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How Flash Drives Work and the Recovery Process

Flash drives have evolved since their release in 2000, but are still prone to failure.


Flash drives also known as USB drives, are the devices everyone has in their pocket, their purse, or hanging on their keys. This data storage is used for convenience and portability of digital files. According to Staista.com, the flash memory market is projected to be worth over 64 million dollars by the year 2021. 

History of the Flash Drive

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) was patented in 1999 by a company called M-Systems. The company head, Dov Moran, and his team created the DiskOnKey device which looks similar to the type of flash memory we see today. IBM (International Business Machines) then purchased the flash drives from M-Systems in 2000 and sold them as their own. Several other companies have claimed to be the inventor of the flash drive including Trek Technology, who produced the first “thumb drive” in 2000. 

There is no real clarity as to the true origins of the flash stick, but it has evolved exponentially over the past 19 years. The USB port was created to standardize the number of connectors on a PC and the USB 1.0 was born. 

The 2.0 port was available in 2003 and had faster transfer speeds than its predecessor at 30 MB/second. The 3.0 version came in 2010 and by 2017, 3.2 had already been released. Each update only increased in transfer speed and convenience. 

Transferring Files to Flash and Beyond

Flash drives use electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) to store and find data. When it is plugged into a device with a USB port, the device recognizes the media and installs the needed drives to retrieve the data. The drive is ejected from the computer when the operating system prompts the user to remove it. 

The drive itself works like a hard drive once it is plugged into the computer. It has mass storage classification, making transferring files between a computer and a USB easy. Flash drives have large storage capacity and can be used to boot operating systems on lightweight systems. In its early stages, its capacity was roughly 8 MB. With much innovation, the largest prototype drive in 2019 has a capacity of 4 TB.

Flash Drive Data Loss Scenarios

The physical design of a drive includes a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) with a plastic or rubberized coating. The actual connecting end is exposed unless there is an attached cover. While somewhat rugged devices, they are just as susceptible to data loss disasters as any other type of media. Some of the most common flash drive data loss scenarios are:

  • File system corruption
  • Physical damage (broken connectors, bent device, etc.)
  • Electrical failure (blown fuse, burned components on board)
  • Aging (components fail due to exhaustion)

Secure Recovery Methods

The small size of the USB makes recovery a detailed process. Secure Data Recovery engineers work with damaged USBs in different ways. If physical or electrical damage and aging has occurred, engineers attempt to repair the logic board and access data through normal interfaces (USB, SD, CF, etc.) If the board is beyond repair, they gain access to the memory or NAND chip by removing it from the board and use technological pins to gain access if the chip is monolithic. 

They then go through the tedious process of using utilities to rebuild a logical image and file system. It proves difficult because data is written to a memory chip in a certain way and our engineers must reverse-engineer the controller alterations so that data is usable again. If the USB has experienced file system corruption, we have custom utilities to repair the system and extract the data.

Our innovative recovery techniques for flash memory and other media and multiple privacy certifications support our reputation as a leader in the data recovery industry.  If you need data recovery for your flash drive or other media, call 1-800-388-1266.

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