Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

4/23/2019

Throw Away Drives

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Never trust a Network Admin with a screwdriver,The Dark Side,The Day Job — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Rooster which is in the early evening or 7:00 pm for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Gibbous

Please, be careful.

We tend to treat USB thumb drives as essentially disposable these days, which, considering their low cost, they basically are.  At least, in one sense.  The problem is, those cheap, little drives still store an awful lot of data.  I recently read an article titled “You left WHAT on that USB drive?!” where the authors talk about several studies, formal and informal, where researchers scooped up random USB drives, either from eBay or the lost and found, to see what was on them.  The results are a little terrifying.  According to the article, “…about two-thirds of second-hand USB memory sticks bought in the US and the UK have recoverable and sometimes sensitive data. In one-fifth of the devices studied, the past owner could be identified.”  What’s more, in the case of one study, out of 200 drives, only 34 of them had been properly wiped out.  That’s just 17% of the drives.  Several had been formatted, but still had data that could be recovered off them.  Yes, that’s right, even reformatting the drives does NOT guarantee that they will be properly wiped out.

What’s more, the data that was left behind was of a very sensitive nature in many cases.  Everything from tax information to naked photos to photos of a soldier on deployment and at home, including the soldier’s address.  And, again, reformatting is not enough.  At least 8 drives out of the 200 examined had been reformatted, but had data on them that could still be recovered!  So, what can be done?
Personally, I tend to use USB drives until they absolutely don’t work at all any more, and I try not to put personal data on them in any case.
One solution is to get a USB drive that can be encrypted.  I’ve used several versions of the LaCie Imakey that includes an encrypted partition and utilities to manage it, but that doesn’t seem to be available any more.  A replacement might be the Kingston Digital Data Traveler Locker, which lets you set a password to restrict access, as well as doing hardware encryption of some kind and even backing up to the cloud in case the drive gets lost.  Granted those drives can get a little pricey, but how much does it cost to deal with the potential identity theft that lax personal security might bring?

If you have drives, USB or otherwise, that you’re looking to get rid of, then at least sanitize them before they go.  There are a lot of articles and utilities available to help you with that.  One that covers pretty much every drive you might have is How to securely erase external hard drives, SD cards, or flash drives, which details the steps as well as suggesting utilities to help you.  Now, for the most part, I assume that if you read this blog, as opposed to my other blog, Use Your Words, then you’re a geek like me and can handle more than consumer-grade procedures and software.  If that’s the case, or you’re feeling particularly brave, one great utility I’ve used is Darik’s Boot and Nuke aka DBAN.  It’s a free ISO you can download to make a bootable disk/drive that will let you securely wipe a drive before disposing of it.  It’s simple to use and free, but if you’re not comfortable burning an ISO to a disk or thumbdrive, then I’d recommend getting a more consumer-friendly product.

Either way, it’s a scary world out there to let your precious data roam free without a keeper, so be careful with those cheap, “throw away” drives.  If you’re not careful how you use them, they could get pretty expensive.


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"They don't hold meetings about rainbows."

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