While using a USB drive offers a number of security advantages over other storage methods, there are also plenty of inherent risks. One of the biggest security breaches in world history occurred almost in 2008, when a USB drive infected with malware was inserted into a computer at the US Department of Defense, resulting in a massive intel leak and what was described as a “wake up call” for governments around the world.

While it’s unlikely that using a USB drive will result in anything quite as dramatic for you, there are a number of security risks you should be aware of if you tend to use these a lot. USB drives can carry malware, viruses, browser hijackers, and trojans, so you’ll need to make sure you’re prepared in case the worst does happen. Here are five tips for ensuring total security for your flash drives.

  1. Encrypt Your Entire Flash Drive
    This one could also be described as the “nuclear option”, as it’s about the strongest security measure you can take. You don’t need to buy any new hardware to get your flash drive encrypted – simply download an app such as the open-source TrueCrypt from Sourceforge or even VeraCrypt, which will allow you to choose your own encryption code and password. Be warned, though; most of this software only covers smaller flash drives.
  2. Do Your Research Before Buying
    Not all flash drives are created equal. Some come with security features preinstalled or preconfigured. As with all computer security, certain brands, companies and resources are less secure and sophisticated than others. Scope out reviews of brands and know what to look out for, as you would with any other resource. For instance, reviews of VPN services are a helpful lowdown on the security features you should be thinking about. For example, this review of Whoer VPN by VPNbase.com highlights features such as a company’s privacy policy, country of origin and how well known they are as critical to security concerns.
  3. Password Protect Individual Files
    This is a simple option that doesn’t require very much effort at all. Any Microsoft Office files you have on your flash drive can be password protected simply by assigning a password to them when saving. You can also password-protect entire folders and sections of your flash drive with standard Windows 10 and MacOS10. If this doesn’t feel sufficient, use a light encryption app such as Rohos.
  4. Avoid Cross-Contamination
    This is the common-sense portion of the article. Most flash drive security breaches are due to those flash drives being infected by another device. The most common cause of infection? Cross-contamination. Avoid inserting your flash drive into unknown computers if you can help it, and definitely don’t use a business flash drive on your personal computer. Likewise, never, ever, insert an unidentified flash drive into your device. If you absolutely have to do any of the above, make sure you run malware scans as soon as possible. Some antivirus programs will scan attached devices by default as soon as they’re plugged in – make sure yours is one of them or do so manually.
  5. Opt for a Hardware-Encrypted Device
    Get all of your protection in one by buying a beefed-up flash drive with encrypted hardware. These things can run into the hundreds of dollars and are often used by security services, so are an appropriate option if you’re storing particularly sensitive or important data.

Flash drives are becoming more advanced every single day, but so is malware and cybercrime. These small steps can save you a world of grief later on, so make sure to follow them.