Data storage has come a long way. Before computers were accessible and affordable to the general public, people would have to travel with bulky books and piles of notes for work and personal projects. When computers became more widely used, data storage graduated to being digital, as 3.5-inch floppy disks and compact discs became the storage media of choice in the 1980s and 1990s. By the 2000s, digital storage got even more sophisticated with the emergence of USB flash drives that could fit within the palm of your hand. Also known as thumb drives or memory sticks, these mini storage devices have evolved over the past several years, with many offering a thousand times as much storage as floppy disks. Some drives also offer security features like password-restricted access and encryption. There are even high-capacity flash drives that provide as much storage as standard backup hard drives. Even though flash drives come with all of these powerful capabilities in an astounding pocket-sized package, are there any setbacks that come with these tiny devices? Are there any cases in which it may be better to use another form of storage, like cloud-based storage? Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of USB flash drives that will help you decide for yourself if you could benefit from utilizing these devices.
Ease of Use
Handheld and lightweight, flash drives fit inside the smallest of pockets, purses, and bags. They do not require any charging, so they can be taken anywhere and used without any accessories. This benefit makes flash drives the perfect alternatives to carrying around a laptop, tablet
, or any other device that takes up space or needs battery charging.Using a flash drive is also straightforward, with connection being as simple as inserting the drive into a USB port on a computer
or mobile device like a tablet. Flash drives are platform-independent, so they can be accessed using operating systems of any kind, and files on the drive can be located using a keyword search in a document finder window. Unlike with files on cloud drives, accessing and working with files on a flash drive do not require an Internet connection, which gives users more control over their information and can help them maintain productivity even if an Internet connection fails.
Speed and Versatility
Another benefit of USB flash drives are their efficiency and versatility. Flash drives can transfer files at relatively fast speeds, especially since they are not dependent upon Internet connections. They are able to run several different types of applications, including operating systems.The affordability, portability, and compact size of USB drives also make them great for business. Instead of disseminating promotional materials like videos or photographs through brochures, CDs, or DVDs, marketing professionals can place dynamic content on flash drives that can be customized with company logos on the exterior and easily fit into promotional tote bags.
Though appearing simple and one-dimensional in appearance and size, USB flash drives can come equipped with advanced functions like security protection. Many are designed with password-restricted access, requiring a password to be entered in order to open files on the drive. However, to prevent any vulnerability, the drive should be removed through proper ejection from the device it’s connected to after each use. The password prompt is only displayed at the beginning of a flash drive session, so data on the drive can still be accessed if the drive remains attached to the device without being closed properly. Some drives are even more sophisticated and have separate zones for password-protected files and files that are accessible without passwords. With this feature, users can store files for which they want extra protection in a privacy zone, a folder that requires users to enter a password when clicked on in the document finder window. Files that the user does not want password-protected can be stored in the drive’s public zone folder.These kinds of safeguards, paired with the localized use of the drive that doesn’t require Internet connection, helps to keep USB flash drives safe from online hacking, a threat that unfortunately exists for files stored in cloud storage services. However, both cloud files and USB flash drive files can be protected through encryption applications, which code data files into indecipherable code that must be unlocked with private keys or parameters. Some encrypted flash drives prevent unauthorized access to files stored on the flash drive by requiring a PIN or password to be entered using a mini keypad on the drive itself to prevent host hardware or software from stealing the PIN or password. Many encrypted drives also lock down after a certain number of failed attempts and can destroy or reformat themselves if that feature is opted for by the user.
Flash drives are easy to find at the last minute or on the go at major retail stores, which even have flash drives on display in checkout lines. They are also very affordable, with prices as low as $5 USD for 16 GB of storage space. Many retailers also offer flash drive multi-packs that give value savings, such as a pack of five 32-GB drives for $25 USD.Although flash drives can get more expensive with premium features like password protection and encryption, in general, flash drives can be good cost-effective or short-term alternatives to external hard drives, which start at higher prices of $30 USD.
Although flash drives aren’t vulnerable to hacking the way that cloud storage drives are, they are not completely immune from attacks. If a flash drive is connected to a computer that is infected with malware, then it is at risk for also being infected, putting the data stored on the drive at risk of corruption or theft. Even worse, if the owner of a compromised flash drive is unaware of the exposure, then the flash drive can spread the malware to other devices to which it is connects. Hackers are also creating viruses specifically designed to be transmitted through USB flash drives to launch large-scale attacks that allow them to commandeer computers, secretly modify files, or install malware on the computers. The best defense against this type of threat is to use your flash drive only on devices you trust, and to transfer information onto your drive from credible sources only.
Vulnerability to Loss and Destruction
While the tight size of flash drives makes them excellent for travel and space saving, it also makes them vulnerable to loss, theft, or destruction. Flash drives can easily slip through a partially unzipped purse, someone can snatch a drive out of the USB port of a laptop within seconds without anyone noticing, and a flash drive can easily fall to the ground and get rolled over by a car. Unless you have the data on your flash drive backed up on another source, then the information on a lost, stolen, or destroyed flash drive is permanently lost and unrecoverable.For this reason, it’s especially important to store flash drives in secured compartments and to close bags carrying them properly. Many flash drives include convenient lanyards so they can be hung around the neck, as well as key rings so they can be attached to keys to keep them handy.
Limited Life Span
The main factor determining the life span of a flash drive is how often it writes and erases data. A flash drive can last as long as 10 years. However, if it is used often enough, it can have a brief life span as short as a few months to a year. In addition, many flash drive users report having defective flash drives that die after a couple of uses or within one week. Furthermore, certain components of flash drives in general are not designed with the same robustness as those of larger devices like hard drives. For instance, the USB connector hardware that connects a drive to the USB port of a computer is built to withstand about 1500 cycles of insertion and removal. This means that just connecting the drive to a device before even opening its files can wear it out, as can improper ejection and leaving it plugged in for extended periods of time.For this reason, USB flash drives are not ideal backup storage devices. As evidenced from their design and features, they are more suited for transporting data between devices or storing data on a short-term basis. Even though there are high-end USB flash drives on the market that have storage capacities as high as 1 TB, which is enough storage to hold over 300,000 photos , the susceptibility to internal wear and tear, coupled with everyday impact from being toted around, makes flash drives too risky to trust as primary data storage tools.
Learn About Safe Storage Device Usage
Storage devices like USB flash drives provide great convenience and versatility in managing, transporting, and storing digital files. However, if they are not used safely when connected to devices, then they can become exposed to online dangers that can create data nightmares. Learn about how computer and storage devices work and how to use them safely by taking courses from Cybrary: