thumb drives

Let's Talk About Flash Drives (Thumb Drives)

   Remember the floppy drives and CDs used for storage and backup of your computer files?  Here’s some interesting facts about the Flash Drives, taken from  The whole article is 21 pages long!  
A USB flash drive is a data storage device that includes flash memory with an integrated Universal Serial Bus (USB) interface. USB flash drives are typically removable and rewritable, and physically much smaller than an optical disc.   Page 1.
USB flash drives are often used for the same purposes for which floppy disks or CDs were used, i.e., for storage, back-up and transfer of computer files. They are smaller, faster, have thousands of times more capacity, and are more durable and reliable because they have no moving parts. Additionally, they are immune to magnetic interference (unlike floppy disks), and unharmed by surface scratches (unlike CDs). 
USB flash drives use the USB mass storage standard, supported natively by modern operating systems such as Linux, OS X, Windows, and other Unix-like systems. USB drives with USB 2.0 support can store more data and transfer faster than much larger optical disc drives like CD-RW or DVD-RW drives and can be read by many other systems such as the Xbox 360, Play Station 3, DVD players and handheld devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.
A flash drive consists of a small printed circuit board carrying the circuit elements and a USB connector, insulated electrically and protected inside a plastic, metal, or rubberized case which can be carried in a pocket or on a key chain, for example. The USB connector may be protected by a removable cap or by retracting into the body of the drive, although it is not likely to be damaged if unprotected.
USB flash drives draw power from the computer via the USB connection. 
USB flash drives were invented in 1999, claimed by several companies, contesting various patents around the world.  Trek’s “ThumbDrive” & IBM’s “DiskOnKey” started selling in 2000.  Lexar came out with CF (Compact Flash) card and card read/writer and cable that eliminated the need for a USB hub. Read more on page 3.  
This article claims 1,500 insert-removal cycles for the flash drive’s longevity. It goes on to describe how the innards work and shows some photos, tells what the essential components are, the size and style of packaging.  
USB flash drives have now been integrated into other items such as watches, pens, even the Swiss Army Knife.  Others have been fitted into novelties, such as toy cards, LEGO bricks, images of dragons, cats, or aliens.  See page 6.      
The File system is described, p. 7. Defragging claims are disputed.  USB flash units can be partitioned just like hard drives.  File transfer speeds are greater for the USB 3.0 than the 2.0. 
Common use is to store and transport personal files.  Storing medical information is mentioned. Encryption is supported with some types. Forensic and law enforcement usages are described. 
This article goes on to briefly describe other uses: updating motherboard firmware, booting operating systems, operating system installation media, application carriers.  Other uses are mentioned, such as backup for resellers since they can be removed at night and taken offsite.
Read about uses for audio players, media storage and marketing.  Availability of inexpensive flash drives makes them handy for promotional and marketing purposes, preloaded as a form of advertising. Page 11.
Advantages are noted:  have little power, no fragile moving parts, small, lightweight.  Date is impervious to mechanical shock, magnetic fields, scratches and dust.  Page 12. 
Testing? Is your flash drive going to survive the washing machine?  There are some that retain their memory!  Leave it out to dry completely before using it again.  Channel Five's Gadget Show cooked one of these flash drives with propane, froze it with dry ice, submerged it in various acidic liquids, ran over it with a jeep and fired it against a wall with a mortar. A company specializing in recovering lost data from computer drives managed to recover all the data on the drive. All data on the other removable storage devices tested, using optical or magnetic technologies, were destroyed.
There is a list of disadvantages on page 13. There is little or no advance warning of failure.  Its size means they can be easily misplaced.  
Comparison with other portable storage on page 14: tapes, floppy disks, optical media of CD and DVD.  Page 15 details the Flash Memory Cards, e.g. Secure Digital cards.  
Tells about external hard drives susceptible to damage, page 15.   Encryption and security is described on page 16.
Security threats are mentioned on page 17.  Flash drives may present a significant security challenge for some organizations. Their small size and ease of use allows unsupervised visitors or employees to store and smuggle out confidential data with little chance of detection. Both corporate and public computers are vulnerable to attackers connecting a flash drive to a free USB port and using malicious software such as keyboard loggers or packet sniffers.
For computers set up to be bootable from a USB drive, it is possible to use a flash drive containing a bootable portable operating system to access the files of the computer, even if the computer is password protected. The password can then be changed, or it may be possible to crack the password with a password cracking program and gain full control over the computer. Encrypting files provides considerable protection against this type of attack.
USB flash drives may also be used deliberately or unwittingly to transfer malware and autorun worms onto a network.
Pages18-21 lists 75 references with names and dates of the information that’s quoted. lists 32,814 results in search for “USB thumb drives.”  See the ratings from users. Customer reviews can give you important aspects to consider.    
We do want to keep our computers happy, and our data safe!                 # # #      
by Elaine Hardt.  This was my handout at the 2-15-14 PMUG meeting.  

About That Thumb Drive

        Maybe you won a thumb drive at a PMUG meeting.  Maybe you copied some files to it.  Now, how much memory is left?  Maybe you know how, but I had to search for the answer.  Looking at the SanDisk site and searching through a lengthy list of topics brought no quick answer.  I emailed to SanDisk and got a reply this morning.  It was written for PC people, but here's the Mac way.  
         Insert the thumb drive into the computer slot, right click with your mouse and hold it down on the icon of the thumb drive that comes up.  Click on Get Info from the choices in the list.  (Or left click if that’s how you’ve set up your mouse.) Up comes the little info box with the Kind, Date created, Date modified, Format, Capacity, Available space,  Amount of space used.  It shows date last opened, the name, preview, and sharing and permissions. 
        Here Prez Art Gorski jumps in with info:  "Regarding how much free space is available, this has worked in exactly the same way on Macs from the beginning of time. Select ANY volume (internal hard drive, external hard drive, flash drive, floppy, whatever) in the Finder and do a Get Info from the menu."

So, What Do You Want Them to Know?

         It’s not a cheery handout today.  But as we keep hearing news reports the importance of  security and privacy grab our attention.  Of course, there are things we need to know and do.  Keeping up with the latest information is a necessary precaution for all of us.  Here is just a few possibilities for current sites for you to review. 

ID Theft, Opt Out Directions,  Free Credit Report,  Social Networking Danger

        See   lists articles on ID theft, security, privacy, cloud computing, medical info on HIPAA,  medical identity theft, and more.   
Lots of links are provided on this website. One article brought to our attention was “Top ten opt out list.”   The information goes into detail and when printed out is 12 pages long as it describes the various opt-outs you can use to stop information about you from being collected, circulated, and sold among various companies and government agencies.  
One company is described which builds detailed dossiers on consumers with “information scraped from social networking sites like Facebook, and is combined with public record data.”  Dossiers have been used in political campaigns and other businesses.  According to their quotation from Wall Street Journal this company’s segments recently included   “a person's household income range, age range, political leaning, and gender and age of children in the household, as well as interests in topics including religion, the Bible, gambling, tobacco, adult entertainment and ‘get rich quick’ offers. In all . . .  more than 400 categories, the documents indicated."
This site also gives consumer tips and links on how to get your free annual credit report.   
A February 2010 report discloses Digital Signage Privacy Principles which might be a new term and a previously unexplained form of sophisticated digital information collection.  

Traveling Brings New Challenges for Security and Privacy
        See  This website gives 20 pages of information.

Defending privacy at the U.S. Border:  a guide for travelers carrying digital devices   states that “for now, a border agent has the legal authority to search your electronic devices at the border even if she has no reason to think that you’ve done anything wrong.”  
It discusses such agencies as CBP, ICE, TSA.  Which other countries have you recently visited before entering the United States?  What other connections do you have there? 
Be aware of two basic precautions:  make regular backups so if your computer is ever taken, lost or destroyed you’ll still have access to your data, and encrypt the information on your computer.    
It gives details on how and why.  Talks about hard drives, flash drives, mobile phones, details, date and disk encryption, digital cameras. It goes into how to interact with border agents, what to say, how to behave.  The appendix lists 47 sources and their links with descriptions.  
You can click to download a PDF with this material. This might be something you’d want to pass along to your grown kids and friends who plan to travel this summer. 


These are not just the yummy ones Ginger brings to PMUG! Read on . . . 

What Info is Available for Internet Sites to Take? 

        Using Firefox:  are you collecting lots and lots of cookies?   See how to view history and clear what you don’t want saved.  Using Safari: 

        See   Indiana University knowledge base, dated 3-3-13.  Brief description of cache, cookies, history.   How to: for Firefox, Internet Explorer 7, 8, 9,  Chrome, Opera, Safari, Mobile Safari for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android. 
        What personal information does Amazon gather and why? There’s 5 pages to read!  dated 4-6-12.
        Google’s Policy:  last modified 7-27-12.  Their policy in 8 pages; what they take and what you can determine on your end.  “We will not reduce your rights under this Privacy Policy without your explicit consent.”  Hmmmm.  

Password Managers Can Help
The query to Ben Patterson brings up info he wrote about iPhone, iPad:

How Safe is My Info on a Thumb Drive?

A handy little thumb drive can hold a lot of info.  But they can be misplaced, lost, mishandled.  Make a plan to store them and use them.  How long of a life do they have?  Probably you’ll want to back one up, then buy a new one & copy over again in a few years?  
An infected USB thumb drive can infect a computer.  This discusses software encryption, hardware encryption.

An Unexpected Phone Call From Your Grandson 

Oh, it was a young man’s voice on the phone, but he said, “Grandma, I’m calling from Rome and I need help.”  Who wouldn’t be concerned?  How did he travel so far from home?  What’s going on?  Asking a few questions like,  “Maybe you have the wrong number.  What did you say your name was?  What’s your sister’s name?”  Ask anything that only the real grandson could possibly know.  “Give me your phone number and I’ll call you back after I ...“  Make some quick excuse and sound sort of confused.  Your brain’s internal warning device is in full swing now.  You’ve heard about scams like this.  Don’t be cheated out of your $$$. 
Facebook gives crooks the information so they can find information to pretend to be your grandchild.     
Alert your grandkids about posting information on Facebook, etc that would jeopardize you or them!  A good reminder now and then shows you care about their safety.

So, What Can We Do?

While we are bemoaning the loss of truth, honesty, and respect in the world today we of the “generation with years of experience” must continue to be relevant and responsible. It’s part of our heritage, how mama and dad raised us to be decent and trustworthy.  It’s like doing push-ups for exercise.  Now, we’re exercising our brains.  And part of that is continuing communication.  Listen and learn.  Respond as best as you can!  
Let your computer help you keep in touch.  Let PMUG help you learn.  

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This was today's PMUG meeting handout from Elaine Hardt, May 18, 2013 

Need Another Reason to Switch from Windows?

         Whether you use Windows— or not — there's some helpful info here for all of us!  Don't miss the suggestions about thumb drives and external drives.  Thanks to John Carter for the following detailed report!   He starts with the news article.  Feds: Infected USB drive idled power plant 3 weeks

       " There are four ways to protect yourself from a virus: 
        1) Keep an hourly updated anti-virus app running continuously. Since any new virus won't be detected and a cure found for up to 24 hours, this isn't any kind of guarantee that a Windows OS won't get a virus.
        2) Switch from Windows to any one of the dozens of Linux distributions. Linux is probably the most secure OS on the market simply because hackers know their return on investment isn't big enough to warrant going after it. There's just not that many Linux computers in use compared to the vast number of Windows computers. Still, installing an anti-virus app on Linux will give added peace of mind.
        3) Switch from Windows to a Mac. Because Mac is based on Unix, it has the same low-profile for hackers as Linux. There have been recent viruses found on Macs in the past couple of years — maybe two or three — so an anti-virus app is now recommended for Macs for added peace of mind.
        4) Stop using computers. (Now we know John is smiling when he says this!  Read on for more of his report.)
       "LInux and Mac are no longer safe now that hackers have discovered a way to infect any computer with a Java virus. But if the browser has Java turned off, or if you don't even install Java on your computer (and this does not include Javascript, which is still safe — for the moment), you're pretty secure when it comes to Java viruses that come in through email or a website. 
        "Still, this doesn't protect a computer when the virus is embedded in a brand new thumb drive or external hard drive that you just bought. So, another step in purchasing any thumb drive or external hard drive is to reformat it before using it.
        "Is Linux or the Mac really free from attack? Many companies using Unix as their primary operating system get attacked daily, but mostly by hackers trying to find a way into the computer through some unguarded port. Hackers don't go after personal computers in this way, simply because there's no assurance that their efforts will return as much of a reward, but this doesn't mean they won't try. 
        "Any computer, regardless of the operating system type, needs to be secured with a firewall for protection against attacks from the Internet, and that firewall needs to be monitored constantly and updated frequently — which almost no personal computer owner knows anything about."
        Well, it's time to come to the conclusion — for now — and John winds up with, "If everyone switched from Windows to Linux or Mac, the hackers will start going after them and we'll be back to grabbing at straws to figure out how best to protect our computers. But for now, either one is a better solution than using Windows."

Lion? Yes? No?

        After reading an article about getting Lion for $70 on a thumb drive, Allen Laudenslager sent it on to us with the comment, "The way this guy wrote the article is a hoot."
        My question back to him was, "Got Lion?  Why or why not?"  Here's Allen's reply.
        "My son upgraded just because he is a technogeek and need to have the latest and 'greatest.' He hasn't found any real new features, but I did learn that if I were to upgrade my old version of MS Word for Mac would not run under Lion. Since MS changed the tool bar I much prefer the older version, and I don't want to have to switch to the newer, less efficient (from my point of view) version.
        "I do tech manuals and that means a lot of formatting, with the older version the tool bar can be set up with access to the formatting tools right on the tool bar. With the new version I have to click through at least one menu, usually two or three, to get to the same control. Great for home users who don't do a lot of formatting but a pain for me.
        "I want a Macbook Air so I will automatically have to upgrade an replace MS Word then. I have to run a version of Word that is one-to-one compatible with my customers or I'm out of business, so I will end up having to have a dual boot system to let me run both Lion and Snow Leopard so I can still run my old MS Word version."

Encrypt Your Thumb Drive

        "Many of us use a thumb drive to backup data while traveling and to pass data to trusted friends," Allen Laudenslager gets our attention.  He elaborates, "Some of that data needs to be very private and should be encrypted. So, how do you encrypt your thumb drive?
        "Here is a link to the entire Wired magazine article,  but the specific directions for the Mac are below:
        "Mac OS X actually has a nice built-in encryption tool you can use right out of the box. To get started, just plug in your USB stick and open up Disk Utility (you'll find it in the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder).
        "In Disk Utility head to File >> New >>Blank Disk Image. Select your USB stick as the destination and choose one of the encryption options. You can also set the size of the volume, number of partitions and the format.
        "Once that's done click create and enter a good password (see our guide to picking strong passwords). Alternatively, there is a Mac version of TrueCrypt which may be used.
        "May not be important for pictures of the gandkids, but if you need to take your tax information to the accountant you just might care!"

Your Thumb Drive for Both Mac & PC

        How can that innocent little thumb drive be accepted by both Mac and your kid's PC?  It was time to find out.  Putting that Cruzer Mini 1.0 GB into Mac, then going to Utilities > Disk Utility to format it as MS-DOS (FAT) was supposed to work.  Alas, it did not open on a PC.
        John Carter to the rescue! He got straight to the point, "Had you not formatted it, you would have been able to read/write on the Mac and on a PC. All thumb drives are originally formatted as FAT32 and will work on all OS types (PC, Mac, Linux).
        "Once you've formatted a drive on the Mac, it is unusable on a PC no matter which format you use. As far as I'm concerned, this is a bug. If it is formatted as Mac OS (any type), it will not even be recognized on a PC. If you formatted it as MS-DOS (FAT) on the Mac and reformat it on a PC, you are only able to ADD a 200MB FAT32 partition to the existing Mac formatted partition, and that's the largest size available on the PC. When inserted on the Mac, there will be two partitions on the drive, one with FAT32 as created by the Mac with 3.8GB and one with FAT32 as created on the PC with only 200MB. If you reformat it on the Mac, you can recover all the space in one partition.
        "A thumb drive formatted as MS-DOS (FAT) on a Mac has full read/write access on a Linux machine. If it is formatted as Mac OS (any type), it only has read access on a Linux machine.
       John closes with this advice: "Bottom line: don't format a drive on a Mac unless you only intend to use it on a Mac."

VirtualBox vs Parallels

At the last regular meeting John Carter said that running Windows in VirtualBox does not access thumbdrives. Here he goes into more detail: "It is true in only one aspect. Plugging in a thumbdrive won't show up in My Computer as an available device. Two things have to be done to access any device plugged into a USB port.

"First step. Go into the VirtualBox Settings for the Windows OS and click on the Shared Folders tab. Click on the plus sign on the far left to add a new shared folder. In the Add Share pop-up, click on the down arrow for the Folder Path: field, then click on Other... . In the browser window that pops up, select the drive associated with the USB port you want to access. Give it any name you want in the Folder Name: field. Optionally, make the shared folder permanent (this is useful if you are using an external hard drive that is always plugged in). Click OK.

"Second step. Start Windows. Open My Computer. In the menu bar, click on Tools. Click on Map Network Drive... . Select a drive letter. Click on the Browse... button. In the pop-up window, click on the plus sign for 'VirtualBox Shared Folders.' Click on the folder that corresponds to the drive you want to access. If the OK button doesn't highlight right away, double click on the folder name to open the folder and wait for the folder to show the contents. At this point, you may have to double click on any subfolder to get the machine to respond (make a connection). Click back on the name of the drive you want to access. The OK button should now be active. Click on OK.

"You are now connected to the device plugged in to that USB port.

"You do not have to go through all this if you are using Parallels. With Parallels, when you plug in a device in a USB port you get a prompt that asks whether you want to access that device with the Mac or with Windows. Always choose to use with the Mac. Parallels will make it available to the Windows OS."