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English: A Sandisk-brand USB thumb drive, SanD...

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Flash drives have been particularly popular for users with load-it-up and carry-it-along storage needs and have come a long way from just being old-school portable stiffy-disk replacements. Consumers can buy expensive high-capacity flash drives, as well as secured flash drives with password protection and encryption and flash drives come in all shapes and sizes.

Flash drives do, however, present a significant security challenge for individuals and corporations alike. Secured or not, and whether loaded with storage or just one important file, flash drives are vulnerable to the elements, can easily be left behind, misplaced and stolen, with neither the individual nor the corporation being aware of an information loss or data breach before it’s too late.

When flash drive users experience a “flashing incident” (having private data exposed to the world), the end result often ranges from embarrassment to profit-loss to reputation-rebuilding, for individuals and business alike. While it is no laughing matter, the consumer advisory website, Flashing Hurts, takes a humorous look at dealing with the loss of USB flash drives. If you have experienced flashing your data to the planet, there are solutions.

So how do you guard against flash-drive data loss? It’s a cliche, but like most solutions in life, prevention is easier than curing. Move your sensitive files and data to a reputable online storage provider. It’s safer, more secure and can be just as portable as a USB flash drive with online file access instead.

The list of online storage providers is long and they all serve different needs. If you’re a high-gigabyte storage user still using a flash drive for mass file and general computer back-up purposes, you probably want a computer back-up service provided by companies like www.carbonite.com. If you’re a small-to-moderate gigabyte storage user with a need to securely store private personal or business documents, you may find that boutique storage providers like My Vault, which provide remote access for select document storage, can be ideal for flash drive replacement and are often cheaper. Either way, unless you can afford to lose a flash drive or don’t care about what was on it, you probably should consider less loss-prone digital storage options.

If you must carry a flash drive, make sure it doesn’t contain digital assets that, if lost, will cause you significant anxiety. Any digital asset viewed by you as private or confidential is best left off a flash drive. This includes any documents containing personal information: insurance policies, personal, family, and medical documents, electronic copies of tax returns, W2 forms, 401(k) statements, bank accounts and more. If your Social Security number is on a digital file, that file should not be on a flash drive. Don’t forget about confidential corporate documents – if your family photos and your merger-and-acquisition documents are on the same drive, it’s not good news. Also, consider revealing personal photos or videos – think the toga party pictures from your weekend in Vegas aren’t a big deal? Think again when you leave that USB flash drive in a conference room with a PowerPoint presentation on it.

So, is there still a need for USB flash drives? According to Cornelis de Jong, COO at My Vault: “Unsecure flash drives are ideal for storing unimportant digital junk and are best avoided to prevent that ‘Where is it? I’m freaking out!’ feeling.”

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Author: Andy Quayle

Andy was born in the Isle of Man and currently lives in Pittsburgh.
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