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A photo of a bunch of Pen Drives, and Flash Drives in different colors and storage capacities.

Rules of Thumb for Thumb Drives and Flash Drives

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Thumb Drives and Flash Drives certainly revolutionized the way we store and transfer information between computers. It was from an article in a Technology Magazine that I read about them for the first time about 21 years ago. Back then these bad boys were 6 inches in length and were dubbed “Pen Drives” because they resembled a “Permanent Marker” at the time. While the storage capacity was limited to 8 Megabytes they were as expensive as Rs. 8,000 to 10,000. (40 – 50 USD approximately). Nowadays storage devices are as small as a fingernail, as cheap as a cent, and come in a variety of capacities up to 2 Terabytes (ex: Kingston Digital 2TB DataTraveler Ultimate). It’s fascinating to see how technology advances. So today I want to quickly share with you three rules of thumb that I abide by when using Thumb Drives and Flash Drives. [In Pic: My collection of colorful Thumb Drives and Flash Drives Image Credit: SR Productions)

Note: This blog is not affiliated with the software or hardware vendors mentioned in this post. External links to these vendors are for reference purposes only.

Distinguish Thumb Drives from Flash Drives

Yes. You read it right! I was under the impression that thumb drives are synonymous with flash drives. Turns out I was wrong according to this article on the MiniTool Website. They are similar in many ways, but they are also different. Maybe the biggest difference is how they store your data. While thumb drives use Solid-State Drive (SSD) technology Flash Drives use compact flash technology (hence the name flash drive). Compact flash storage in addition to flash drives is used on tablets, smartphones, digital cameras, and MP3 Players. The main purpose of SSD is to carry and transfer files from one device to another.

Speaking of longevity and durability Flash drives are more durable than thumb drives and can survive harm from the outside world, such as when they are dropped. If you use your USB drive frequently, though, thumb drives are a better option. While flash drives are more durable, they deteriorate every time their content is erased and reprogrammed. So how do you distinguish a thumb drive from a flash drive? Storage devices like wristband drives use compact flash technology while regular thumb drives use SSD technology. So, choose between a thumb drive and a flash drive depending on your needs.

Make use of Encryption to Protect the Data

On October 30th, 2017, a man (or a woman, I am not sure) walking in the streets of London picked up a flash drive that was lying on the street. He viewed the contents on a computer at the local library before passing along the flash drive to the UK newspaper the Sunday Mirror. In the flash drive were 76 folders & 174 documents, that revealed the details of measures used to protect the Queen, types of ID needed to access restricted areas, a timetable of security patrols, and maps pinpointing CCTV cameras. One document highlighted recent terror attacks and talked about the type of threat the airport could face. [Source: The Points Guy]

You and I may not carry such sensitive data in our thumb drives or flash drives, but family photos, financial records, and medical records can do great harm if a drive containing them falls into wrong hands. The solution is to use a thumb drive or a flash drive with encryption built into it or use encryption software. I like the second option because the first option is expensive and best for enterprise-level users. Windows users can use BitLocker while macOS users can use FileVault. It’s not just flash drives and thumb drives that you must encrypt. Anything portable with sensitive data in them (Portable Hard Drives, Laptops, etc.) must be encrypted. Remember, we cannot compromise on information security under any circumstances.

Don’t use them for long term data Storage

I once used a flash drive to store a large volume of important files until I am ready to transfer them to the Network Access Storage Unit at work. Well, you know what they say. Technology is a blessing when it works. It’s a curse when it stops working. I kept on procrastinating the transfer for months and one day the flash drive failed permanently. I should have learned the lesson, but I didn’t. Once again, I used a thumb drive (which I had labeled “Precious Memories of Old”) to store family photos worth eight years, and guess what? The thumb drive failed, effectively locking me away from my precious memories of old.

Fortunately, the IT guy at work had a premium copy of Easeus Data recovery software and with it, I was able to recover most of my precious memories of old. Even though the thumb drive displayed “The disk in drive is not formatted. Do you want to format it now?” Don’t get me wrong. This is not a sales pitch for data recovery software. The point is you will not be as lucky as I was. Neither I will be so lucky again. Please don’t take chances with your precious data. Preventing a data loss is much easier and more cost-effective than recovering from a loss of data. Always use a portable hard drive for long-term data storage. I recommend the Transcend StoreJet 25H3.

Wrap Up

I still remember how I struggled to move data from one computer to another using a 3 ½ Floppy Disk. Back then the only other options were CD-RWs, DVD-RWs, ZIP Drives, or Laser Disks. Unlike now these options were very expensive. Portable Hard Disks were not even heard of, and the USB technology was not yet available. If I am not wrong, the thumb drives/flash drives and portable Hard Disks will not be around if not for the USB technology. I feel so blessed to be born in the 80s and not miss the golden era of data-storage technology. Still, remember, technology is a blessing when it works. It’s a curse when it doesn’t. So, abide by these three rules when using a thumb drive or a flash drive and you will never regret it.


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