No sexy headlines or social insights today just tweaking out our ubiquitous USB flash drives. I use mine on a near daily basis and here are the tips I use to make my drive more useful and more secure.
If you want to skip the work and get the goods, scroll to the bottom.
Customize the Drive Name and Icon
I like giving my USB drive a custom name so it’s readily identified then I throw in a custom icon to give some personalization.
- Create a text file called “autorun.inf” and save it to the root of the flash drive.
- Edit the file to include these 3 lines of text:
[Autorun] Icon=usb.ico Label=CustomDriveName
- Save a custom icon or image as a .ico file to the root of this drive as usb.ico
- Note you can also place the icon in a subfolder and use a structure like Icon=Subfolder\Images\usb.ico
- Make sure the image file is a .ico for it to show up correctly. Use irfanview and you can save any image as a .ico
Put your drive to Work
There are lots of ways USB drives are used and it can be quite handy to have a few applications ready to run just by inserting the drive.
PortableApps.com is the starting point of this journey because they’ve built a full suite of tools and interface for managing apps and backups. Download and Run PortableApps, just have it extract itself to a folder on your desktop and you can copy it on to the drive in a later step.
Once you are setup on the platform here are a few apps to get started with. (See the full list at PortableApps.com/apps)
- Firefox Portable – carry your favorite browser and have it sync using Firefox sync to automatically update your bookmarks and preferences. *Bonus tip: Add the Lastpass for Firefox addon to access your passwords and secure notes.
- Irfanview Portable – you might need to work with an image quickly
Filezilla portable – Great portable FTP client
- AbiWord – Lightweight word processor that works with MS Word files
- Foxit PDF Reader – So you can open a PDF file without waiting an hour for Adobe to download and install
- VLC Media Player – Is a universal player so you can run almost any media file
PortableApps integrates lots of great tools and apps and you can implement most any program that doesn’t require install. Just look for a “portable” version and drop it in to the Apps directory. It will then find the executable and add a shortcut icon to the list. It’s easy.
Geek Note: PuTTY, 7zip, Sysinternals, SoftPerfect Network Scanner, are great apps to have in your USB toolkit. What would you add?
Improve the Chances that your lost Drive will be returned
The good folks over at Daily Cup of Tech created a little file that improves the chances that someone finding your drive will find out it’s lost. Most of us have done this by creating a text file that says “ReadMe” and we include contact info in the file. This takes it a step further.
Download their LostDrive.zip file and extract it. Delete the autorun file. Then edit the readme text file to say whatever and then if someone clicks the Help! program it gives them a popup window with your info displayed.
It’s easy to setup and just maybe an honest person will find your drive and then contact you. Can’t Hurt.
Secure your Flash Drive with Encryption
There might be files you don’t want to have just anyone be able to pickup and view. So we’ll create an encrypted pocket on the drive. If you are new to encryption stick with me here… This isn’t hard and it is worth learning.
From a 10,000 foot view, we are going to enable the Truecrypt software to run from a USB drive, we’ll create and encrypted container on that drive, and then you can open that container from the flash drive itself. Very secure and quite handy.
Before you dig in go download the full version of Truecrypt. Create a couple of small encrypted drives on your computer to get the feel of creating, mounting and dismounting the drives. You can do this and you’ll have this geek superpower in your pocket.
Install Truecrypt Portable:
- Open Truecrupt, go to Tools, then “Traveler Drive”
- Point this to most any folder and tell create.
- Move the created TrueCrypt folder, with the new 4 files contained, into your PortableApps directory.
- That’s it you can now run TrueCrypt directly from your thumbdrive.
Create an encrypted volume on the USB Drive:
True Crypt has detailed beginners guide with screenshots and I usually recommend their guide as a starting point.
Here’s the short version:
- Click “Create Volume”
- Select the top radio button “Create and encrypted file container”
- Choose “Standard TrueCrypt Volume”
- Select a file, and browse to the USB folder. Type in a file name like IMG_546 (image files can be large and may not open, so this helps cloak its true nature)
- Take the Default Encryption options
- Choose how large your Encrypted Drive should be. This will vary depending on the size of your USB flash drive but 500Mb to 1Gb should be sufficient.
- Choose a long and complex password. Recommend 20+ characters. *Hint: Use a sentence with capitalization, punctuation, and spaces added. DO NOT FORGET THIS PASSWORD.
- Move your mouse in a random pattern a lot. Yes Really.
- Now you have a private encrypted briefcase for your files.
Now you just open TrueCrypt from your flash drive, click “select file” point to the file you used as your encrypted container, select the drive to mount the drive to and click Mount. Voila a Whole new drive appears on the computer that you can use like normal. When you finished just click “Dismount” all.
Skip the work and download all these tools at once. Like all these tools but don’t have the time to set them up? I’ve done all the hard work for you. I’ve created a folder that is ready to drag and drop onto your drive and you have all these features ready to use. What you get: Portable Apps Platform installed including Firefox, Irfanview, VLC Media Player, Foxit PDF Reader, and AbiWord Custom drive name and custom icon. Truecrupt is installed and ready to run directly from the USB drive 1Gb Encrypted partition on the drive configured for use. You can download the file for the price of a cup of coffee.