Special Report: Flash Drive Fears
Flash drives have become increasingly popular, but those little gadgets that companies give out as promotional goodies may wreak havoc on your computer.
It's more than just a piece of technology, it's an accessory! Those little thumb drives that have the capacity to hold a ton of data. And companies love giving you one with their logo on it.
"You attach your logo to it and you can preload it with your information and they can add more later on as they want to, it's just very simple," said Sarah Williams with Pro One Sportswear.
One reason they're so popular is price.
"Prices have come down on them and you can get them for like, $3, $4 now. You can just take it in your pocket or on your keychain, it's just a very simple device," said Williams.
And companies love to load them up with more information about their services.
"Most of the time, it's a little presentation or a link to a website that's just on that keychain," said Tim Conlon with The Computer Nerd.
But wait just a second! Even though those thumb drives are very popular, there may be something on them that you don't want on your computer.
"For all anybody knows, it could have viruses, it could have tracking things," said Conlon.
That's right, that flash drive could contain harmful malware that will infect your computer, or track your internet activity and send the data back to the company. The number one thing is to have an anti-virus on your system.
"Cause when you plug that flashdrive in there, if it's on that virus database list, it'll immediately say this is no good, it'll clear off and it'll actually cleanse the flashdrive."
And as far as it tracking your online activity, a firewall is the best defense.
"That'll also prevent any access of certain programs running that aren't supposed to be running and tracking where you're going."
Some drives are set to autorun, meaning it will start the promotional presentation without the user doing anything more than plugging in the drive, which can be a bad thing if your computer is already infected.
"And if you take that flashdrive and you plug it into any other system and it autoruns it, that virus is gonna jump from that pc onto that computer," said Conlon.
This can be especially detrimental if that other computer is at work. Kyle Proctor is an interactive managing editor.
"Not only do you risk losing your own personal files, but you also risk the files of your coworkers. If the virus is able to properly get into your terminal and it is able to get into the network, it can start deploying itself into other terminals within the building leading to catastrophic damage," said Proctor.
There's also the risk of you losing the drive. They're getting smaller every day and folks are using them for everything, from work documents to credit card information.
Ways you can protect your drive are simple: protect your data--try to leave off sensitive information about yourself like your social security number. Use encryption and use secure devices--if you have to store your personal data, look into a drive that comes password protected or will encrypt your data, should it get stolen. And pick a storage spot--always put your drive in the same place each time so you know where to find it.
That way you can keep your thumb drive as a great tool instead of it becoming a threat.