Over 20 years ago, USB flash drives, also known as thumb drives, were regarded as a breakthrough in portable data storage technology. Today, they are seen as a major security risk.
If you must use a USB flash drive for data storage, there are ways to improve your data security. Read on to learn how to secure your thumb drive.
If you’re aware of sensitive data and its storage requirements, skip ahead to our top 7 tips for securing your USB flash drive.
What is Sensitive Data?
It’s important to first define what is considered sensitive data and its broader security requirements before deciding to store it on a thumb drive. Sensitive data is any confidential information that requires permission to access.
Sensitive Data Storage Requirements
Sensitive data includes the following privileged information – original or copied:
- Protected Health Information (PHI)
- Personally Identifiable Information (PII)
- Education Records
- Customer Information
- Card Holder Data
- Confidential Personnel Information
- Confidential Data
Organizations must have strict data security and information security practices in place to ensure this data is not compromised through unauthorized access. They also must abide by relevant personal data legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Some sensitive data security measures organizations can put in place include:
1. Data Governance
2. Secure Privileged Access Management
4. Staff Education Programs
5. Data Security Testing
8. Regular Data Backups of Storage Systems
9. Secure Deletion Processes
How to Store Data Securely on a USB Flash Drive
It’s highly recommended that you don’t store sensitive data on a USB flash drive and instead opt for more secure storage devices to keep your data safe. Their small size makes them easy to transport, but also easy to lose or have stolen. This downfall increases the risk of data loss, data leaks, and data breaches, which comes at a significant cost to organizations.
If you do use a flash drive, follow these 7 tips to secure your data.
1. Buy an Encrypted USB
Encryption secures sensitive information by making it accessible only to those with a decryption key. When purchasing a flash drive, you should opt for a military-grade flash with 256-bit AES hardware encryption – the strongest encryption algorithm.
Other features to look for in an encrypted USB flash drive include:
- Tamper-proof protection
- Anti-virus scanning
- Brute-force protection
- Password protection
- TAA Compliance
- Remote management capabilities
- FIPS 140-2 Certification (Level 3)
- Compliance with industry security standards, such as HIPAA, SOX, and GLBA.
2. Use USB Encryption Software
As an alternative to purchasing an encrypted flash drive, Microsoft Windows operating system users can use BitLocker to encrypt their flash drives. Note that encryption hardware offers better security than software.
Microsoft’s instructions for enabling BitLocker are available below:
- View instructions for enabling BitLocker in Windows 10
- View instructions for enabling BitLocker in Windows 11
3. Have a Backup
In the event your flash drive is lost, stolen, or damaged, you may never recover the data stored on it. Even if a lost or stolen flash drive is returned, you shouldn’t use it again as it could potentially have ransomware or another type of malware installed. The best assurance of recovering the data on your flash drive is to have a backup of all files saved in another separate storage location, such as cloud storage.
4. Delete Data After Use
Once you have saved, edited, and transferred your data from a USB stick, it’s safest to completely delete it immediately. You should then remove the flash drive from the USB port and store it in a secure location to avoid leaving it behind and open to loss or theft.
5. Install Anti-Virus Protection
With different types of malware emerging daily, keeping your software up-to-date is crucial. Use antivirus software that offers malware protection across all endpoints, including hard drives, USB devices, and SD cards – one can infect all.
6. Keep Software Up to Date
Zero-day exploits take advantage of unpatched software vulnerabilities – a common attack vector that can have devastating consequences. Cybercriminals can easily access, edit, and steal data from vulnerable systems and devices, including USB storage.
Installing software updates as soon as possible prevents cybercriminals from taking advantage of these vulnerabilities. Most operating systems, including Microsoft Windows, Mac OS / Apple iOS, and Linux, offer auto-updates to ensure you remain protected.
7. Use Alternative Storage Methods
Ultimately, flash drives are not the answer if you want to take your data security seriously. Even the most secure USB drives are no match for modern data storage methods, like cloud storage. Cloud services offer many innovative security features, such as the Secure Access Service Edge (SASE).
SASE is a cloud security model that leverages firewalls, Cloud Access Service Brokers (CASBs), Secure Web Gateway (SWG), and Zero-Trust Network Access (ZTNA). Other cloud security mechanisms include Cloud Security Posture Management and Cloud Infrastructure Entitlement Management (CIEM).
Despite their strong security capabilities, like all third-party vendors, cloud services carry third-party risks and other risks specific to their functionality. Organizations and individuals must conduct due diligence to ensure their cloud providers are following appropriate data security requirements.