USB Drives

Remember when you kept all your crucial information in a stack of floppy disks held together with a rubber band? Or when the words "back up system" made you think about magnetic tape drives and waiting 10-20 minutes for them to run?

Well, those days are long gone because one of the most amazing benefits of the USB port (Universal Serial Port) has been the USB Flash drive. Flash drives — sometimes called "jump drives" — are portable harddrives that plug directly into a USB port. They're smaller than a pack of gum and can hold thousands of megabytes. Top-of-the-line flash drives hold eight gigabytes — that's as much storage as many older PCs.

As the capacity of these devices increases, the price decreases, too — Add to this the ability to install and launch small applications from the flash drive, and you have a powerful backup storage device. Here are a few ways to store your most important data in a way that requires no battery and can be done for less than $100.

Save your passwords — There is a wonderful (and free!) application called Password Safe ( Install this into your flash drive, and you can securely store all of your passwords in one safe location that you can take anywhere.

Save important files — Copies of passports, birth certificates, contracts and photos all fit easily on a flash drive and can be downloaded and printed anywhere. You can also export your email contact list as a .cvs file ready to import into any mail application. You will want to enable password safeguards on the drive of course, but you should do this anyway. Check for a password program that works on any flash drive.

Salvage your PC — Computer crashed? Never fear. You can now boot your system directly from your USB drive with Puppy Linux ( — a bare-bones operating system that will help get you out of a bind.

Encrypt the whole USB drive — Using a program like SafeHouse ( or PGPdisk Free form (, you can bundle all these ideas into a virtual Fort Knox

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