I have good news for our customers, our developers have been working hard and have produced a solution to the firmware failures of this model hard drive. I posted a blog alerting our customers back in March 2015 when we started to see the problems arise. A solution was tested just before the end of last year and we now have a process that fixes these issues.
Despite some amount of publicity, the problem of fake capacity flash drives being sold online has still not gone away. Recently we did a bit of consumer investigation and bought a few to test. Surely after two or three years eBay will have sorted this problem out?
What Are Fake Capacity Flash Drives?
If you’ve not heard of these before, a fake capacity flash drive is simply a small low capacity flash drive pretending to have (much) more storage. The clever / devious part is that they may have only 16GB of real storage, but can appear to the computer as anything up to 2TB. You will be able to copy data to the device, but only the first 16GB may be readable later. Some devices constantly overwrite the same 16GB while other just dump the rest of the data into a back hole.
How Do I Know If My USB Drive is Fake?
There are not any strict rules, but you can start to build up a picture as you gather more information.
Price – These flash drives will be WAY cheaper than anything you can buy in a retail store. We just bought 512GB flash drives for £10 and 1TB drives for £15. Currently a 64GB SD card is £32.48 at Novatech, so you can see how expensive real flash drives should be.
Quality – Large capacity USB drives are relatively expensive. You’d expect them to be well made and probably well packaged. The fake drives usually come unbranded, in generic clear bags.
Wording – Since these problems have been reported, some sellers are putting some disclaimers on the listings to suggest you should only use the devices for small amounts of data etc. This is obviously nonsense. If you buy a real 1TB of storage, you can use all 1TB.
Testing – Although most people won’t be familiar with testing hardware, there are some pretty simple tools to test USB drives. They write patterns of data to the chosen device and then read it back again to make sure it was written correctly. USB Test Tool (It’s German, but also runs in English)
What To Do If You Have A Fake Capacity Flash Drive
Most online marketplaces like eBay have pretty robust buyer protection to allow you to claim a refund. The advice for making claims varies with each website so you may need to hunt around, or contact the site directly. Although eBay are more than happy to organise refunds, they show little interest in stopping the sale of these devices. We’ve spoken to eBay customer services a number of times and they said that their system will flag up if enough people make returns.
You Often Don’t Know Until It’s Too Late
It’s a bad idea to keep using one of these USBs. If you detect a fake capacity, you may think it’s OK to just use it for small amounts of data but it’s not a good idea. The problem is that as you use and delete files, you could gradually start edging towards the limit of the storage. The next file you write could just go into the black hole, and the data is lost. In fact, many people don’t realise their flash drive is a fake until they exceed the “genuine” part of the storage. If you were copying photographs to the USB drive, you might not notice that some of them are missing until you try to read them again much later.
Not Just Memory Sticks
These same types of fake flash drives also appear as SD cards so we’ve heard from people that were at weddings or on their honeymoon and lost all or most of the photos.
Update 31-10-2016: Since posting this, we were made aware of this report from the USA about eBay’s problem with fake flash storage.
For the last few years, newer editions of Windows have the ability to encrypt the whole disk with bitlocker. This means far more users are experimenting with encryption. We have seen an increase in recoveries from drives secured with bitlocker.
Is Data Recoverable From Bitlocker Drives?
In many cases the data is recoverable. It is important that we get the recovery key or password, as bitlocker security has not been compromised.
The most common problems we see with bitlocker encrypted drives are when the disk starts to fail, or when Windows becomes corrupt. This can prevent the built-in decryption process from working correctly and leave users locked out of their data. These drives can fail like any other, but the encryption adds an extra layer of complexity to the recovery process.
If using bitlocker on your drive, it is important to keep a copy of the decryption keys in a safe secure place away from the computer. It is also extra important to keep a constant and regular backup process. Although recovery is usually possible from a failed bitlocker drive, it could take a number of days. You probably wouldn’t want to live without your files for that time.
If you have a failed bitlocker drive that needs recovery, (and if you have the recovery key) get in touch.
This hard drive is one of the new Hybrid drives that also uses flash memory for quicker access. It recognises frequently accessed data and stores this in the flash memory for faster read performance.
We have received these hard drives for recovery before and have had good success with rework ranging from firmware fixes to internal repair.
We received one of these hard drives just recently which had very limited access. It would show all of the hard drives details including Make, Model, Serial Number and Firmware, but it would not allow access to the user data.
Further diagnosis revealed a problem with the firmware. Even with our specialist hardware we could not overcome the problem. This drive has been designated for R&D, to try and understand this problem, and create a solution for it in the future.
My main computer is an old MacBook Pro. I often download Linux ISOs to install on other computers. In recent Debian-esque releases this is actually really simple.
1. I find it quicker and easier to install from USB so first insert a USB pen / stick of some sort.
Note: This USB stick will be erased, so don’t use one with data that you need to keep!
2. Next we need to find out which number has been assigned to the USB stick. If you only have one disk in your Mac then the USB will usually be disk1, but always check first. (Note: Disks are numbered from zero, so your internal drive should be disk0) On your Mac open Disk Utility, which is located within Applications / Utilities. (See Image)
Select the USB stick from the lefthand window and then click the Info button which is on the toolbar. (See Image)
You will get a pop up window with loads of information about the device. We only need the Disk Identifier. Make a note of this for later.
3. To allow us to write data to the USB stick we need to unmount any volumes currently on there. (see image)
4. Now comes the actual writing. First locate the Terminal application, again within Applications / Utilities. (see image)
5. Remember to change the code to match your Disk Identifier from earlier. There are a few things to note about the following command.
sudo – allows you to run dangerous commands, so will require an administrator password
Instead of typing the location of the ISO file you can just drag the ISO onto the terminal when required.
“if” means input file (in this case the ISO file), “of” means output file (the USB stick)
When we found out the Disk Identifier, it was disk1. That will work in the command, but we use rdisk1 instead, which gives us raw access to the disk. This may not be necessary, but it works for me.
There is a lot of discussion about block sizes, but I find 4MB is reasonable for writing ISOs to USB. In Linux we often type bs=4M, however the Mac prefers it like bs=4096 instead. It’s the same thing, just expressed differently.
sudo dd if=[drag iso here] of=/dev/r[disk number] bs=4096; sync
If you’ve got it right, you shouldn’t get any feedback until it finishes. Your USB stick may have a blinking LED whilst the data is being written. For reference the 200MB debian-netinst ISO took just over a minute to write.
Once complete you should get something like:
48896+0 records in
48896+0 records out
200278016 bytes transferred in 95.151719 secs (2104828 bytes/sec)
This means you’re finished. Now eject the USB and try to boot your PC with it. The Mac may complain that the disk is not readable but just ignore that and try it on a PC.
We have just received an 8GB USB pen with a broken connector. The customer started phoning around and was shocked by the costs he was given. He then called us and was pleased to hear that we only charged £90.00 if the rework was successful. This rework includes dismantling and repair of the USB Pen even when it appeared to be beyond repair.
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Some tests carried out by the “Non-Volatile Systems Laboratory” have revealed some serious flaws with SSDs ability to be securely erased. When using standard tools designed for spinning disks, the results were understandably bad. They also tried the built-in “Security Erase Unit” command and the results of this were generally not good. After being securely erased, most of the SSDs still contained some large fragments of the test files.
Some secure erasure software would be similarly inefficient for hard disks anyway, as things like remapped or bad sectors can still contain readable data which may not be erased during the process.
The simplest solution for securely erasing any data is to completely destroy the storage media. For hard drives this means making a real mess of the platters, for SSDs it means wrecking the whole PCB, data chips and controller chips.
To put it in a nutshell, this could be the future for storage technology. The memristor has been the missing link from back when resistors, inductors and capacitors were originally created. What has now changed is the use of nano technology which has allowed the creation of the fourth electronic component; the memristor.
This technology can “remember” how much current has passed through it and can save its electronic state even when turned off. This means that in theory it will be much faster and cheaper than flash memory (And SSDs), and eventually also replace the hard drive for data storage.