The Insecurity of USB Thumb Drives

USB thumb drives, also called flash drives, key drives, jump drives, or memory sticks, are small devices that hold a variety of data files which you can access from virtually any electronic device that has a USB slot in it, such as a computer. USB thumb drives provide a wealth of benefits, including being a convenient way to transfer data from one device to another, bring data with you in a small compact device, and hold significantly more data than many discs, and commonly holding between 8 megabytes and 256 megabytes of data. However while USB thumb drives are convenient due to their size, they also hold potential security risks due to how easy they can get lost, be stolen, and often don’t include security against data breaches.

Insecurity of Thumb Drives

A number of security risks exist for USB thumb drives when they haven’t been properly encrypted to protect the data, and insecurity aspects of having such a small device. By understanding the potential security dangers of entrusting the small device to hold your important data, you can take steps toward preventing security breaches.

Potential for Malware

USB thumb drives have an increased potential risk for malware due to the files being stored and shared on the device. Most thumb drives do not offer added protection against malware that may be on files stores on the thumb drive and can therefore infect the thumb drive.

Encryption Issues

Having a device like a thumb drive that holds important data, encryption is crucial. However, most thumb drives do not come with encryption software making it easy for other users to view the data stored on the thumb drive such as photos, videos, and files.

Data Leaks/Data Breach

Due to the lack of encryption and security on typical thumb drives, users who steal these devices are often able to access the private and important files stored there. Data breach files include employee and student data, business plans, financial information, images and video, customer data, and other data which needs to remain private and secure.


It is not uncommon for owners of USB thumb drives to leave them in inconspicuous places before or after using them, such as on their desks at school or workstations unattended. Other places they are often kept which increase the risk of theft include laptop cases, jackets and pockets, purses, and backpacks.



Usage itself is a security risk when individuals store highly private, personal, or confidential files on USB thumb drives due to how easy they can be lost or stolen. Because of their size, they can disappear quickly and therefore many companies do not allow employees to store company information on the thumb drives.

Preventing Thumb Drive Security Disasters

  • Hardware encryption allows the thumb drive user to provide extra protection against someone being able to access the data if the thumb drive is stolen. Hardware encryption also prevents someone else from erasing what is on the thumb drive due to a password called an encryption key being installed on the thumb drive that only the owner of the thumb drive should know.
  • Another way to prevent thumb drive security breaches is to purchase a USB thumb drive with secure storage options installed on it, such as one that is hardware-secured. This offers additional encryption for the device.
  • Software is available that allows companies to monitor the usage of thumb drives their employees have with company data on them, as well as preventing file transfers with are not authorized by the company.
  • A variety of software for security is available for USB thumb drives which offers encryption and security benefits; these solutions may already be installed on the thumb drive or can be installed after getting the thumb drive. Software solutions will prevent access to the files on the thumb drive.

USB thumb drives provide a multitude of benefits to the user, but security measures should be taken when the thumb drive is used for confidential or private information. Even with proper protection, be sure to never leave the thumb drive unattended where it can get lost or stolen.