Years ago, USB flash drives were amazing for storing and transferring files like music and movies with friends and family. All you had to do was hand over the USB flash drive and plug it into a computer. Today, USB flash drives have more or less become obsolete as cloud storage and transfer solutions like Google Drive, Dropbox & Airdrop make it easier than ever to send larger files – eliminating the need of carrying a flash drive. As a result, most USB devices people own are stored in a random drawer somewhere, collecting a whole lot of dust.
Well, it’s time to undust those old USB flash drives you’ve got stored away somewhere, as there are some cool things you can do with them that still make them super handy today.
Run portable apps
USB flash drives aren’t just for storing files, they can store and run applications too. Most applications that you can install on a computer, can easily be copied over to a USB flash drive for portability. There is a dedicated website called Portable Apps that lets Windows users run any app on any Windows PC. After downloading and running the installer, just plug in a USB device into a computer and you’re good to go. There is no need to reinstall applications as they’re already loaded onto the USB flash drive.
Store sensitive files securely
As the world is slowly opening up to international travel, it’s important to take spare copies of your passport and other travel documents like proof of vaccination with you on your travels. With storing these sensitive files on a USB flash drive, you may be thinking “what if my USB gets lost and someone finds it and looks through the files?” You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking this and it’s a valid concern. Luckily, there are some free tools out there that make your USB flash drive secure by encrypting it. Programs like VeraCrypt and DiskCryptor allow you to fully encrypt the USB flash drive, and they allow you to create an encrypted partition.
In simple terms, an encrypted partition is like a secure folder where you’d store your most sensitive files, while allowing non-sensitive files to be stored unencrypted on the USB.
Run an operating system
A cool thing you can do with a USB flash drive is booting a Linux operating system from it. You can turn any Windows computer into a fully independent Linux computer. A popular Linux OS that can be installed onto a USB flash drive is Ubuntu, and it is fairly simple to get the Distro installed onto the device. There is a helpful tutorial on the Ubuntu website that easily explains how to get it up and running.
If you are privacy conscious, there is a Linux operating system called Tails. Tails routes your computer’s internet connection through the Tor network and runs independently. This is a great option for journalists or people who are in a censorship country like China.
Run a rescue drive
Viruses and malware are everywhere on the internet, and they are getting smarter at bypassing security tools. If you ever get into a situation where you accidentally install a piece of malware that destroys your PC, you want to make sure that you have a backup plan. With an old USB flash drive, you can install a recovery program like Hiren’s BootCD that contains lots of different tools and utilities that can help to fix many issues that your PC may experience.
The important thing about Hiren’s BootCD is that it’s completely free to load onto a USB flash drive and all of the software contained on the device does not contain any pirated software.
Lock your computer
Protecting your computer from unauthorised access is particularly important, and did you know that your USB flash drive can be used for just that? Using a program called Predator, you can lock and unlock your computer by plugging in or unplugging the USB.
When you have Predator installed and your USB flash drive plugged in, you can use the computer as normal. When the drive is taken out, the mouse and keyboard are disabled, and your screen is darkened. This will come in handy if you are using a laptop in a public place like a library, and don’t want a random stranger looking at your work.
Donate to charity
If you insist on throwing out your old USB flash drive, how about donating it to charity instead? That’s right, your old USB can still be useful to someone and not be dumped in a landfill somewhere. There is a fantastic charity called Flash Drives For Freedom that smuggles outside information into North Korea. When you send your USB flash drive, it will be wiped and then used to store information that is banned by the North Korean Government. Depending on the size of your USB flash drive, South Korean soap operas, Hollywood movies, interviews with North Korean defectors, and Korean translated Wikipedia pages can be loaded onto it. Your USB will then be smuggled into North Korea and delivered to a North Korean citizen.
These are some things you can do with that old USB flash drive you’ve got stored away, and I hope you found some of these useful.