In this article I will show how to use your jump drive step by step, starting with when you connect the drive to your computer and ending with general tips. My tips will help you avoid data corruption, both on the flash drive and on your computer. All tips are easy to do and will help you keep your flash drive and your data safe.
1. Disable AutoRun
AutoRun is a Windows feature, which enables programs to run automatically off an external storage medium, such as a DVD or jump drive, once that medium is inserted into the computer. It is not to be confused with AutoPlay, which merely offers to launch media on the storage device in different ways. To protect the data on your computer, AutoRun should be disabled to avoid infections from malicious software running off USB flash drives connected to your computer.
The good news is that if you use Windows 7, you are pretty much safe. Microsoft reacted to the malware exploits and disabled AutoRun, except for media inserted to the computer’s optical drive. If you’re running Windows XP or Windows Vista, you should install patch KB971029 to get the same protection from AutoRun.
More information can be found on the MSDN blog: Improvements to AutoPlay.
2. Scan Thumb Drive for Viruses
Even when AutoRun is disabled, you can still get infected by malware if it is hiding on your flash drive. If your anti-virus software offers to scan the removable drive automatically, let it do so. In case it doesn’t, you can initiate a scan manually using your installed anti-virus or anti-malware software.
Go to > My Computer, right-click the removable storage device, and select the appropriate menu item, e.g. > Scan selected files with AntiVir. The options you see in your right-click menu depend on the software that is installed on your computer.
Alternatively, you can set up scanning from the AutoPlay dialogue using Microsoft Security Essentials. For step-by-step instructions on how this can be done, refer to this article on How-To Geek - Scan Your Thumb Drive for Viruses from the AutoPlay Dialog
3. Avoid Working With Documents Directly From The Drive
It’s convenient to carry your files with you and work directly from them using your flash drive. However, there are several problems associated with this procedure. One is addressed in the next point and the other is that a regular thumb drive can go through approximately 10,000 cycles of writing and erasing data before it will fail.
Therefore, I recommend to not save files directly to your flash drive while you are editing them. Drag & drop them to your desktop to work with them and when you are done, cut & paste them to your jump drive again. This way you have a backup on your removable drive, while you are working on a copy of the file saved to the desktop.
If you are working on a public computer however, it may be safer to work from your removable drive rather than risk forgetting the file on that desktop.
4. Safely Remove Hardware & Eject Media
The proper way to remove a jump drive (or external hard drive) from your computer, is to go through the Windows taskbar and eject the device before removing it physically. If you simply unplug it, you risk corrupting files that are still open.
To be safe, go to the Windows 7 taskbar, find the removable drive icon, click it and on the menu that pop us click > Eject Mobile Disk for the drive you wish to remove.
If you get an error message that > This device is currently in use (…), then you probably have a file, folder, or program open that sits on your flash drive. Close everything and try again. If this doesn’t work, reboot your computer and remove the flash drive when Windows has logged off and before you log back into Windows again.
Once the disk has been ejected successfully, you can safely unplug your thumb drive.
5. General Hardware Tips
Unlike hard drives, jump drives do not have movable parts and are thus a lot more sturdy and less prone to physical damage. Nevertheless, a flash drive is still a piece of hardware and should be treated carefully, especially if you carry sensitive data on it. In other words, try not to drop it, keep it away from water or moisture, and don’t expose it to extreme heat.
If your flash drive did get wet, do not connect it to your computer until it has dried! If you do, an electronic shortcut will occur and destroy the hardware and data on it. This is true for most hardware by the way. Instead, store the device in a dry and warm place (40°C max) for at least 48 hours or use a blow-dryer at low or medium heat.
Also keep in mind that thumb drives are small and thus easily forgotten, for example in your pocket or when inserted into a public computer. Get a lanyard to reduce the risk of losing your flash drive or accidentally throwing it into the laundry.
It’s probably a good idea to not expose a jump drive to strong magnetic fields, such as an MRI. Small magnets, however, are not to be feared. See this article from PC World - Busting the Biggest PC Myths.
For more tips and tricks on how to work with your jump drive, check out The Office Worker’s 101 Guide to a USB Thumb Drive.
What do you use your flash drives for and what is the worst accident you have had with one?