Memory Sticks and Theft

On Thursday I was quite definitively an idiot: the inevitable happened and I managed to leave my memory stick stuck into a computer. Fortunately my school work and I were not parted for long; a brief trip back to the Physics computer room at 4:15 was sufficient to recover it from the floor (of all places). I gratefully grabbed it and made for home. Inserting it into my computer I was greeted with a shock which immediately made me lose almost all confidence I ever had in human (well, Pauline) nature. Opening my school work folder, I discovered someone had deleted all my school work presumably having decided it would be utterly hilarious: the main folder within ‘0-School’ – the one containing the entirety of this year’s work, conveniently named ‘0-Work’.

Here’s the folder structure of my USB stick:

The reason for the ‘0-‘ prefix to folder names is to keep them at the top of the list when arranged alphabetically. The main folder in ‘0-School’ is ‘0-Work’ which actually contains a copy of all my school work, the main and most current version residing on my 500GB external hard drive permanently attached to my desktop at home which gets backed up weekly onto a Serpent encrypted 1TB external. In other words, fortunately for me, I lost no data whatsoever. Even when taking new notes in class I copy files from ‘0-Work’ to ‘0-Unc’ (it was supposed to stand for ‘unsynchronised’ but somehow got shortened to that). Rather than depending on synchronising software and risking losing everything from a bug in a program, I drop updated files into that folder and sync them manually when I get home. It is therefore hugely fortunate the folder ‘0-Unc’ must have had a sufficiently innocuous and unimportant sounding name to consider deleting.

What I really don’t get is why people do this. Some students rely entirely on their memory sticks to store all their electronic documents, including homeworks, courseworks and even sensitive information. Loss of a memory stick or any data within may therefore seriously jeopardise their chances of attaining those all-important A*s or As at GCSE and/or A levels. I think people do realise this, and also that it isn’t really all that funny, in which case they are very deliberately (though perhaps without properly considering the consequences) sabotaging others’ chances of success. I’m all for competition and fun (and even some pranks) etc. Just not at this level.

Other than ranting into general cyberspace I guess all I can do is offer some advice to those who wish to protect themselves from being on the receiving end of USB stick crime (a occurrence which I have been led to believe to be ridiculously ubiquitous). These are all obvious solutions but laziness tends to result in a completely unprotected USB stick.

Put your name on the memory stick

This may seem obvious but I have far too often seen memory sticks left in computers which have no markings to identify their owner, and the contents of which contain unhelpful information as to the authors of the documents (another reason to stick a name on your work). Mine for example has a text file within called “This USB stick belongs to Bryant Tan.txt” with the following within:

If found please return to:

Bryant Tan, L8
Tutor: AG
St Paul's School, Barnes, London

Please don't be a bastard and steal it. Stealing is a bad thing; don't do it.

(Cash reward on return - $$$)

For heaven’s sake BACKUP

Backing up is like paying insurance. The differences however are multifarious: you’re entirely in control of what measures are taken against losing data, it’s free (if you have enough storage at home), you don’t end up in court if it doesn’t work, premiums don’t increase with increasing importance of the data etc.

Fasten it to something

There was a time (before the clip broke) when my memory stick was permanently affixed to an elastic keychain stringy thing which is always attached to my belt. That way, if I were to run off and forget about the stick, I wouldn’t get very far.


Depending on the importance / sensitivity of the data, it may be worth thinking of encrypting it. A fantastic program that does the job is Truecrypt. It is capable of 256 bit block encryption using all three of the Advanced Encryption finalist algorithms: Twofish, Rijndael and Serpent, and even supports a quite effective (and, in my opinion, quite a genius) form of steganography. Unfortunately it requires admin rights to run since it mounts decrypted volumes to drive letters so it’s useless for school computers.

Use a cheap USB stick

… because it’s so not worth bringing in a gold-encrusted 64GB memory stick only to lose it.



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