Beware of low-quality USB sticks and SD cards: you might have one in your hands

With the aim of offering products for data storage increasingly capacious but, at the same time, economical, many unscrupulous companies have placed USB sticks and SD cards on the market which offer very few guarantees in terms of reliability and durability.

Time and high temperatures are the greatest enemies for the correct storage of data in any unit used chip NAND. Whether solid state drives (SSD) or USB sticks or SD cards. These problems tend to become even more relevant with USB-type removable devices that remain for long periods without power.

In another article we saw how safe it is to store data on a USB stick.

The quality of USB sticks and SD cards has gotten so much worse

The German data recovery company CBL data recovery conducted an analysis that highlights a worrying trend. According to the technicians of the Kaiserslautern (Germany) company, the quality of memory chips present in the most recent microSD and USB sticks would have collapsed vertically. The problem appears more evident especially in unbranded products.

More and more often, CBL spokespeople say, the USB sticks that arrive in data recovery laboratories have a NAND chip without the manufacturer’s logo, suggesting that these are components that have not previously passed the quality controls of manufacturers such as SK Hynix, Sandisk or Samsung. Such faulty products however, they are evidently used to package external storage media with a reduced memory capacity.

The frequency with which these situations are detected has become alarming. In addition to using low-quality memory chips with reduced capacity and the manufacturer’s logo being removed, in some cases the use of microSD cards has emerged, first made unrecognizable at first glance and then soldered onto a USB stick. In these extreme cases, memory management takes place by relying on the external controller present on the printed circuit of the USB stick, rather than with the internal one of the microSD.

The race for density, with increasing storage capacities, is part of the problem

Conrad Heinicke, CEO of CBL, also brings back the issue of the rapid increase in capacity, to the detriment of duration. Originally, NAND flash chips were based on memory cells that could only store one bit (SLC, single level cell). Today, the QLC flash memories (quad level cell) store up to four bits per cell while managing corresponding voltage values. This leads to a decrease in endurance and of conservation capacity (retention), increasing the risk of data loss.

With the term endurancerefers to the ability of a memory cell to withstand writing cycles and deletion without degrading or breaking down. In other words, it represents the maximum number of program and erase cycles a memory cell can withstand before they begin to occur reliability problems and performance.

Heinicke points out that even high-quality chips require considerable effort on the part of manufacturers to implement mechanisms error correction in controllers. The use of chips discarded during processing, within very low-cost storage media, therefore makes the phenomenon of data loss.

Tips for avoiding data loss with modern USB drives

The number one of CBL observes that we often write and delete data from our USB sticks, we should use in rotation multiple different storage media. Flash memory chips allow, as we said previously, a limited number of erase cycles and only very sensitive to age.

You should also avoid small USB sticks because they have historically proven to be much more vulnerable, partly due to inadequate heat dissipation compared to larger and more robust models.

Furthermore, to facilitate the work of the error correction mechanisms, again according to Heinicke, the flash drives should not be filled to their maximum capacity and it is always recommended to periodically access, for reading, the contents of media based on the use of flash memories.

We would add that, as explained in the article mentioned at the beginning, you can install and use a program like USBFlashCopy which recognizes the serial number of the same USB stick, once connected to the system, providing automatic backup of added or modified files.

Function too File history Windows allows you to create a backup of the contents of USB sticks as soon as they are connected to the system. More experienced users can also develop a PowerShell script that recognizes the insertion of a specific USB stick, for example arranging the automatic backup.

Recognize fake USB sticks

When you are about to work with a new USB stick, it is a good idea to always choose branded devices, not limit yourself to storage media that are offered free of charge (e.g. for advertising purposes). CBL claims that among the latter there are examples of fake chips, with the original manufacturer’s logo erased.

In another article we explained how to recognize counterfeit or damaged USB sticks: a few simple ones tool allow you to establish whether the size of flash memory actually corresponds with the blocks visible to the operating system and the user. The presence of discrepancies is a clear indication of a problem.

CBL data recovery is a company that offers services data recovery e computer forensics, certified ISO 9001:2015. Founded in 2000, it is part of CBL Data Recovery Technologies, which has a global presence with laboratories and service centers in several European countries. The diagnosis is free and costs are only charged in case of successful data recovery.

Opening image credit: iStock.com – Pheelings Media

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