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 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_flash_drive  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. 
Amazon.com/ 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.