Lesson learned: don't keep important files on a flash drive

A reporter faces the loss of important data and sees the error of his ways

It's a modern nightmare. I had stopped at a 7-11 in Fredericksburg, Va., Wednesday on my way to meet a colleague for lunch. As I was getting back in my car my cellphone rang.

As I retrieved it from my pocket I thought I heard something hit the asphalt parking lot. I looked, saw nothing, continued my conversation and then resumed my journey. Hours later I realized my 64 GB flash drive was not in my pocket where it was supposed to be.

A 64 GB flash drive holds a lot of data and I had put a lot on it, transferring things from one computer to the next. Then I got lazy and started using the drive for storage, meaning I didn't always back up files to other computers, a huge no-no. Worse still, some of the files on the drive were financially sensitive, another taboo.

Violating my own rules

I've written a number of articles about data breaches and have urged consumers to be careful with their data and I had violated nearly all the rules. Not willingly, of course. I had meant to clean up the drive but somehow just never got around to it. Then suddenly, I lost my opportunity.

Returning to the 7-11 hours after my first visit I held out little hope the flash drive would still be where it fell. There was even a young employee sweeping the driveway and he said he was sure he hadn't swept up a flash drive.

That evening I changed passwords and accepted the fact that many original files were lost. But the next morning there was an email from Chris, a computer science student at Germanna Community College, who had found the drive, taken it home and repaired it after a car had run over it. By the end of the day, it was back in my possession.

Better lucky than good

Mine was an extremely humbling experience but in the end, I got very lucky. However, you can't count on luck.

Besides the mistake of storing original and sensitive files on the drive the other mistake I made was carrying it in a pocket. These things are small and it's a sure way to lose them.

Instead, if I continue to use a flash drive I will use some type of accessory to secure it. One of the most common accessories is a key chain attachment. The drive stays on your key ring, and as long as you don't lose your keys you probably won't lose the flash drive.

If a drive contains sensitive data, it should also be password protected. You can use encryption software or you can buy an encrypted flash drive.

But finding ways not to use a flash drive may be the most prudent course of action. A service called Dropbox, for example, allows you to store files in the cloud and sync up all your devices, so files are available on your desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. There are other similar services.

Carrying a flash drive in a secure way, password protecting it and not keeping original or sensitive data on it is the way to sleep at night. Lesson learned.

Story provided by ConsumerAffairs.
Consumer Affairs

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