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posted by hubie on Thursday February 08, @08:03AM   Printer-friendly

https://www.theregister.com/2024/02/07/failed_usb_sticks/

The report, from German data recovery company CBL, concluded that NAND chips from reputable manufacturers such as Hynix, Sandisk, or Samsung that had failed quality control were being resold and repurposed. While still working, the chips' storage capacity is reduced.

"When we opened defective USB sticks last year, we found an alarming number of inferior memory chips with reduced capacity and the manufacturer's logo removed from the chip. Clearly discarded and unrecognizable microSD cards are also soldered onto a USB stick and managed with the external one on the USB stick board instead of the microSD's internal controller," explains Conrad Heinicke, Managing Director of CBL Datenrettung GmbH.

[...] Technological advancements have also affected these NAND chips, but not in a good way. The chips originally used single-level cell (SLC) memory cells that only stored one bit each, offering less data density but better performance and reliability. In order to increase the amount of storage the chips offered, manufacturers started moving to four bits per cell (QLC), decreasing the endurance and retention. Combined with the questionable components, it's why CBL warns that "You shouldn't rely too much on the reliability of flash memory."

[...] It's always wise to be careful when choosing your storage device and beware of offers that seem too good to be true. Back in 2022, a generic 30TB M.2 external SSD was available for about $18 on Walmart's website. It actually held two 512MB SD cards stuck to the board with hot glue – their firmware had been modified to report each one as 15 TB. There was also the case of fake Samsung SSDs with unbelievable slow speeds uncovered last year.


Original Submission

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New USB Stick has a Self-Destruct Feature 24 comments

Ovrdrive does not encrypt its contents by default but has a uniquely physical security mechanism and can be rigged to self-destruct - by heating itself to over 100 degrees C:

Through GitHub and Crowd Supply, Ryan Walker of Interrupt Labs (via CNX Software) is releasing a security-focused, open-source USB flash drive called Ovrdrive USB, which boasts a self-destruct mechanism that heats the flash chip to over 100 degrees Celsius.

The Ovrdrive USB is unencrypted by default, so it should still be legal in countries where encryption is otherwise illegal while providing an extra degree of (physical) security not matched by our current best flash drives.

First, the Ovrdrive USB design functions pretty simply. It's mostly a run-of-the-mill USB flash drive with a unique activation mechanism. For it to be detected by your machine, you have to rapidly insert the drive three consecutive times actually to turn it on. Failure to do so will hide the drive's partition and give the impression that it's broken. Initially, it was supposed to self-destruct, but it proved too challenging to mass produce, forcing Walker to change the drive.

[...] In its crowdfunding campaign on Crowd Supply, the flash drive is slated for an August 2024 release and priced at $69 with free US domestic shipping or $12 international shipping for the rest of the world. At the original time of writing, the flash drive has reached 70% of its funding, with two days remaining on the funding deadline.

Related: Report Reveals Decline In Quality Of USB Sticks And MicroSD Cards


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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Thursday February 08, @08:50AM (15 children)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Thursday February 08, @08:50AM (#1343608)

    All that can be repurposed is repurposed. For example, most processors of a given type are made to support the fastest clock speed, and those that don't pass get sold as slower processors for cheaper. Hard disks have bad sectors marked and taken out of the list of usable sectors. etc.

    The trick is not to go overboard with this, otherwise you start cheating the customer for real. But even the worst USB fobs from brand names with an actual capacity noticeably lower than the nominal capacity will still be perfectly usable and the customer won't be impaired practically. This doesn't hold true for no name Chinese shit of course.

    As for 512MB cards that are sold as 15TB, that's plain fraud. It's another thing altogether.

    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by looorg on Thursday February 08, @11:47AM (13 children)

      by looorg (578) on Thursday February 08, @11:47AM (#1343614)

      So it has come to this stage then. All storage comes to this stage eventually. When it's new they are either great, cause the process is awesome, or bad cause the process is bad or complicated. Then it becomes great as they work out the kinks and bugs. Then they start to try and make it as cheap as possible and then things eventually become bad again -- happened with tapes, hard drives, floppy disks, CD/DVD discs and now it's apparently then coming to USB sticks (or memory chips since I assume the stick is still ok, or well they already started to cheap out on all things USB by only using some lines and using flimsy connectors and components etc).

      It's the storage cycle of life. So what is next? There is always a next thing around the corner when this happens. Something better, faster, smaller etc. The "cloud" doesn't count.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Thursday February 08, @12:29PM (12 children)

        by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Thursday February 08, @12:29PM (#1343615)

        Flash memory has always had less than the advertised capacity. Bad cells always happen. In fact, as the device wears out, more and more cells die and get taken out of the available capacity. That's called wear leveling and it's always been a normal thing with flash memory.

        In fact, hard-disks too slowly lose sectors, and those sectors get mapped out.

        • (Score: 4, Informative) by turgid on Thursday February 08, @12:43PM (8 children)

          by turgid (4318) on Thursday February 08, @12:43PM (#1343616) Journal

          I thought flash drives came with higher than the advertised capacity, by up to 30%, so that failing sectors could be mapped out gradually without a loss of capacity? There is a problem when you discard such a drive because unless you use special tools from the manufacturer, you can leave data on the remapped parts that the bad guys could potentially get hold of.

          • (Score: 4, Interesting) by VLM on Thursday February 08, @02:48PM (7 children)

            by VLM (445) on Thursday February 08, @02:48PM (#1343627)

            If the drive is still operational and the firmware is not buggy and you trust the mfgr (why?) then you can send a ATA Secure Erase command which is supposed to wipe all the cells back to factory default.

            It doesn't work, plenty of "black hat" paper and conference videos about nobody bothering to implement that correctly.

            https://archive.kernel.org/oldwiki/ata.wiki.kernel.org/index.php/ATA_Secure_Erase.html [kernel.org]

            Don't know why the wiki page above is now obsolete. Perhaps because nobody implements this feature correctly.

            Generally speaking you're better off tossing the SSD thru a shredder or incineration. Difficult for "large" 2.5 inch metal chassis drives, pretty easy for a little M.2 NVMe drive.

            • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Rosco P. Coltrane on Thursday February 08, @04:19PM (1 child)

              by Rosco P. Coltrane (4757) on Thursday February 08, @04:19PM (#1343634)

              Difficult for "large" 2.5 inch metal chassis drives

              That's what angle grinders are for. I've cut up many 5 1/4 with 3 1/2 disks (and cellphones, and old laptops with soldered-on memory) with my 9" angle grinder.

              An angle grinder should be part of any computer professional's security tools collection.

              • (Score: 2) by epitaxial on Friday February 09, @03:21PM

                by epitaxial (3165) on Friday February 09, @03:21PM (#1343728)

                You're not that important and nobody cares what's on your old devices.

            • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, @04:31PM

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 08, @04:31PM (#1343636)

              Generally speaking you're better off tossing the SSD thru a shredder or incineration. Difficult for "large" 2.5 inch metal chassis drives, pretty easy for a little M.2 NVMe drive.

              Aviation snips cost $10 and will take care of a 2.5" metal-chassis SSD in a matter of seconds.

              Cut through all the chips at least once if you really want to be sure, but that's probably overkill.

            • (Score: 1) by shrewdsheep on Thursday February 08, @05:31PM (2 children)

              by shrewdsheep (5215) on Thursday February 08, @05:31PM (#1343641)

              And I thought that flash memory is usually encrypted. Thus a secure erase simply means replacing the encryption key. But that's more anecdotal knowledge.

              • (Score: 3, Interesting) by turgid on Thursday February 08, @05:44PM (1 child)

                by turgid (4318) on Thursday February 08, @05:44PM (#1343644) Journal

                Does everyone encrypt their USB sticks?

                • (Score: 4, Informative) by janrinok on Thursday February 08, @06:22PM

                  by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 08, @06:22PM (#1343646) Journal

                  Well it depends on what I am saving on it - but more than half of my USB sticks are encrypted. As you know, a collection of seemingly unimportant files might, in aggregate, be rather more important than first thought.

                  I have around 10 sticks of different sizes, usually ext3 but I have one that is Windows compatible for those times that there is no other option. I do not have a Windows machine.

            • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Unixnut on Thursday February 08, @09:40PM

              by Unixnut (5779) on Thursday February 08, @09:40PM (#1343663)

              I just lob them in a microwave for 5 seconds. Fries all the silicon evenly, and if you keep in there longer it will fry the chips properly (as in you get much magic smoke out of them). Good luck to being able to recover anything from that.

        • (Score: 5, Insightful) by SomeGuy on Thursday February 08, @01:07PM

          by SomeGuy (5632) on Thursday February 08, @01:07PM (#1343619)

          It's one thing to have less than advertised capacity. It is another thing for the drive to corrupt itself and lose your data after you put a certain number of files on it. That is worse than useless. It is dangerous.

        • (Score: 4, Informative) by Whoever on Thursday February 08, @04:48PM

          by Whoever (4524) on Thursday February 08, @04:48PM (#1343637) Journal

          In fact, as the device wears out, more and more cells die and get taken out of the available capacity. That's called wear leveling and it's always been a normal thing with flash memory.

          No, it doesn't work like that. Flash memory is built (like spinning hard drives) with spare cells. As the cells wear out, the spares are mapped into the usable space, keeping the capacity the same. When your drive runs out of spare cells, it is done.

          If the capacity reduced in normal operation, file systems would fail all the time.

        • (Score: 1) by shrewdsheep on Thursday February 08, @05:35PM

          by shrewdsheep (5215) on Thursday February 08, @05:35PM (#1343642)

          FSs cannot deal with shrinking capacity in general. If the FS is full, no shrinkage can be afforded. I am even not aware of current FSs that would manage bad sectors.

    • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Thursday February 08, @07:38PM

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Thursday February 08, @07:38PM (#1343655) Homepage Journal

      I've found that there's a very wide variety in thumb drive quality. Some you can make a bootable USB from a ISO, some can't. Some only last a month or two. I've never seen one I'd trust with data that weren't backed up for any longer than it took me to get to a hard drive..

      --
      mcgrewbooks.com mcgrew.info nooze.org
  • (Score: 2) by Mojibake Tengu on Thursday February 08, @03:07PM

    by Mojibake Tengu (8598) on Thursday February 08, @03:07PM (#1343630) Journal

    So. What about Free and Open Source firmware for storage devices?

    Current state of the corporate mis-engineering is unsustainable.

    --
    Respect Authorities. Know your social status. Woke responsibly.
  • (Score: 5, Informative) by Nofsck Ingcloo on Thursday February 08, @03:41PM (1 child)

    by Nofsck Ingcloo (5242) on Thursday February 08, @03:41PM (#1343633)

    There's a guy who spends a lot of time working with storage devices. He has created a tool that reveals whether s USB stick actually provides the advertised amount of storage It is freeware. It can be obtained here: https://www.grc.com/validrive.htm [grc.com]

    --
    1984 was not written as an instruction manual.
    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by krishnoid on Thursday February 08, @04:57PM

      by krishnoid (1156) on Thursday February 08, @04:57PM (#1343638)

      There's also the command-line fight flash fraud [readthedocs.io] utility under Linux, whose data format is compatible with h2testw [heise.de], both of which I've used successfully on hard drives and flash memory. This one looks like it's good quality as well, and I have to wonder with the amount of bad drives that have been found that this might not be moving towards an FTC issue.

      These are helpful checking out new media, as you can check that it's reporting its entire capacity, that every byte writes and reads back the same data, and you can leave the data files on the drive to reverify later to make sure the storage medium itself hasn't acquired any bit errors. You can also run them on a drive that you're retiring or reselling so you know the capacity is correct and the sectors are good, and they can run the same utility to verify that as well.

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Rich on Thursday February 08, @09:15PM

    by Rich (945) on Thursday February 08, @09:15PM (#1343661) Journal

    One particular advertisement from decades ago got stuck in my mind. It was from one of the memory peddling shops, probably Kingston (or Corsair, or Crucial, one of those). It displayed two identical RAM modules, their sticker on one of them, and the headline ""How much is this sticker worth to you?"

    It boils down to that about the only worth these shops possess is goodwill, about their reliability with supply and product quality. If they'd be caught shipping crap, or worse, not properly dealing with it, their business is dead. It's probably worse for them than for vendors like WD, who permanently think up things (like 7200rpm-"Class", cheating with shingled recording, or SMART fails after 3 power-on-years) to screw over their customers.

    With that in mind, I either shop from whoever owns the factories (Kioxia, Samsung,...) or one of the long-time established box-movers. No bad experience so far.

    Although... out of curiosity I did order an unknown brand the last time, "TeamGroup". 256GB for 18€, the Made-in-Taiwan stick looks and weighs like milled from stainless billet, sticks magnetically, has an included bottle opener, a little ruler (metric!), and the ribbon attachment can be used for easy box opening jobs. Capacity appeared to be reasonably honest, and I'm curious whether the internals hold what the external quality promises. :)

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