You have a document, video or audio file with sensitive information on it and you need to send a copy to a third party. What options should you consider?
Three options come to mind: email, Dropbox or flash drive.
Sending an email is basically the same thing as sending a postcard. While there are efforts one can use to change this, email remains pretty wide open. This is true and scary; anyone who wants to read your email (not just the NSA) can read your email.
Most times you can send sensitive documents through email and nothing will happen. However; you are playing Russian roulette (almost literally, given the recent theft of 1.2 billion email account credentials by a Russian gang) with the security of that transmission. Remember, the topic of this post is about sharing sensitive data with a third party.
The next logical step would encrypting the email (or files) attached in the email. Encryption is a good option and certainly more secure than sending the email without encryption. You could run into a file size limitation though. Most videos will be larger than a 20MB, which is (generally) the maximum file size one could attached in an email. Encryption is a good next step, but there is a bigger issue at hand than file size. More about that in a few.
Dropbox is next on our list of most obvious options to share sensitive data with a third party. Dropbox is a great option when you have larger files. With Dropbox you could upload those big audio or video files and provide a download link for your recipient. Dropbox doesn’t encrypt your data by default so there is some exposure there. A quick and relatively safe method to encrypt your files using Windows would be compressing the video into a zip file and assigning it a password. Encrypting the data will provide that extra layer of security. As with an encrypted email, the encrypted Dropbox alternative also has a major flaw.
Ask yourself, “Do you trust the recipient?”
When trying to format a flash drive in Windows (7 or 10) you will see the file system options best suited for the device. The proper file systems for a flash drive would be: FAT, FAT32 or exFAT. Windows will also list NTFS for a flash drive, but not the best for a USB stick, as mentioned before. The file system types listed by the Windows GUI (Graphical User Interface) will depend on the GB capacity of the flash drive connected.
So why no UDF file system on the list?
First, let me say it IS possible for Windows to format a flash drive as UDF (Universal Disk Format). Microsoft just doesn’t want you to do it; and there are good reasons why.
Before the reasons given for not using UDF as a format on flash drives, let’s clear one thing up: If you think formatting a flash drive as UDF will make the thumb drive appear as an optical drive in the computer – you are mistaken!
From the Wikipedia page about Universal Disk Format, UDF, the specification is governed by the Optical Storage Technology Association and because of that, many believe a UDF anything will work like a disc. It, UDF, is most widely used for DVDs and newer optical disc formats, can be used on flash drives, but does make it operate like one.
If we take out the hope of formatting a USB with a UDF file system, some may feel the Universal Disk Format means the flash drive will work in anything, such as from Windows, to Mac, to Linux, Symbian and/or to proprietary system. The truth here is exFAT will do just the same. Please keep that in mind.
So why not format a USB as UDF in Windows? Here is a list:
- The lack of fully-functional filesystem check tools.
- 64GB limit with Windows & Linux, a bug, not a limit of UDF
- SD and USB mass storage devices are exposed to quick wear-leveling failure
- UDF is read-only for Windows XP
Without bogging down this post with ultra-technical information, from the above list, the most important to consider is the first, lack of filesystem check tools.
This means if the USB is pulled out while in operation and a bit is affected by the action, there are no tools to check the file system for errors. You are flying the dark as to why the USB no longer works and there are no tools available to help you figure it out. Given the flash drive was specifically designed to be portable and quick access, the above action is most certainly going to happen sooner or later, which makes UDF a high risk file system.
How to format a flash drive as UDF:
Connect the USB to your computer and note the assigned drive letter
Today, more than ever, people are working from the home office. Working in a comfortable environment is nice and can be very productive. However; sometimes the home office doesn’t have the same computer equipment or gear to do the jobs needed. With many organizations who are practicing social distancing, or building a work community of remote offices, one will find certain items are still needed.
Let us look at a simple way to make USB copies at the home office. For example, let us think about an IT manager who needs to roll out restore installation packages, or a software developer who is required to deploy software updates to a group of remote users. This IT manager or software developer needs a quick, easy and inexpensive piece of equipment to do the job.
The mini-sized USB flash drive duplicator by Nexcopy is a great solution for this exact problem. The unit pictured below is 6″ long and 4″ wide. So it will fit into any briefcase (if those are used anymore) and light as a book.
The USB duplicator allocates one socket for the master device and four sockets for the target devices. The duplicator is a binary copier and will copy any file format or file system connected to it. The duplicator is powered through a USB cable and is ideal for any sized USB flash drive.
With a duplicator like this, making copies at the home office is very quick and very easy. The duplicator works with a single push of a single button. The mini duplicator may be configured to perform a binary copy or a binary copy and compare. The copy and compare function gives the user piece of mind that each copy is exactly the same as the master. So the USB flash drives can be delivered with the utmost confidence each copy is working and an exact digital copy of the master.
Flipping through the features of the duplicator, we have some other bullet points worth mentioning:
- Asynchronous copy mode, all the time
- Binary copier will copy any format; FAT, FAT32, exFAT, NTFS, HFS, Ext2,3,4, Proprietary
- Binary CRC verification algorithm
- Quick Erase and Full Erase for disk sanitization
- Four language modes in LCD menu
- USB speed benchmark utility
- Firmware upgradeable
So how much will this mini USB duplicator benefit a home office employee? The easiest way to determine this is asking ourselves how much time the duplicator will save. This mini system, called the Nexcopy USB104SA will copy one GB of data to each device in about one minute. That is ultra-fast. So if the IT manager or software engineer had to data load a 12 GB data set, it would take about twelve minutes to make four copies. There is now way Windows could copy data that fast to four sticks. When using the copy and compare mode it takes a bit longer… about 1.5 minutes per GB. So still incredibly quick.
There are a couple of features listed above one may not be familiar with, so let’s review. The quick erase or full erase is a scrub method to remove all data from the USB flash drive. This is a nice feature to guarantee data is removed from the USB with no chance of the data being recovered. Formatting a drive doesn’t remove data, but erase will. The quick erase will scrub certain portions of the drive so some data could remain, but most likely corrupted and unable to recover. The full erase function will randomly write binary zero and one data to the entire memory of the flash drive. By doing this random write sequence, it would be impossible for even the most sophisticated forensics recover software to restore data from the device.
The four language modes include English, Spanish, Portuguese and Simplified Chinese.
The USB benchmark speed is a great tool to figure out the quality of media one is using. This is particularly important when dealing with promotional quality media, as promo memory is very instable. The easiest way to determine the quality of memory is looking at the write speed. With the benchmark utility one can test the read and write speed of a drive. The USB duplicator will write about 20MBs of random data to determine the average read and write speed. If the USB memory has a write speed of 4MB/second or lower, it’s not good quality. If the write speed is above 8MB/second for USB 2.0 media and above 20MB/second write speed for USB 3.0 media, it is of better quality memory.
The CRC verification method is Cyclical Redundancy Check verification method and is most reliable for NAND memory. Probably best to search for CRC verification for a complete understanding of this protocol.
The USB duplicator made by Nexcopy is a backward compatible product and will copy to USB 1.0, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 flash drives. The duplicator will write to the device as fast as it will allow. The best write times will result from the operator using USB 3.0 media.
The USB104SA has a manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) of $399 USD.