You’ve got your trusty USB flash drive plugged into your computer, and you go to copy some files to it. Then you get this – “The disk is write protected. Remove the write protection or use another disk.” Then you say, “Whaaaaaa….?!?!” How did this happen? This is your USB stick, you should be able to read, write and do whatever you want with it!
Deep breath and stay calm. It is just an error message. You and I are going to go through a few simple steps to fix write protection on USB drives and make your USB flash drive work again, in the manner that you expect it to. It’s just technology, we can fix it.
Step 1 – Check The USB Drive For Viruses
Every time you plug a USB drive into your computer, you should be automatically scanning it for viruses – especially if you have used it on computers that you don’t own, or public computers. Viruses often act in a manner that will fill your USB drive with nonsense files and this can make your USB drive respond with the Write Protected error.
Depending on the antivirus software that you have, you may be able to configure it to automatically scan USB Drives when they are plugged in. If not, usually you can navigate to the USB drive in Windows Explorer, right-click on it and make your antivirus software scan it manually.
If you do find a virus, then it would be best to eliminate it using your antivirus software. I’d also recommend performing a scan with at least one other antivirus scanner, as not all antiviruses are 100% complete in their anti-virus definitions. Chances are where there is one virus, there are two or more.
I recommend reading Joel’s article, “Make Sure You’re Clean With These Free One-Time Scan Antivirus Tools“.
Step 2 – Check The USB Drive Body
Normally I’d make something this simple, step one. However I’d rather see you protected from viruses first and then have you check the simple thing factor. Some USB flash drives have a mechanical switch on them that puts them into Write Protect mode. This can be a very small slider switch which may have caught on something in your pocket or computer case.
If this is the situation, then simply move the switch to the unlocked position and try to copy files again. It should work now.
On the upside there aren’t a lot of USB sticks with these locks on them anymore. So there is a good chance that’s not the issue for you. On the downside, if this isn’t the issue the following fixes are slightly more complicated.
Step 3 – Check To Make Sure the Flash Drive Isn’t Full
If your USB stick is full, you may also get the Write Protect error message. So, simply pop into Windows Explorer, find your USB Drive, right-click on it and select Properties. This will give you the nice pie chart display of the Used and Free space available on your USB Stick.
(Fun Fact: The scientific reason why pie charts are so popular is that people like pie). It appears that my drive is barely used at all!
Step 4 – Is It Just That File?
Make sure that it isn’t just the file that is write protected. Yes, you would get a different error message, but maybe you jumped to conclusions and thought it was the whole USB flash drive. It happens. If I can freak out like that, so could you.
Right-click on the file that you’re trying to write to and then click on Properties. Now you’ll see some options at the bottom of this window and one of them is Read-only. Make sure this box is unchecked and then click on the Apply button. You should now be able to write to this file.
Step 5 – Diskpart Command Line Utility
Have you ever worked in the command line on Windows? Well you’re about to. It’s not as scary as one might think, and as such it is the next logical step before going into the Windows Registry.
Click on your Start Menu and type
cmd in the Search for programs and files field. Now, hit your Enter key. You’ll see a window looking like the following:
Type in the command
diskpart and hit Enter. Diskpart is a disk-partitioning tool that is built into Windows and is accessible through the Command Line Utility. With it, we can change the values associated with your USB drive.
A new command line window will open. Type
list disk and then hit Enter. You’ll now see a list of disks available in Windows. If your USB drive isn’t listed here, this won’t help you any. You can see in my example below that all that is showing are the two partitions on my computer’s hard drive. My USB drive doesn’t show up in here for whatever reason.
If it is listed here, make a note of the number beside it. Make sure that this is indeed your USB drive! Now type the command
select disk 3, assuming your USB drive is number 3, and hit Enter. Type
attributes disk clear readonly and then hit Enter. You have now cleared any Read-Only attribute that might be on that USB drive.
exit and hit Enter to leave the DiskPart utility. Try your USB drive again. Still getting the Write Protect Error?
Step 6 – Into the Registry We Go
If none of the previous steps helped you out, then we have to do something a little dangerous – we are going into the registry. If you are not comfortable going into the registry, I understand. You may want to skip to Step 7, but that means going on to formatting your USB drive. Or, you can have a friend who is a computer technician check the registry for you. Or you can try it out yourself. This is a fairly simple registry change, so hang in there. I think you can do it.
Click on your Start Menu and type
regedit into the Search for programs and files field. You’ll see something like the image below.
Hit your Enter key. The Registry Editor window will now open. By clicking on the arrows next to the menu items, navigate to
and look for a key named WriteProtect.
If that key exists, right-click on it and click on Modify.
Now, you’ll probably find that the value for this is set to 1. 1 means “Yes, write protect my USB storage device.” So you can guess that 0 means “No, don’t write protect my USB storage device.” Now change that value to 0 and click on the OK button.
Close Registry Editor, remove your USB device and then plug it back in again. You should now be able to write to your USB stick.
If not, it is Disk Formatting Time.
Step 7 – Format The USB Drive
WARNING: Make sure that you back up all the files and information from your USB drive to your computer. All data will be lost once the USB drive is formatted.
Formatting the hard drive is a last resort. However, it should make your USB drive able to be read and written to. Prior to formatting the USB drive, determine what kind of file system it already has – NTFS or FAT32. Normally the file system that it already has will be the file system that is best suited for the drive.
Remember how we went into Windows Explorer, right-clicked on the USB drive and selected Properties back in Step 3? Let’s do that again.
There it is – File system: FAT32. If you want more information on file systems and formatting USB Flash Drives, Tina has a solid article on that, called, “How To Format A USB Drive & Why You Would Need To“.
Close out the Properties window and right-click on your USB drive in Windows Explorer again. Click on Format.
In the Format window, you’ve got some options. We’ve already determined that we’re going to use the FAT32 File System for this particular drive. For Allocation Unit Size, select the highest amount you can if you’ve got a USB drive with a capacity over 1GB, go smaller if your USB drive is smaller. I don’t know of too many people with a USB flash drive less than 1GB so 64 kilobytes should be fine.
You can make the Volume label something that is meaningful to you. I’m just leaving it as KINGSTON for now. Because we may be dealing with a USB drive with hardware issues, I suggest unchecking the Quick format box. That will force the format to do more than just erase files. If there is a bad sector on this USB drive, a full format will will throw an error. If that’s the case, then you may want to check out my article, “How To Make Corrupt USB Jump Drives Work Again“.
The formatting shouldn’t take too long. Of course, the larger the volume, the longer the formatting will take. Assuming there is no physical problem with the drive, your USB drive will be formatted, cleaned and ready to read from and write to.
The Take Away
Sometimes the problem is simple and can be dealt with simply. Try those methods first as they are most often the correct ones. If the problem is deep and requires drastic measure, make sure that is indeed the case. You’ve got a lot more troubleshooting tools in your arsenal now and should be able to get your USB drives working again, potentially saving you a tidy sum of money.
And all we ask is that you let us know how it went, in the comments below. Of course, if you have any additional tips, we like to read those too.
Image Source: Padlock USB via Shutterstock