For good reason, the use of USB flash drives is ubiquitous. It's incredibly convenient and appealing to have the ability to carry all your favorite movies, games, music, documents and other data with you from work to home to school. Let's face it   we're not going to give up our handy pen drives. And we shouldn't have to. But what we should do is be realistic about the potential catastrophes that lurk within every USB stick.

Every time you use a memory stick, it's important to recognize the device's imitations. In other words, don t think that flash drives are infallible. After hundreds or thousands of write/erase cycles, your drive loses its ability to retain data. And humans are even more fallible that the devices themselves. Leaving a flash drive in hot temperatures, getting it wet, being less than gentle with the connector, or removing the device from your computer incorrectly can lead to data deletion or corruption.

Another, more obvious way to lose all your data is by misplacing your flash drive or having it stolen. Some of the trade-offs of having memory sticks that are lightweight and highly portable are that you won't feel if it falls out of your pocket or you might not notice right away if someone walks off with it.

If you don't want the loss of your flash drive data to cause complete chaos in your life, you have to plan for these unfortunate incidents. The easiest way to avoid complete loss of data is to use flash drives for what they were intended: temporary storage and transfer of files from one system to another. Don't keep your entire library of movies on just your USB stick. External hard drives and online backup services were invented for a reason. 

Just as dangerous as overestimating a USB flash drive's limitations is underestimating its capabilities. Don't be fooled   they might be physically small, but they can cause a lot of crippling damage. Consider, for example, the unauthorized access of data, including files you think you have deleted. In reality, when you delete a file, you are just removing it from the drive's directory. Anyone with the right expertise could recover that information rather easily. This is why, if you are storing sensitive data, paying a bit more for a USB flash drive with security software is a good idea. Encryption and password-protection won't prevent your data from being lost, but it will prevent it from getting into the wrong hands. 

Another danger that could be lurking within a pen drive is malware. If a malware-infected drive is connected to a computer, it can affect an entire corporate network. This is why it's so important never to use unidentified flash drives, even if they have corporate logos on them. Operating systems will run a program with malware automatically   they aren't discerning. Even if you have security software on your drive, that won t protect the stick when transferring files from computers.

It is vital that you maintain reasonable expectations of your USB flash drive. Don't expect it to last forever or withstand abuse, and know that its portability creates some liabilities. Also, be very careful with the kinds of data you're storing on your USB stick. If it requires extra security, get a drive that provides you with that option. And if you don't know where a flash drive has been, just don't touch it.

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