Early data storage being bulky and cumbersome led to the development of smaller and more convenient means of storing data. Also known as thumb drives, USBs, or memory sticks, USB flash drives became widely available in the early 2000s. USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, indicating that a connection is being made from an electronic device to a computer. Flash memory is a programmable medium of digital storage. Therefore, a USB flash drive is a means of programmable storage that can connect to a computer. While expressed security concerns have led to improved USB security, such as password-restrictions and encryption, USBs still present a serious risk for information security. Despite being conveniently pocket-sized and capable of holding up to 2 terabytes of data, USB flash drives users should consider some of their potential disadvantages. To examine the pros and cons of USB Flash Drives, their uses and offered conveniences must be defined then correlated with their drawbacks and security riskstext in italic.

What are some Advantages of USB Flash Drives?

  • Usability - USBs are lightweight and pocket-sized. They are easily connected to computers running any operating system and do not require an internet connection. Moreover, a full operating system is capable of booting from a live USB, making it particularly useful to IT and security professionals.

  • Affordability- The rise of newer technologies has allowed for a market of cheap data storage in USB flash drives. The cost will directly depend on the size of space needed, version of USB, and security features of the device. However, prices can start as low as $5 for 16 GBs of space.

  • Security - Some USB flash drives come equipped with security functions like password-protection, which requires a password to be entered to open certain files on the drive. USB flash drive files can also be protected through hardware or software encryption.

What are some Disadvantages of USB Flash Drives?

  • Physical Vulnerabilities - While the physical form and size can be considered an advantage, it also makes the device more vulnerable to being lost, stolen, or damaged. This makes it imperative to back up the data that is being stored on a USB flash drive. If they are heavily used, USBs are more likely to have a shorter lifespan and have a greater chance of becoming defective.

  • Connectivity - A single person operates a USB flash drive at a time. Larger organizations turn to other means of interconnected storage so that multiple people can work on and collaborate on files remotely. A USB flash drive cannot offer this option because it does not connect to the internet. While this can be viewed as a feature for solo work, it hinders collaborative storage and remote access.

  • Risk - USB flash drives are a convenient means to infect machines with malware, providing a platform for launching large-scale attacks. This is one way they pose a major risk to systems containing, or connected to, sensitive information. Their size and storage capability also make them ideal for stealing this type of data.


Determining if a USB flash drive fits a user's needs is dependent on what the data storage is needed for. Using a USB vs. using another form of data storage, such as the cloud, ultimately depends on the stored information's desired confidentiality and how many people need to access it. The benefits of using a USB flash drive include its external portability and its lack of requirement for an internet connection. USBs can also be an affordable option when compared to online storage. However, USBs can also be used as a means of malware infection and can be an ideal tool for an insider threat to steal sensitive information. Users should be aware of USB flash drives' features and the risks they present to determine if they fit their desired solution for digital storage.

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