What can happen if I remove an unsecured USB flash drive?

Many people have been through the following situation: the work is done, the files have already been transferred, and all that remains is to remove the pendrive and put it in your pocket, in your backpack or in the drawer. However, one step is often skipped: that of safely ejecting the device in Windows. The function has been available in different operating systems basically since the popularization of computers, but after all these years, is it still necessary to eject pendrives and other devices before removing them from the USB port?

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The correct answer depends a lot on the device that will be removed, as well as which operating system it is. However, in the standard case of a USB flash drive taken from a Windows computer/notebook, it is probably not necessary to take this precaution — even though it is recommended.

What is it the Quick Removal

Removing the pendrive without ejecting in Windows should not cause serious problems (Image: TipsMake)

Windows has its own system that prevents file corruption, called Quick Removal. To understand how it works, it is first necessary to know what the real risks of removing a device are before disabling it by software.

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Prior to the deployment of Quick Removal, the Windows default setting for external devices was to continue writing data continuously. This information is not necessarily files, but metadata — such as dates of addition and modification of files, or even other cached files. That is, communication with Windows remains constant, even if no files are being transferred and apparently nothing is happening.

Quick Removal cuts off this communication, and theoretically allows it to be safe to remove the external device at any time — unless, of course, some file is actually in the process of being transferred. This function is already enabled by default since the October update 2018 of Windows 10.

But if Quick Removal brings more security to the removal of external devices, why wasn’t it implemented decades ago?

The constant transfer of metadata — which Quick Removal cuts out — causes an overall improvement in performance, especially when opening files and folders stored on USB sticks. It turns out that the past few years have provided such a huge improvement in the read and write speed of the storage components that it simply doesn’t make a difference — or at least a noticeable difference in the average user experience.

Quick Removal is the function that prevents major problems with abrupt shutdown of external drives (Image: Digned)

Is it mandatory to remove the pendrive safely?

The fact that you’re not working on the files doesn’t mean that no program is. It is very common for, for example, the antivirus to scan all new data that appears on your device, which often happens discreetly and without the user’s perception. However, generally these programs do not have the ability to cause major problems in case of sudden shutdowns. Even so, this is the main reason why safe ejecting is recommended, but not necessarily mandatory.

Another situation involves external hard drives. As they work with physical media, data transmission and writing happens much slower, and therefore they may still be performing some “invisible” function a long time after the file transfer window disappears from your screen.

If Quick Removal is disabled, metadata transfers will be abruptly stopped, and data may be corrupted. Or worse, the action can cause irreversible damage to the storage hardware. So it’s always good to ensure safe ejection and avoid major headaches.

Source: Online Tech Tips

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