Forum Thread: Physical Protection of Data

Physical Protection of Data

It seems that usb flash drives fail on me more often than they probably should. This especially frustrates me because I'm often too paranoid to make backups of any of my sensitive (but not necessarily important) data, and so I find myself data-less at the least convenient times.

Most recently a live disk with some important encrypted files on it refused to display itself to the PC. I touched it to see if it was inserted properly, and it was so hot it burnt my fingers. It also smelt burny so I figured it safest to just destroy and dispose of the whole thing.

Is it dangerous to keep flash drives in pockets? Should I be throwing more money at drives of higher quality? How sensitive are they really, don't people put them on key chains? Do I just have bad luck?

3 Responses

Time for me to shine as the hardware hacker!

I think your problem with your flash drives is static electricity created by you. Electronics are EXTREMELY sensitive to static electricity.

When you get statically charged, you contain about 25kV inside your body. Yes, 25.000V. Why don't you get electrocuted then? Because of the low capacitance of the human body. When we apply Ohm's law to the human body, which usually has a resistance of 3,3Kohm, we see that about 7 Ampere flows through your body. However, because of the low capacitance of the human body, this current only lasts for about a microsecond. The 7 Ampere causes pain, but it doesn't last long enough to cause any damage to you.

Back to USB drives, the human body isn't as sensitive as an USB drive! Where 1 microsecond of of 7 ampere can't hurt the human body, it can damage electronics severely. Not to mention that the resistance of the components in a flash drive is usually a lot lower, causing a much higher current!

This is what most likely happened to you: you touched your USB drive while being statically charged, and caused a short but intense current in your drive, causing some components to break. This short pulse of current can be compared to what happens with devices that are being attacked by an EMP.

So how do you solve this? Simple: touch a piece of metal, and you will be discharged.

Leaving your USB in your pockets is not harmful if your pocket is made out of jeans or cotton. If it is made out of wool, DON'T DO IT! Wool generates static electricity REALLY easily!

Furthermore, I advice you to not touch any metal parts of your USB drive whenever you can, because these areas are usually connected to your circuit's ground (the area of the circuit that has 0V on it during normal operation), So if you release a static charge on it, there is a fair chance you will break something internally.

Hope I helped.


Adding onto above, the best safeguard is to have multiple ways of backing up data.

Even if wear an electrostatic wrist strap 24/7, there are other dangers to your hardware. If these files are seriously important, I suggest investing in a cloud based backup.

I feel like you are leaning towards having physical data storage based on the wording of your post. Just store your CDs and flashdrives in a cool place, and don't leave them in your pockets.

Too many times I've seen someone end up fishing their drive out of the washing machine >>

Cloud storages aren't always reliable either.


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