The USB Flash Drive Network

Years ago, the falling prices of blank CDs made them practical for more and more things. At $20, musicians started to make their own CD masters. At $10, CDs became popular for computer backup. At $3, it became practical for musicians to duplicate their own albums on CD. At 50¢, even CD factories started to make copies on CDs. Now at 14¢, CD prices are almost too low to mention.

USB flash drives have started down the same path of falling price and widespread use. Last weekend during Black Friday sales, I found 2 GB flash drives discounted well below their usual $10 street price, while 4 GB drives at slightly higher prices were sold out.

For those not familiar with USB flash drives, here are the basic facts you need to know to use them:

When prices fell below $50 USB flash drives started to replace the need for laptop computers. An average computer user’s personal document files are less than 1 GB, and many people found that they could carry their documents around from computer to computer instead of carrying a computer around.

With flash drives costing less than $10, people have stopped worrying about losing them. Yet the lost files could be a security risk. I’ve developed the habit of erasing my flash drive regularly by filling it with harmless photo files. If a USB flash drive is used to carry sensitive business data, the whole drive should be encrypted before the data is added. A flash drive is so transportable that it isn’t really safe even to drive home from the office with potentially sensitive business files on it, unless they are encrypted.

The increasing popularity of the 4 GB size is significant for entertainment media. This is enough space to carry an evening of movies or enough music for a month. Instead of taking a DVD or a stack of CDs to a party, you could copy all the files to a flash drive. And the potential for file-sharing is enough to give network security engineers and entertainment moguls fits. Anyone who imagined that they could prevent the spread of viruses or entertainment media by putting filters on every Internet server now has another network to consider. The network of people carrying around USB flash drives can’t be measured or monitored. Civilization can’t be maintained for much longer by centralized monitoring of the movement of computer files. With so many files moving around offline, people will have to develop new ways of keeping them under control.

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