For many years, operating systems also handle USB memory sticks, and the general recommendation is not to remove them from the computer slot until the ‘Safely remove hardware and eject media’ process has been completed. What does this process do at all and is it really harmful to abruptly remove the USB stick?
In short, the command to safely remove an external memory unit (in this case a USB stick) does several things:
- Completes and terminates all active writing to the memory of the stick
- Sends information to programs that the stick is being prepared for ejection
- Warns the user in case one of the programs still writes data to the memory
So, if the user does not have programs that write / load data from the USB stick and his signaling LED (if the stick has it) says that it is not active, it is actually quite safe to disconnect that media from the computer. Modern operating systems and memories are fairly protected from data loss. Today, it is a real rarity for someone to lose data from a USB stick if they remove it from the computer after the data write / load is complete.
Regardless, it’s a matter of the user’s good habit of still using the ‘Safely remove’ option. This habit is especially handy when an external hard drive (HDD) is connected to the computer via a USB connection because they work on a different principle than USB memory sticks and can be damaged by a sudden power outage (if it is through a USB port). If the ‘Safely remove’ option is done, the users may lose a few seconds of their time, but the data will certainly be preserved.
On the other way, definitive confirmation has arrived from Microsoft that we no longer have to worry about safely disconnecting a device connected to a computer via USB. Namely, the Windows 10 operating system has a feature that allows you to quickly disconnect the USB stick at any time, except when you are actively writing data to the device you want to disconnect.
How to Protect your USB with Password
Unfortunately, it is not possible to protect with password a complete USB stick without special accessories from certain manufacturers that allow it, but only individual files. Most of these additional tools are based on some kind of encryption, and as the topic is the protection of sensitive files and folders, the tips below should be sufficient enough.
Individually with a Password
As mentioned earlier, it is not possible to protect with password an entire USB stick, but only individual files. Many programs provide users with the option to save the file with password protection, including Microsoft Word and Excel.
For example, in Word, it is enough to go to File> Info on an open document, then expand the Protect Document menu and select the Encrypt with Password option. After typing and confirming the password, it is enough to save the document to the USB memory and access to the file will be possible only with the password.
A number of different tools for encrypting and password protecting files are available on the Internet and beyond. Most of them, however, require administrator privileges on the computer – even the one that needs to read that data.
All of this seems like a very inconvenient solution, but there are programs that don’t ask for it. A tool like Rohos Mini Drive works regardless of whether administrator privileges are used. The free edition of the program allows you to create hidden, encrypted, and password-protected partitions on USB memory up to 2GB.
Encryption of Everything
As mentioned earlier, there are also tools that will protect the entire USB stick. Application VeraCrypt is the successor to TrueCrypt, and today it is also available in the edition of a portable application that is placed directly on the USB memory. Unfortunately, it requires administrator privileges to start and work, so it will be a problem to run things on all types of computers to read the content.
Working with VeraCrypt is very simple – just download the portable edition of the program and place it on a USB stick. Once the program starts, it will provide a view of all the disk labels, where you need to select one and click Create Volume. After that, a wizard will open that will guide the user step by step to protect the content.
Perhaps the simplest trick to protect data on a USB stick is to archive it to .zip and similar files. This can be helped by the 7-Zip tool, which provides AES-256 encryption with archiving in one of the popular formats. Once you want to open archived content, any program will ask you to enter a password to unlock it – although the file names within the archive will usually be visible.
MRT is a specialized memory products manufacturer and Toshiba agent. Learn more.