Monday, February 04, 2008

A USB Thumb Drive for Emergencies

Like many people nowadays, my life involves dealing with a lot of data. Especially important items include the many usernames, logins, and account numbers for loans, credit cards, and various websites which I use. I keep a spreadsheet in an encrypted file on my laptop to keep track of them. But what happens if my laptop is stolen, lost, or destroyed?

For awhile I've carried a copy of the spreadsheet along with other important info in encrypted form on a USB flash drive on my keyring. This way, it's always with me even if the SHTF. The drive I've been using has been a Microcenter bulk 1 GB stick, and it's worked just fine.

The prices on USB thumb drives have plummeted over the past year. So, over the weekend I bought an 8 GB USB flash drive at Microcenter. Like my old stick, it's one of their bulk, house-brand units and the cost was only $29.99 + tax.

I keep only the most essential data on the USB stick, and I formatted the stick as FAT32 so that it can be read in any PC or Mac I may need to use. It's organized like so:

Root directory
-A plain text file with contact info, including next of kin and the number for my childrens' daycare.

Documents folder
-Backup of my Safari browser bookmarks
-Backup of my OS X Addressbook
-Backup of my iCal database
-Separate encrypted images for financial data, logins, client data

Installer files folder
-Contains installation files for several Windows programs (AVG Antivirus, Firefox, Foxit PDF reader, Spybot, and the anti-spyware hosts file from

Mac Portable Apps folder (apps that can run directly from the USB stick when connected to a Mac running OS X)
-Portable Firefox
-Portable AdiumX instant messenger client

Windows Portable Apps folder (apps that can run directly from the USB stick when connected to a Windows PC)
-PuTTy (a telnet and SSH client)
-Portable Firefox
-Pidgin Portable instant messenger client

Over 6 GB are still free.

Running applications from the USB drive is quite a bit slower than from a hard disk, but this isn't for regular use. Since flash memory has a limited number of read/write cycles, and because I don't want potentially sensitive information saved in an unencrypted folder on the thumb drive, I configured both Firefox installations to not cache files locally.

The new thumb drive has replaced my old one in my pocket. It rides on a keyring along with a Victorinox Rambler SAK, a Peanut Lighter, and a SO-ARES LED light.


Anonymous said...

The only danger is if there is an event that causes an EMP your thumb drive just like all other computer/electrical componets are toast. It's a good idea to keep paper copies that are hidden in a safe place.

Timbo said...

I would counter the anonymous argument by saying that in the event of an EMP, I am not certain that it matters one iota if you have paper backups, as I am not sure how you would get the information across anyway. I see what your saying, and it's not a bad idea, but if your flash card is fried, it's also likely that the phones, internet, and everything else is fried too.

billy sharpstick said...

i use truecrypt to create and manage an encrypted volume for all those sensitive files in case the drive is lost.
the drive i have is a thin 8gb one that fits in my wallet. it's a hair thicker than a car key. search ebay for "PNY Micro Attache Slim USB Flash Drive"
or make your own thin one by removing the case and USB shroud.