Disposing of Your USB Memory Sticks

USB memory sticks are a wonderful way to back up and transport a range of digital information, from music to video to documents to pictures. The only question is, when you are ready to retire your memory stick, how do you dispose of it? Before you think about just throwing away your USB memory stick, consider the myriad ways you can recycle or reuse it.

Before you find an outlet for your old memory sticks, make sure all the information you wrote onto the stick has been properly and completely deleted. While deleting the files yourself at home may appear to remove the information from the stick, the data may still be accessible to skilled hackers and certain spy programs. The best practice is to take the drive to your local computer store or maintenance location and have them professionally delete the information.

A great way to dispose of your memory stick is to donate it. For example, some companies collect unwanted and old USB sticks and recycles them for students and professionals in developing countries who do not have access to such technology. Some education trusts also accepts donated USB memory sticks in support of schools in Africa. If you prefer your donation to stay more local, then some local libraries distribute audio books to the blind on donated memory sticks.

If you do not like the idea of donating your USB memory stick, it is also possible to recycle your memory stick at home by finding alternative uses for them. Unwanted USB sticks can be used as key chain charms or plant labels. The circuit boards and interior wiring can be reconfigured and redesigned to make unique jewelry pieces, and an arrangement of USB parts could contribute to an art project. Some people grind up their old USB sticks and lay it around flower beds as moisture insulation and weed protection. All you need to recycle your memory stick at home is a little imagination!

A final resort for the disposal of unwanted USB memory sticks is throwing them away but make sure to heed the warning about deleting all information properly before choosing this disposal option!

Everything considered, the best disposal method is reuse. One of the best aspects of a USB memory stick is it can be rewritten again and again and continue to hold and transport your data in a small and efficient manner and with sales of these units in the hundreds of millions they are likely to be here for quite some time yet.

USB Flash Drive Operating Systems

Did you know that you could get an entire operating system on a flash USB drive? Most firmware in modern PCs allows booting from these drives. That means that a bootable flash drive could allow you to launch an operating system, this is commonly called Live USB and applies mostly to Linux operating systems. However, there is a MS Windows version available and some versions of BSD are also available on flash USBs.

Live USBs are good special purpose or brief tasks like doing an operating system install or disk cloning operation across a network, loading a minimal kernel for embedded operations and maintenance tasks.

A properly configured Windows USB flash drive will allow you to install a version of Windows XP on a drive, with extra software if there’s space. To do this, a special utility is required, as well as a fairly large drive. You will end up with a portable, compact emergency version of your operating system.

Live USBs are more commonly used by Linux operating systems, and are closely related to the now-common live CDs. Like CDs, USBs can be used to help test a distribution, recover data and many other tasks. Live USBs have many of the same limitations and benefits of a live CD. It is, however, easier for a live USB’s data to be changed, since CDs are usually permanently written. That makes it easier to use a live USB as personal storage, allowing a user to carry their preferred applications, operating system and configuration. Sharing a single system between multiple users is much easier in this case.

Live USBs can also provide extra privacy, since the USB device is carried by the user and storage in a safe location is easy. However, the small size of these devices also means that they are easily lost and stolen; making backups and encryption more important for USB flash drive operating systems than normal desktop operating systems.

Since USB drives have no moving parts, they are able to have a faster seek time than optical media and hard drives, this means small programs start faster from USB flash drives than from a live CD or hard disk. However, the low data transfer speeds of some USB devices can make booting from them very slow. In addition, older computers may not have a BIOS that supports booting from USB devices. Booting an operating system from a USB drive may slightly reduce the life of the flash drive.

Carrying your own personal operating system in your pocket can be extremely useful for travellers or people using shared computers. Some sites offer tutorials on simplified flash drive installation for many different distributions of Linux (which is the most popular OS for this purpose). These tutorials mean it is much easier to install, boot and run your preferred distribution, with all your settings and files, from a very small drive. Just be sure you have a large enough drive and that you are using it in a computer capable of booting from the USB port.

Note: USB 2.0 capability greatly speeds things up, as well.

Derek Rogers is a freelance writer who writes for a number of UK businesses. For logo branded promotional flash drives, he recommends Flashbay.com.

The Security of USB Flash Drives

Even the biggest USB flash drive is still smaller than most people’s thumbs. Since we carry these devices to numerous locations, there is a fairly good chance that we will eventually lose them. If this should happen, most of us simply hope there was nothing sensitive on the drive. However, that is not the only thing you can do. There are some basic USB flash drive security measures available.

If your flash drive carries some sensitive information that you hope to keep from ending up online by the next day, security measures available range from secure partitions to encryption options. Secure partitions are a rudimentary form of security – a password protected partition is created on the drive, using a utility supplied by the manufacturer, this makes a public partition and a secure one.

In most cases, it is not possible to access these partitions at the same time, it is often necessary to log into the secure partition, hiding the public one. Not all controllers feature this limitation. Using a version of your utility, someone else could re-partition the drive. However, they would not have access to the data you have stored on the secure partition.

There are other USB flash drives that are much more specialised, they offer the same sort of secure, password protected partition. However, they also encrypt data stored on that partition, making it much harder for people to get to your data. While encryption algorithms can be broken, having encryption on your USB drive is an extra layer of security you can offer your data.

The down side to drives that use encryption is that some of them only perform this encryption in software that results in lower performance on the drive when encryption is enabled. Few manufacturers use a hardware based engine capable of encrypting and decrypting files at a higher speed to prevent performance penalties when you access a secure partition that’s using encryption.

The problem with both of these security approaches is that they are mostly dependent on software; the majority of manufacturers of USB flash drives only provide Windows based software support.

What does that mean for Macintosh users and people who use a Linux distribution or other unusual operating system? Security for USB flash drives is mostly still a matter of keeping good track of them. While it is possible to access public partitions on almost all systems, accessing the secure partition generally requires access to Windows.

USB flash drive security is still in its infancy, since these drives aren’t routinely used by people with a need to secure their data. As they become more widespread and the need for security increases, expect flash drive security options to increase as well. For now, partitioning and encrypting are the major options available, though.

Windows users are in luck and can make use of both of these options effectively to preserve their data. However, users of operating systems that aren’t compatible with the software on the drive must simply try not to let their USB flash drives fall into the wrong hands.

Derek Rogers is a freelance writer who writes for a number of UK businesses. For logo branded Custom Flash Drives, he recommends Flashbay.com.