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Ask Arthur

Ask Arthur: Are flash drives safe?

A reader asks if it’s safe to use other people’s flash drives. No and yes, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Q: Is it safe to use other people’s flash drives?

A: For years, USB flash drives were my all-time favourite gadgets, because they were so convenient for moving data around. But they also pose serious security risks. Yeah, if you happen to plug in a flash drive that’s infected with malware, it can steal your personal info or even take control of your computer.

There are two major risks when using other people’s flash drives:

  • Malware Invasion: When you insert a malware-infected flash drive, it can look for sensitive stuff like passwords, credit card numbers, or ID details. It can also install more malware onto your computer, like ransomware or spyware.
  • Data Loss: If you use a flash drive that’s not properly formatted, you could end up losing all the data stored on it. 

Here are some safety tips for staying safe while using flash drives:

  • Avoid using random flash drives you find lying around in public.
  • If someone gives you a flash drive, and you absolutely have to use it, scan it for malware.  Free antivirus programs like Avast or AVG, or powerful paid options like Kaspersky or Trend Micro Antivirus will do the trick. And keep the security software on your computer up to date at all times.
  • Before you start using a blank flash drive, format it. That erases any existing data and makes it safe for your use.
  • Back up your important data regularly, so that losing  a flash drive won’t be a disaster.
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