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Safely erase your old flash drive

Safely erase your old flash drive

Ready to get rid of that old flash drive? You might be surprised to learn that simply deleting the existing files doesn't actually delete them, at least not permanently. Those with the right knowledge to do so can recover these deleted files quite easily.

So, what do you do if you want to permanently delete these files? Encrypting your flash drive is the safest route. For the average consumer, the word encrypt may sound a little intimidating, but it's easier to accomplish than you may think.

Flash drives are great...until you need to toss them

The introduction of flash drives provided a great new solution. Compared to traditional hard drives, Flash drives work faster, fit in your pocket, and are nearly immune to damage from a drop. Not to mention, the way they store data (in a solid state memory rather than on spinning magnetic platters) makes them last longer.

Of course, there are downsides to flash drives as well. While the storage capacity on these devices has increased over the years, there is still limited space. Additionally, their automatic function of moving bits of data to a less-used area of the drive to extend longevity means that overwriting files with random bits of data, the traditional way to erase data securely, may not be effective.

Alternative methods to encryption

For Mac users, Apple used to have a Secure Empty Trash command. This has since been removed to avoid any assumptions that the function would securely erase all data when, on a flash drive, it may not be successful in doing so.

Of course, to wipe the flash drive, the method of dumping random data three times in a row is still an option. Unfortunately, doing so isn't exactly straightforward on a Mac or PC. Not to mention, depending on the quality of your computer and the size of the drive, this method can take much longer than our modern-day patience levels can handle (sometimes 20 minutes or more).

While some of the larger flash drive vendors like Intel, SanDisk or Samsung, may offer apps for secure-erasing, Encrypting is a quick go-to process to ensure that your files are not recovered if your old flash drive lands in the hands of a tech-savvy owner with bad intentions.

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How to encrypt your flash drive on a Mac

In most cases, the process for drive encryption on a Mac is pretty simple. Just right-click the drive you want to securely erase, and click Encrypt. Then, follow the prompts.

If your drive was specifically formatted for a Windows operating system, you may not see the prompt pop up for encryption. In this case, simply open Disk Utility, select your drive, and click Erase (use the default settings). You can then follow the steps above to encrypt.

Finally, after you have followed the prompts for encryption, make sure to erase the drive in Disk Utility again to ensure that it is empty and ready for use by its new owner.

How to encrypt your flash drive on a PC

If you use a Home edition of Windows, Microsoft does not support disk encryption on your OS, but of course, there is still a way to work around it.

You'll first need to Install the open-source app, VeraCrypt. Then follow the steps below:

  1. Run VeraCrypt and click Create Volume.
  2. Click Encrypt a non-system partition/drive and choose Standard VeraCrypt volume.
  3. Click Select Device and select Removable Disk (you should only see your flash drive listed if you don't have any other external drives plugged in).
  4. When encryption is complete, reformat the drive by right-clicking it on the desktop and clicking Format.
  5. Repeat the encryption process one more time.
  6. Repeat the reformatting process one more time.

Safe and secure

With the encryption method outlined above, you can confidently toss or donate your flash drive without fear of releasing your personal or professional files into the world. Even the savviest of the techies won't be able to recover your permanently erased files.

Use a USB drive to lock and unlock your PC

If you do have sensitive info on your computer, you might want to take extra precautions to lock it down. This download can help.

Tap or click here to find out how a USB drive can protect you.

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