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External storage media

External storage media such as USB sticks, portable hard drives or CDs/DVDs have become part of everyday dig­ital life by now. But what hap­pens if these storage media with your sen­si­tive data get lost or become infected with malware?

You can use external storage media securely by...

  • encrypting sen­si­tive data.
  • securely deleting sen­si­tive data.
  • deac­ti­vating the “autorun” function.
  • pro­tecting all con­nected sys­tems with antivirus software.

The dan­gers of external storage media

External storage media have the ben­efit of mobility - they fit into any handbag or jacket pocket, so you can easily take them along any­where. How­ever, this also poses some risks which can be tackled with the fol­lowing measures:

  1. Loss or theft: Encrypt your sen­si­tive data (see below) and keep a copy of these data at home.
  2. Lifespan: External storage media are a good means for backing up your data. Still, they don’t last for­ever. USB sticks, hard drives and CDs/DVDs are gen­er­ally expected to last 10 years - so make sure you get replace­ments in good time!
  3. Read­ability: Make sure that the required sys­tems and readers are avail­able so that you can still read your data later - it is no good to have data car­riers you can no longer read.
  4. Mal­ware: Viruses, worms and Tro­jans etc. which hide in external storage media can actu­ally infect your whole system once you con­nect them to it. You should there­fore deac­ti­vate the autorun func­tion (see below) and use anti-virus software.
  5. Dis­posal: If you no longer use your external storage media and would like to dis­pose of them, please make sure to securely delete this storage medium.

External storage media such as USB sticks, portable hard drives or CDs/DVDs offer the ben­efit of mobility - you can simply take them along any­where. How­ever, this also poses some increased risks such as loss, theft, defects, mal­ware or access by third parties.

Fur­ther infor­ma­tion for all those interested

Encrypting sen­si­tive data

If you use external storage media to carry your sen­si­tive data around, it is absolutely vital to pro­tect them against unau­tho­rised access. In addi­tion to other fea­sible methods such as file pass­words, many USB stick and portable hard drive man­u­fac­turers pro­vide their own soft­ware for this pur­pose. In addi­tion, there are some alter­na­tives to be found on the Internet.

Deac­ti­vating the autorun function

It is rel­a­tively simple to tem­porarily deac­ti­vate the autorun func­tion in Win­dows. To do so, press and hold the “Shift” key on your key­board. Then con­nect the external storage medium to your com­puter and only let go of the “Shift” key after­wards. This process pre­vents Win­dows from imme­di­ately exe­cuting pro­grams and files on the external storage medium.

To per­ma­nently deac­ti­vate the autorun func­tion in Win­dows 10, follow these instructions:

  1. Use [WINDOWS] + [I] to open set­tings and then click “devices” (Win­dows 10) or "blue­tooth devices" (Win­dows 11). Here, select “autorun”.
  2. You can now deac­ti­vate the slider for “Use autorun for all media and devices”. This com­pletely deac­ti­vates the autorun func­tion. You can how­ever also leave the slider in its cur­rent posi­tion and select the desired action for every media type.
  3. Amongst others, there is the option to choose what hap­pens when­ever you insert a memory card. You can use the drop-down menu to select “Take no action” if you don’t want any auto­matic action for an option.
  4. It is also pos­sible to con­figure this process for remov­able storage devices and their con­tents. In addi­tion, you can also deter­mine here whether DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are to be auto­mat­i­cally played or not.
  5. Fur­ther down on this page you will also find the autorun func­tion set­ting for external devices such as smart­phones. Here, too, you can choose whether photos and videos for instance should be synchronised.

Secure dele­tion

See Secure dele­tion of storage media.

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