does, the only way to try and retrieve the data is to send the flash drive to a company specializing in data recovery.
- The whole drive can become corrupted: This is more common with a flash drive than an individual file getting corrupted. However, it leaves you with the same option to send the flash drive to a recovery company.
Once a flash drive fails, can it be repaired?
There are companies which specialize in retrieving data from failed/corrupted drives. None of them can guarantee success.
What can cause a flash drive to fail?
- Overuse: The non-volatile memory technology used by flash drives are designed to read and write data a certain number of times (this can be between 3,000 and 100,00 operations). When that limit has been reached, the drive will fail. If you’ve been using the same drive for several years, it may be time to replace it.
- Failure of an electrical component: You usually get what you pay for.
- Broken component: Treat it gently. Don’t throw things on top of it, or keep in your pocket with a jumble of keys.
- Magnets: Magnets can erase data.
- Heat: Don’t leave your flash drive in your glove compartment during the summer.
Will a flash drive warn you when it is about to fail?
What else should I be careful of?
If you find a flash drive outside of your office. Leave it there. It could easily be loaded with a virus waiting for someone to find it and insert it into their computer. Most computers are configured to automatically run whatever program is on an inserted flash drive.
If you have questions about this, please let us know and we will be happy to assist you.