Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Data Storage Technology

Condensing Your Life on to a USB Flash Drive? 888

Fear the Clam asks: "My wife and I figure that if we plan for the worst, it'll never happen, so we've been putting together 'If public transportation bites it and we have two minutes to grab our stuff and start walking, never to return to NYC' getaway knapsacks. With luck they'll live in the closet forever. Coincidently, this morning the New York Times has an article about what to take when you have to leave home in a big hurry [DNA verification required], and they suggest making a list of all of things like Social Security and credit card numbers, scanning birth certificates, marriage license and tax returns, and saving it all on a USB flash drive. Since this would be a complete identity kit, encryption is of utmost importance. What's the best solution? A flash drive that claims to encrypt or a platform-independent, self-extracting, encrypted file on a regular drive? Any suggestions for sturdy drives?" Of course, the choice of USB flash drive covers only a part of the problem. What other data would you put on this piece of "contingency hardware", and how would you protect the drive itself in case you did have to "swim for it"?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Condensing Your Life on to a USB Flash Drive?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:56PM (#13709266)
    I've had three USB Flash Drives (Lexar, and two Sandisks) die on me, usually under a year, presumably a byproduct of the limited writes available to NAND memory.
    • by Fujisawa Sensei ( 207127 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:05PM (#13709341) Journal
      Fujifilm. I just had one of those suckers go through the washing machine a while back. Still works.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:18PM (#13709423)
      I deal with the write issue on a regular basis. We used to use flash for embedded systems but the annual replacement of flash drives got excessive. We now use microdrives, which have an actual spinning media drive in them.

      If you're looking for a backup solution for your family data, organize your files in a competent manner (so it is comprehensive and well organized), and then develop a routine to write monthly CDs off. We dump two to CD, one of which goes to the bank safety deposit box (in a town 30 miles from here where I work), and the other gets dropped off at my folks. We keep their own backup as well. Mine is encrypted (theirs isn't since they're not that sophisticated and don't care).

      Works like a champ and was tested once already when my home workstation died and needed data recovery. Damn cheap-assed capacitors leaked on the motherboard...

      *flyover sam*
      (I'd post under my sig but there's nothing like a Slashdot stalker to change your interest in karma)
    • Life Disk (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @02:29AM (#13710423)
      Don't forget to scan all your family photos and all the photos from your parents collections of you and your siblings. Scan high resolution like 600 DPI.

          Scan examples of the work that you have done. Source code, schematics, written documentation, blueprints, photos, letters of recommendation. Include these with the family photos and financial info. Don't forget medical records (remember also childhood immunizations and disease records, ask your parents if you don't have them) and hi-res scans of any X-Ray photos and dental records if you have them.

          Buy or borrow a DVD recorder and copy all your photos, along with high resolution scans of birth certificates, tax returns, property deeds, financial records, etc. onto many copys of DVD ROM of all this data. Encrypt only the sensitive financial data. Make a copy of your and your family member's finger prints. Be sure to encrypt these before writing them to the disk. Make recordings of your voice. Record your spouse. Record your kids. Shrink these recordings into MP3 and OGG files (high quality 256KBPS) and include them on the disk. Not sure what to say? Dictate a will. Make a list of all your possessions. Include serial numbers, descriptions, digital photos, and estimated value. X sweaters, Y pairs of underwear, ect.

          When you've done all this stuff listed above, make many copies of the CD/DVD-ROM. DVD-ROM blanks and CD ROM blanks are very cheap now (about 50 cents or less) and they can hold a great deal of information and photos. Send a copy each to your parents and spouse's parents.

          Keep a copy of this disk in your car. If you get hit with a big disaster and have to get away quickly, you most likely will not remember to gather this stuff or you may have forgotten where your 'life disk' is located.

          I'm not sure if this applies to you but sooner or later it applies to most people. If you are 'illegal', no proper immigration documentation, no passport, expired visa, fugitive from computerized bench arrest warrants regardless of how long ago it was issued, or if you are at risk of arrest because of lifestyle (you sell weed for a living) or are a political activist in a dictatorship, you might consider creating a complete new and separate identity for yourself. And keep the paperwork for this identity on a CD-ROM, encrypted of course. Put a few soft-core porn pictures (be sure to use ones that are not illegal) unencrypted on the CD in case you are forced to display the contents of the CD to the police (resulting from a search at a traffic stop or a random police stop-and-frisk on the street). You may want to have this info on a 512K Flash Disk (or a 3.5 inch mini CD) that you can carry with you at all times. If you are undocumented or a fugitive, you may find that you have to escape without being able to go back to your home to get your papers, contacts, or alternate identity papers. In this case, having a flash disk with a complete new identity on it is a big help in maintaining your freedom.

    • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @02:36AM (#13710436) Homepage
      I know you can rough it with leaves and stuff, but come on, you've got a ton of other stuff to worry about. Why add an abraded arse to it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:56PM (#13709267)
    My philosophy is that if DC is in such shape that I can never return, I really don't care about carrying around any personl data or very much anything else other than my life. We were having a discussion at work about whether our web backups could survive a nuclear attack... but if there's a nuclear attack, our website is the least of my concerns.
    • I made the CFO of a major insurance company chuckle when I pointed out during the disaster recovery committee meeting, as the backup and data storage company made their pitch (involving their "nuclear blast proof vaults"), that when the competition started lobbing warheads at us I would tender my resignation.


      • If the brown hits the rotaries that bad (city destruction by nuclear or biological), I'm depending on the wetware storage of rural survival skills (subsistance farming and animal husbandry) rather than some now useless bits stored in silicon.
        • by kevcol ( 3467 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:49PM (#13709884) Homepage
          "...and animal husbandry"

          Oh come ON now! Society is having a tough enough time with gay marriage to even go there!
        • I do wonder how many people have the skill set to survive. I know how to build a timber frame house, field dress and smoke an animal, understand basic sanitation issues (how far to build your outhouse from your water supply), etc. Some of it is from reenactment, some is interest in early tech, some from Scouting, most out of curiosity. But I have no idea if I could survive; my bugout kit is aimed at a disaster where modern society survives and I won't need a two man saw or years worth of ammo. Regional natural disasters, basically.

          I do assume that even in a mild emergency a USB key would be useless. Heck, the Florida storm shelters are pretty much the best case emergency situation and a USB key is pointless while there. A good marine ziplock bag (or just a freezer bag) stuffed with some documents and tucked into a small bag you carry with you is a hell of a lot more useful. Keep them stored at all times in a waterproof bag and you might get lucky and avoid having them turned to pulp when the fire department floods your house to put out the fire in the next room over. Mine are in a freezer bag in the file cabinet I keep my records in. Need to leave? Grab the bag out of the folder.

          If your house burns down you have aid workers helping you replace your documents, and I don't see that having them scanned on a USB key is any better than photocopying them and handing or mailing them to a trusted friend or family. And if you don't have someone you can trust like that, that's step one, way before you get a USB key.


          • In the freezer (Score:5, Interesting)

            by gatzke ( 2977 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @10:44AM (#13712505) Homepage Journal
            I have heard that you can put some documents in the freezer, as it will be mostly waterproof when the FD floods your house and stands a decent chance at being fireproof as well.

            We bought a little fireproof waterproof safe for like $50.

            I think the topic of this post was mostly for big chemical, bio, or nucular attack on NYC or DC. What would you take? How prepared would you be to never come back to your house?

            BTW, Foxfire books are awesome if you don't have the series already. Great stuff with good detail on everything from building a log cabin to making moonshine to making a violin.
    • My philosophy is that if DC is in such shape that I can never return, I really don't care about carrying around any personl data or very much anything else other than my life

      Indeed. Besides, any (unforseen) situation that would render a major metro area uninhabitable probably means you aren't getting out alive anyways. If New Orleans couldn't be properly evacuated with several days notice, getting out of the beltway would be pretty damn tough. New York would be impossible.
    • by cowscows ( 103644 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:46PM (#13709591) Journal
      Well, yes, your life is very important, but it's certainly not a bad idea to grab what you can. Taking a little bit of stuff doesn't mean you're valuing it over your life. Grabbing an already prepared USB drive full of personal documents isn't stupid in the same way as, say, staying home to guard your comic book collection from looters.

      If DC is your home, and it gets wiped off the map, let's just hope that you survive. And if you do survive, you'd certainly be glad to have anything that you did manage to bring with you.
    • by Total_Wimp ( 564548 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:02AM (#13709931)
      My philosophy is that if DC is in such shape that I can never return, I really don't care about carrying around any personl data or very much anything else other than my life.

      People tend to think of the "worse case scenerio," but it often falls short of this. Yes, escape with your life, but remember that at some point you'll likely want to rebuild it in a civilized society.

      The living victims of the Tsunami, Katrina and Cherynobl all had to rebuild their lives. The living victims of Hiroshima and Dresden all had to rebuild their lives. Even the jews who survived Aushwitz had to rebuild their lives.

      Short of total world destruction or your personal death, you will need to rebuild yours as well. It would be easier to do if you could convince your insurance company to cut you a check for your obliterated house.

    • by Pieroxy ( 222434 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @04:11AM (#13710678) Homepage
      That is a bit shortsighted. There are plenty of minor disasters that could destroy a great deal of your life and that would be sad. The one thing every people I know (or I've heard of) that had their house burn down complained about was that they lost all memories of 'before'. Not mentioning all the burnt paperwork of course, but this is just paperwork and it takes only time and effort to make it up again. Pics, Videos and sometimes an old piece of music not distributed anymore were at the top of the list.

      Burning that and sending it to your parents and in laws is a minor charge and can prove usefull. Even only for a regular robbery.

      Of course, if the earth was to explode, I woudn't care about that stuff anymore. But life is not all black and white. Most of the time, it is grayish.
  • by John Hasler ( 414242 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:56PM (#13709268) Homepage
  • by Helios1182 ( 629010 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:56PM (#13709269)
    Most USB drives are pretty tough. I would make a copy or two and put it in a crush/water proof case like an Otterbox.
    • by saitoh ( 589746 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:32PM (#13709505) Homepage
      Hadn't thought of the otterbox (nice idea, makes sense). If your really trying to prep for something like this, consider making a non-magnetic copy also. While the odds of an EMP type disaster killing the drive (especially if stashed in a safe place) are slim, so are the odds of a nuclear disaster I guess.

      Consider burning it to a CDR also. This is stuff that might have to be updated once a year (such as deeds or photos/contacts) anyway, so its not like the age of the media and deterioration will be a big problem.

      A rule of thumb I've learned is that if your planning for stuff that occurs more then 2 standard deviations away from the mean, then chances are you want something that is (or can at least be considered virtually) full-proof. At the very least, the odds of all of the combined methods together have a lesser chance of failing then the original threat does of occuring.
  • heh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:57PM (#13709274)
    screw Social Security, they're going bankrupt anyway... on my emergency flash drive it's all about the pr0n.
  • Security (Score:5, Funny)

    by b00tleg ( 603482 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:57PM (#13709278)
    I always swallow my USB identity drives
  • Encryption (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PsychicX ( 866028 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:58PM (#13709288)
    As far as encryption goes, for god's sake don't rely on anything the manufacturers ship. That stuff is meant to protect you from your average luser seeing files, not anybody who is honestly interested. Use Blowfish or Twofish for proper 2 way encryption.
    • Re:Encryption (Score:5, Informative)

      by kasperd ( 592156 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @05:09AM (#13710816) Homepage Journal
      As far as encryption goes, for god's sake don't rely on anything the manufacturers ship.
      I agree. And don't rely on full disc encryption products. We are just starting to understand the security issues of full disc encryptions, it will be a few years before I'd expect manufacturers to start understand it as well and be able to implement something secure. For now GBDE is probably the most secure, but even that isn't perfect. gpg --symmetric --cipher AES256 would probably beat any full disc encryption when it comes to security.

      Use Blowfish or Twofish for proper 2 way encryption.
      Uhm, what is a two way encryption? And I'd advice against blowfish as it only uses 64 bit cipher blocks. Go for something with at least 128 bit cipher blocks and even more if you have many GB of data. AES256 have 256 bit keys and 128 bit blocks, which I think should be sufficient as long as you don't need to encrypt more than 64GB of data in the key's lifetime.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:58PM (#13709290)
    Tatoo yourself in reeealy reealy little 1's and 0's. Tatoo your wife with the decryption key.
  • by bobertfishbone ( 897122 ) <> on Monday October 03, 2005 @09:59PM (#13709293)
    Wouldn't accepting scanned documents of identification open many a door for counterfeiters and scam artists, and even, dare I say, potential terrorists? *Raises terror alert to mauve*
  • by HungWeiLo ( 250320 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:00PM (#13709297)
    You can store 5 minutes DV-quality porn on a 1GB stick.

    If you are a man of questionable tolerance and determination, I suggest you use some kind of compression.

    Oh - you mean like a "real real" drought or some other real natural disaster? Oh sorry.

    (Goes back to work)

  • by Brent Spiner ( 919505 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:00PM (#13709298) Homepage
    Well if your going to be all paranoid, you might as well get one of these. []
  • PGP (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:00PM (#13709301) your friend. Don't trust the key vendor's utility. PGP can be accessed from any platform and isn't Win32-specific as the vendor's software is.
    • Re:PGP (Score:3, Insightful)

      by igny ( 716218 )
      But where will you store your private key? Another flash card? Would you put them both into one wallet?
      • Re:PGP (Score:3, Interesting)

        You'll use a symmetric cypher with a passphrase. GPG at least isn't *just* a public/private key system. Also has the advantage of being cryptographically much stronger
      • Re:PGP (Score:5, Informative)

        by Xibby ( 232218 ) <> on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:43PM (#13709844) Homepage Journal
        For example:
        Zip up your stuff (or tar.bz2, whatever...)
        gpg -c --cipher-algo AES256

        Copy Stuff.gpg to your flash media.

        To decrypt, copy Stuff.gpg to your computer and run:
        gpg -d Stuff.gpg >

        Don't forget your password. Make sure you use a trustworthy GPG binary, and the unencrypted archive should never be stored on your flash media!. The unencrypted version could be easily recovered using undelete software.

        Now if it was me doing this, and I had some time on my hands, I'd look into the Linux crypto loop stuff. But that doesn't work all that well if nobody in your family runs Linux. So, I would have to opt for True Crypt [] on a Windows machine, create an encrypted volume on my flash drive, copy over the improtant files, unmount and run for it. At my parents/grandparents/whatever, it would be trivial to download and intall true crypt again and get access to my files.
  • by isny ( 681711 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:00PM (#13709303) Homepage
    Upload it to the internet and let the world mirror it.
  • Computer Acess? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dclaw ( 593370 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:01PM (#13709305) Homepage
    Would it not be better to simply keep a set of laminated copies of all those documents? In the case that you don't have access to a computer when you need it? There isn't always going to be a Kinko's or internet cafe nearby when you're in the midst of a terrorist attack or natural disaster the magnitude of which you are speaking.
    • Re:Computer Acess? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @07:27AM (#13711149) Homepage
      A friend of mine does this. he has a business card sized card he prints on the 2400dpi laser printer here at work in 2 point font. (yes it is readable with a magnifier) with all his important info on it. important phone numbers, addresses, etc.. he does not put CC numbers on it as that is a pretty darn stupid thing to do. Come on, if you dont have your wallet who the hell is going to let you use a credit card number? he add's lots of neat info on it and laminates it for his wallet. Updating it maybe 3 times a year.

      Low tech, more useful in an emergency than any "thumb drive" that requires a working computer to read it.

      He recently made a new second card with a shrunken map of the bus stops/train stops on the high res color printer. pretty darn cool stuff.

      now only if I could figure out how to make a microfishe I could cram more information on a card than he can.

      It's all about accessing that information when you need it. and I am betting you will not have a computre available when you need to access it during a major emergency.
  • Or.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by cdn2k1 ( 908657 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:01PM (#13709310)
    You could kill two birds with one stone, and get an iPod. That way you will not only have all of your important stuff, but you'll be able to groove to some sweet tunes while looting and pillaging.
  • by thisissilly ( 676875 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:01PM (#13709312)
    Why not just email all that to yourself in a gmail account? Holds 2.5GB and counting, and you can get to it from anywhere. No need to worry about taking it along with you.
    • by Chimera512 ( 910750 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:16PM (#13709409) Homepage
      because in the event of a "leave nyc forever" caliber event, you have no idea where the hell google's gmail servers are geographically. and then google has all your personal data. that seems like a pretty terrible idea from a security standpoint, even if it is encrypted. nothing's completely unbreakable. if you're leaving on foot, take paper copies of everything, tape it to your chests so your bodies could theoretically be ID'ed if you were to die (we're talking hyptohetically, lets go all the way) i'd be way more worreid about water purification, food, and the ability to cover enough ground on foot to get away form the disaster before you run out of food and water. if you're a typical person i don't htink you're going to be doing more then 20 miles a day with plenty of food, and that's being generous. do you have shelter? i'd suggest a water proof pack from granite gear that weighs 1.5 pounds without anything in it. that's what i'm brining when the shit hits the fan and we're all dead.
      • by squoozer ( 730327 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @04:55AM (#13710787)

        I agree with almost everything you say except the bit about encryption not being unbreakable. While I admit that in theory all current encryption schemes are breakable it is easy to encrypt something so that it is for all intents and purposes unbreakable without the key. Of course this assumes that there isn't a flaw in the encryption method and that nobody has built a quantum computer naturally. The first could be partially overcome by multiply encrypting the data with different methods - thus requireing a flaw to be found in each.

        Anyway that's beside the point. The OP must be on crack or something. If the disaster is so big one of the worlds leading cities is never inhabitable again the guy, his wife and everyone they know is probably dead anyway. What the point planning for a situation you can't hope to live though. You might as well just enjoy the here and now. As for saving your CC numbers - hahahahha = like anyone will accept credit cards. You might be able to barter with food and water but that's about it.

        Personally I would take water purification tablets and a 5 * 1 litre bottles of water as my number one thing to pack (more if I have space). After that I would pack low salt high energy food + a small pot of salt (allows you to replace salt when you need it rather than every time you eat). Some sturdy cloth would be useful as it would be easy to rig up a crude filter if you have to drink muddy water (at least the water will be free from bigger bits and the purification tablets will see to the rest - last resort though as "purified" water is horrible). A few boxes of matches sealed in plastic bags would be good as well as a really big coat. And finally, an assortment of large sturdy knives and a hand axe. No where in my list of essentials would I include a USB flash drive.

  • Life on a USB drive (Score:3, Informative)

    by springbox ( 853816 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:02PM (#13709318)
    Consider putting it on a tough drive. I personally use the Cruzer Titanium []. It's made from a light weight "space age" metal unlike most cheapo thin or thick plastic drives. "Crush force exceeds 2000 lbs" they claim.

    Also for my private data, I have a TrueCrypt [] volume on the drive so that in case someone gets their hands on it, my not so public data will be safe.

    If you're actually intending to put your LIFE on it though also consider a backup strategy so you won't lose everything when your drive falls off your keychain and into the sewer where it's eaten by technologically advanced rodents.

  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:03PM (#13709329)
    I've cloned my start-up drive and all my files onto a 250 GB firewire drive (and several bare IDE HDs stashed in strategic locations). Given that I can order a new computer by 2 AM Eastern and have it delivered the same morning, I can be back in business in no time. I like cloned drives because you can retain all the OS and user preferences.
  • contents (Score:5, Informative)

    by egburr ( 141740 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:08PM (#13709356) Homepage
    Here's what I can think of off the top of my head...

    Social Security cards
    Driver's licenses
    Recent photos, head only and full body (clothed!)
    Contact info of relatives, friends
    Vehicle registration
    Birth certificates
    Wedding license
    Property deeds
    Living will
    Account and contact information: banks, credit cards, utilities, insurance (health, house, car), mortgages, loans

    • Re:contents (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MickLinux ( 579158 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:23PM (#13709452) Journal
      Add in diplomas, as many different PDF resumes as jobs you might be interested in, 1 PDF CV each, baptismal certificates... ... working copies of MS Word and MS Excel, a simple text editor, Acrobat Reader, viruses, worms, trojan horses, Windows .DLL files, and ...

      all of which leads me to the following question.

      Why not just upload encrypted versions of this info to your YAHOO mail, and have it there in a folder "personal stuff", as attachments? That way, you don't depend on just the USB drive? Yeah, the USB would also be good for redundancy, but the easiest access is probably by YAHOO mail, and it automatically scans for malware as it goes.
    • Re:contents (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:49PM (#13709604) Journal
      I'd also include the following.

      • Street-level maps of the city and surrounding regions.
      • Medical history, for those with medical issues.
      • Any actual medications that have a decent enough shelf life to store for a while.
      • A pair of contacts or glasses if you need them.
      • Dust mask (at least).
      • Minimal first aid kit.
      • As an amateur radio operator I would definitely have a repeater guide to access repeaters while traveling. It's a sure thing the cell service will be down or overloaded. I'd also include a small wide-band receive transceiver, like the Yaesu VX-2R [].
      • You know those kinetic flashlights [] we see advertised here at Slashdot by ThinkGeek all the time? Definitely one of those.
      • Ditto with a human-powered radio.
      • Some sort of food (granola bars at least).
      • A water purifier. There are water purifiers that are like a thick straw. You can put it in any water source and as you suck water through the "straw" it is purified.
      • A couple "space blankets".
      • A hard-copy of War of the Worlds. Putting it on the USB drive doesn't count.

        Dan East
  • Safe Deposit Box? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LlamaDragon ( 97577 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:10PM (#13709374) Journal
    Technology isn't the answer to everything. Why not just take your important stuff, or good copies of said stuff, and put it in a safe deposit box? Then you just have to take your key with you when you run out of your house. And even if you lose your key, they can drill it open for a (hefty) fee.

    Really, why make it so complex by trying to put everything on USB drive and trying to figure out what encryption's best and scanning everything and...and...and... It's a waste of time.
  • I like TrueCrypt... (Score:5, Informative)

    by jbarr ( 2233 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:13PM (#13709383) Homepage
    It's for Windows only, but I stumbled upon TrueCrypt found at [] and really like it. And it's not only useful for USB drives, but can be used to create encrypted logical drives on a Hard Drive. For the really paranoid, the documentation even covers lots of stealthy ways to use it so as not to be detected.

    I'm certainly no expert at encryption, but it seems pretty solid. Basically, it creates an encrypted container file and then mounts it as a logical drive when you open the file through the app. I've seen commercial counterparts such as StealthDisk, and I think TrueCrypt's interface is easier to use and its execution is more solid.

    It's OSS and free as in beer and as in speech.
  • Why a flash drive? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Wonko ( 15033 ) <> on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:14PM (#13709396) Homepage Journal

    they suggest making a list of all of things like Social Security and credit card numbers, scanning birth certificates, marriage license and tax returns, and saving it all on a USB flash drive.

    Why not just use a CD (full size, or 180 meg)? They are cheaper and more durable than a flash drive. Before I had my new, larger, flash drive I used to carry a 50 meg business card CD in my wallet. It would have to be replaced every 3-6 months from being repeatedly sat on :). I would imagine they would hold up better outside of the pocket, though :).

    Since this would be a complete identity kit, encryption is of utmost importance. What's the best solution? A flash drive that claims to encrypt or a platform-independent, self-extracting, encrypted file on a regular drive?

    I wouldn't use the software that comes with the drive. If I were doing this I would use GNU Privacy Guard. You should probably store the key in a safe location far away from home, and preferably with a strong passphrase.

    Any suggestions for sturdy drives?

    I currently have a PQI I-Stick []. I have only had it about a year so far and I haven't doen anything stupid with it yet. It mostly just sits in my wallet in its little wallet case. I very much prefer keeping my flash drive in my wallet as opposed to my keychain. I also like that the little wallet insert will hold two drive. The only thing I dislike is that the wallet holder is so much thicker than the drive.

    What other data would you put on this piece of "contingency hardware",

    I have all of my revision control repositories mirrored to my flash drive and also any documentation or notes that I write. That is basically everything that I created myself and would have to do work to replace.

    how would you protect the drive itself in case you did have to "swim for it"?

    I would probably make sure the data was out of town before I was. Most of this data either doesn't change often (credit card numbers), or it never changes (SSN, birth certificates). Encrypt it, put it on some media of some sort, and send it out of town. Most people probably have friends or family living out of town that they can trust, send it to them. If this is not an option for you, you can probably get a box at a bank out of town I suppose...

  • by rcbarnes ( 875915 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:17PM (#13709414) Homepage
    How immediate is the need for access to the information? The stronger the solution, the slower the access for the most part. Something that needs to be immediately accessable will need to be bundled with proper decryption tools (assume nothing better than Windows 95 will be available) on-stick.

    Also related: what operating system are you using? Under Linux, you could use a loopback encrypted filesystem, for example, but under windows such would not be viable.

    Are we assuming that the computer will be destroyed, or that we need to stick to a pure-RAM access system to prevent residue on the hard drive from being intercepted?

    Are you willing to trust a corperate product for ease-of-use concerns?

    Finally, how are you securing your original documents? Might it just be as easy to grab an organized safe-box as keep all the digital security on a digital form? Keep in mind that only origial copies are good for anything beyond having a reference point to start receiveing replacement copies of your stuff.

    One more thing: How much of this is overkill? Keep in mind how cheap and simple it is to acquire copies of an arbitrary person's complete identifying information (I often see ways to do it under two hundred dollars, including original copies of all the usual certificates and plastic cards, which would cost less for a professional). A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and in this case, with just some reasonable precaution, the path of least cost and difficulty is through more common means of aqusition than stealing a thumbdrive.
  • by rufusdufus ( 450462 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:21PM (#13709444)
    Homeland security has a website called [] that has built a whole website about preparing for emergencies. They also have an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit [] that includes a nice form that consolidates all the personal information you might need in order to get financial services in an emergency.

    After getting the basic emergency kit ready, fill out and print this form and put it in your kit. Then, encrypt it and put save on internet, maybe mail it to your gmail account.
  • Multiple copies (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 3770 ( 560838 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:24PM (#13709465) Homepage
    Assuming that your stuff is encrypted it should be pretty safe to put it almost anywhere.

    1) Keep the latest copy on your iPod (or equivalent) if you tend to carry it all the time. That way you have it with you in case you can't go home.
    2) Buy an extra USB drive and snail-mail it to your parents out in the boonies for safe keeping.
    3) E-Mail it to yourself on Gmail or equivalent. But then I would double dog encrypt it. You may not want to put your most secret information there. But some of things could certainly go on there.

    I would put all my ID stuff on there, all important papers and contracts, passport. Thumbprints and pictures of each other for the dreadful prospect that you may have to ID each other, or post pictures in the news paper for your partner. If you have any particular features such as a birth mark or a tatoo then it might be clever to take a picture of that as well. Medical records potentially. But you could also walk around and take pictures of your home for insurance purposes. All your important phone numbers and addresses to relatives.

    If you are collecting all this information then you may want to invest the money in a fireproof safe as well.

    Man, I didn't mean to sound so alarmist. I just thought it was a really great question.
  • Just Plain Stupid (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hosiah ( 849792 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:25PM (#13709466)
    What kind of an inane question is this? You don't need any kind of encryption scheme at all. Take the social security card out of your wallet and look at it. It isn't encrypted, is it? Is your birth certificate encrypted? Stock certificates? Deed to your house? Mail from your Life Insurance Company? Driver's License? Sam's Club Card? Whining Yuppies' Guild Gold Membership Card?

    As others have pointed, more politely than I think they needed to, "In case of a nuclear war, nobody's going to give a damn." You'll be struggling just to live. So will everybody around you. Nobody's going to give a damn about your stupid keychain drive with the password to all your porno-sites on it. And if you make it to a part of civilization where you actually get to *use* the damn thing for it's intended purpose, being to recover your life's data, you'll be lucky to find somebody's computer with a compatible document format to read it, let alone figure out how to recover the data from your ultra-secure storage method.

    Get a LIFE!

    • ou don't need any kind of encryption scheme at all. Take the social security card out of your wallet and look at it. It isn't encrypted, is it?

      How about we reverse this and wonder why our credit cards and other valuable information AREN'T more secure, so that life wouldn't suck so bad when you lose your wallet/purse. Thankfully, some companies are starting to wise up, but many things are still way too vulnerable.
  • by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:39PM (#13709538)
    My wife and I figure that if we plan for the worst, it'll never happen,

    Ah. Scientologists.

  • wash away (Score:4, Informative)

    by marcushnk ( 90744 ) <> on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:43PM (#13709569) Journal
    I've had 4 of my 512 mb usb mem key's go through the wash dozens of times.. :-) no problems there at all :-)
  • Family photos. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OgGreeb ( 35588 ) <> on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:45PM (#13709588) Homepage
    When they interview many of the Katrina NOLA refugees, a common regret is that they've lost family pictures. At this point there is no reason not to start scanning paper-based photos in high-resolution. I've been pursuing a long term project of scanning documents, family photos, certificates and so on -- and making two sets of copies of the DVD archives. One set goes to a safe-deposit box and the other gets sent out of state to a relative in Ohio (I'm in Maryland). Each disk has a printed list of contents attached to it.

    Apart from my wanting these images to survive, they are an important part of my children's and my extended family's legacy.
  • by olddotter ( 638430 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @10:51PM (#13709621) Homepage
    (How is that for confusing titles?)

    I have been thinking about encryption options for files on a USB drive for a slightly different reason. I want to keep finical info like tax returns, investment records, etc. on a USB drive for the reason that if my box does get compromised then the stuff that could REALLY f%&k me over will not be on it. The basic idea is there is data I want to store digitally, but I don't want it on a computer that is connected to the internet 24/7.

    So I'm really naive about encryption options and would like my data to be readable on Linux, OS X, and Windows at minimum. What options do I have besides a password protected zipfile? Are password protected zipfiles encrypted using the password as the key?

    How reliable are USB drives? How many backups should I make?

  • by HaloZero ( 610207 ) <protodeka&gmail,com> on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:09PM (#13709707) Homepage
    My ideal 'out' kit;

    My personal records are scanned in high-res PDF format and kept on a jumpdrive. Identicals are kept with both of my parents on identical hardware, and my grandmother holds the originals. (This includes my birth certificate, my SSN card, my high school diploma, last 3 years of 1040 forms, my insurance policies, my driver's license, my EMS certification, and a few odd bills here and there for 'proof of residence'.)

    I keep a backpack packed with a dry pair of pants, fresh socks, two t-shirts, a sweatshirt, a bright orange-and-yellow 'RESCUE ME' vest, emergency self-inflating flotation device (rated to 225 lbs), 4L of drinking water, 6 MREs, a space-warmer blanket, air-activated hand-warmers, a flashlight, batteries, sweedish-firesteel, 600$ cash, a rescue strobe light, a leatherman, a wide-band two-way radio and scanner, a GPS reciever, a universal hand-crank charger, a map, a compass, pencil, paper, an emergency contact card, and the aforementioned USB keychain.

    It's not a huge bag, one just has to know how to pack. I do not live in the countryside by any means, but I travel through such areas often, and you never really know where you're going to end up if you need help quickly.

    I also keep a proper EMS bag (affectionately known as the 'blue bag') in my trunk, as well as a large ammocan with more space blankets, MREs and fresh drinking water. The assumption is that I'm not alone in the car, and we have to create a shelter-in-place.

    Worse-comes-to-worse, eat someone.
    • by Simonetta ( 207550 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @03:12AM (#13710544)
      I would include some condoms (about 8), a few packs of cigarettes (even if you don't smoke, they are fantastic for bartering with nicotine addicts, and an emergency contraception kit of a few birth-control pills, like a unit of Plan B (an actual American product sold for post-coital contraception.) If you are a male, this seems absurd. But if you meet women in an emergency situation who do need this (inquire very discretely), they will be your friends and allies to their dying day.
            If you can find one, a hand-crank flashlight with super-bright white LED bulbs and a hand-crank radio would be good too. An unusual item that might be useful would be a software program for the USB keychain that has a 10000-word English/Spanish dictionary/phrase book. A PDF file of wild edible plants (with photos and drawings) would be more useful than a cannibal cookbook.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:48PM (#13709876)
    I managed to eacape from an East European country without anything, no passport, no PhD, DSc certificates or any other documents. Months later I managed to come to the US. After many unsuccsessful attempts to find an academic job, I eventually managed to get hired by a small university based only on the testimonies of three fellow American scientists who met me before and knew my work and a few photocopies of some of my publications.

    Records are not always necessary, good, generous people can help you.
  • durability (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ecloud ( 3022 ) on Monday October 03, 2005 @11:51PM (#13709897) Homepage Journal
    Flash can survive being submersed just fine as long as you dry it out before using it. But the USB flash drives seem likely to get mechanically messed up because of the way they stick out. I didn't get to use mine that long before it got pried the wrong direction by accident and went "crunch," so now I just use CF and SD cards. Of course, if you don't use it a lot, only often enough to keep the documents up-to-date, maybe it won't be a problem.

    Transflash or SmartMedia would be sturdier. But SmartMedia is obsolete and transflash is so small that it's very easy to lose.

    You could just store the docs on your cellphone and plan not to lose it, or store on a memory card which is in your cell phone. But then the memory will get used more and be more subject to wearing out.

    iButtons are about the sturdiest format there is, and they have encrypted ones too, but they don't have enough memory for much data. There are also flash-based smart cards you could keep in your wallet. But neither of those is common enough - it's hard to find a reader for them, harder than finding a usb port anyway. Smartcards _should_ be standard equipment for securely storing all your passwords and personal info, but it hasn't caught on, mostly because of paranoia about "big brother" or "mark of the beast" or identity theft or some such.

    Maybe you could pop open an SD card, fill the empty space with epoxy and put it back together. It would probably be more durable that way. Or, do the same with a USB drive. Or use the SD card by itself most of the time, and keep a compact new USB SD reader in your knapsack.

    Yeah somebody should be manufacturing a really tiny usb key that has encrypted flash, implements some smart-card-like protocols for partitioning information with different keys, and sticks out of the port less than 1 cm, and is very sturdy. Having it stick out less would reduce the leverage when it gets bumped against something.
  • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:10AM (#13709968)
    It is entirely focused on records. This is the information age, right? So we need our personal information to survive, right? As I've already posted the information might well turn out to be important, and you should make sure you have it, but if Katrina taught anybody anything it's that papers don't insure your survival. You can't eat your papers (although when things get really, really sticky you might be able to trade them for food).

    What you really need in that pack:

    A good, sturdy pocket knife. Not a Swiss Army jobber. A single blade, like are sold to hunters. Metal, not ceramic.

    A metal spoon.

    Cheap chopsticks.

    Do not, literally upon pain of death, use any other utensils than these to prepare or eat your food if you can at all avoid it. Make it a religion to keep them clean and sanitary.

    Strike anywhere matches in a waterproof safe.

    A firestarting piston. Use this before you resort to using your matches. Learn how to use it before you leave home.

    A personal water filter.

    A bottle of alcohol. 190 proof vodka is 190% better than the stuff from the drugstore. Make it yourself if you have to. Learn about cold distilling if you want to take the long, but easy way.

    A few ounces of honey is nice to have along, but this is the most dangerous stuff in the pack. Think hard about it before including it. You can eat it if you have to, but that's not what it's here for.



    Any other drugs you personally need to stay alive. If you really need Prozac or Valium to stay alive, plan on dying.

    A homemade soda can stove.

    A mini roll of duct tape.

    5 pounds of gorp. If tightly rationed this well feed you for a week.

    An "Emergency Blanket."

    Ziploc Baggies (These last two items are the only survival gear of note invented in the 20th century).

    A camelback water resevior recently filled with known good water.

    100 feet of parachute cord. Learn how to tie knots before you need to.

    Wool cloth. Two shirtweight peices 45"X 72". One heavier weight 60"X108". These are your clothes, your hammok, your chair, your carryall, your. . .

    Learn how to use them as such before you need to. Do not be tempted to substitute cotton for wool to save money. The savings could kill you. Not in a pleasant way either.

    Two pair of wool socks.

    Three yards of 36" wide cotton could come in hand as well. This is your hat, your belt, your shoulder bag, your sling, your . . .

    A waterproof, windproof shell. Yes, even if you're in a tropical zone.

    A pennywhistle. Yes, I'm dead serious about that one. Learn how to play it a bit before you leave home. Even better, also learn how to make a pennywhistle out of any tubular thing you can find, before you need to.

    If you expect to stay "civilized". . .money. If you don't, more gorp. When push comes to shove people will trade you nearly anthing for food. Money weighs less than gorp though. If you have your choice don't stay civilized. Head for the woods. Cities are a barren desert when it comes to survival. The woods have everything you need to survive (these days even including manufactured items, more's the pity). Cities often do not. Cities are also full people. Being full of people stretches resources so they don't have things in 'em anymore. People are also nasty sumbitches who will hit you over the head and take your precious personal information, encrypted or not (they don't find out how well you encrypted your information until after they have hit you on the head).

    Two weeks with me showing you how to combine all this stuff with stuff you can find anywhere (like pebbles), especially in a disaster zone, otherwise you're just going to be in deep shit within an hour anyway.

    Time with me is limited. Start poking around the internet for this information now. For God's sake, learn to take care of yourself. Any baby cockroach can do it. Your brain is bigger. Learn to use it for somthing other than tracking your stock portfolio.

    • by TheoMurpse ( 729043 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @02:25AM (#13710411) Homepage
      It's killing me to know why the honey is the most dangerous thing in the pack, and what it's really in the pack for, if not for food. Attracting animals to kill? Can you commit suicide with honey? What?
  • by DownTheLongRoad ( 597665 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @12:27AM (#13710045)
    Living in New Orleans has burned a few lessons into me.
    First, make a list of things to take if you have to evacuate. I forgot several things when packing up at 3am the day before the storm hit.
    Second, keeping a safety deposit box in the same area as your house is a bad idea. We have banks which have been closed for a month and will probably be closed for many more. People come in every day asking about when they can get it. People wanting to leave the country but can't get their passports, very bad news.
    Third, keep a decent supply of water and canned food. Rotate the supplies to keep them fresh but always maintain one weeks worth of supplies. Figure at least one week before outside relief gets to you. Two weeks would be a safer bet. It's easier to do than you think. A water dispenser with 3 or 4 bottles should hold you over nicely and large cans of food from Chef Boyardee will make this very inexpensive. To use those cans, make sure you have a mechanical can opener on the assumption of no electricity. Keeping a 12 pack of Toilet Paper around doesn't hurt. If anyone asks why the large amount, simply say that you get it cheaper.Keeping some cash also doesn't hurt a bit. When the power is out, checks and debit/credit cards are worthless. Multiple things can happen outside of a nuclear war or hurricane which can force you to be self-sufficient for a week or two. Trust me, when the lights don't work, the police won't answer 911 calls and people are looting, you will be forever grateful you took a little time and money to be prepared.
    Fourth, paranoia can be a good thing. My wife complained when I bought a generator and 40 gallons of gas at the start of hurricane season. She gave me even more grief when I bought canned goods and water we didn't need within the next week. She sat on the sofa while I boarded up my house like world war III was coming to New Orleans. She thanked me several times for doing all of the above when we had electricity, food, water and an unlooted house after the storm.

    Personally, I send all of my files to both Gmail and Yahoo. I have seperate accounts set up just for those files. If a disaster befalls the US that takes out both of those companies and destroys my home computer on the other side of the country, losing computer files won't matter a bit, I'll be too busy trying to survive.
  • Other ideas... (Score:4, Informative)

    by OneFix ( 18661 ) on Tuesday October 04, 2005 @01:28AM (#13710249)
    Why not just save your "important" data on a drive mounted in a removable IDE drive bay. If you ever need to take everything, you just shut down the machine and take the drive... Yes, this may be a little heavier than a USB flash drive... You could build a set of cron jobs (like I have) to back up your important directories to the removable drive on a nightly basis...

    "Documents and Settings" for a Windoze box
    "/var/mail" for Linux
    User directories under Linux
    Bookmarks, Mail Client directories (Thunderbird, Evolution, etc), IM directories (GAIM, Trillian, Google Talk, etc)

    This would probably be preferable to say an external USB/Firewire drive, because it would be much faster for standard operations and would be connected until you took it with you...not to mention, there's more you can do for a damaged harddisk than a damaged USB flash drive...hard drives are sealed...most flash drives are not...there's a whole industry built on recovery of harddisks...not so on flash drives (not's probably coming)...

    Or better yet, why not use one of the GMail Filesystem []. This would certainly be more likely to wouldn't need to "grab" anything...all you would need is a machine with web access...keep something like 7-zip for Windows, GPG (or what ever you used to encrypt the data), and the GFS software for Windoze and wouldn't really even need the archives, just a "draft" message with links to the files/projects. You could use another online filesystem and mirror the accounts (don't use software raid, just use 2 devices), so you could always recover the data if you lost access to one account.

    But then again, what ever happened to the idea of keeping a safety deposit box in another city??? You can get to it once you are "safe"...not to mention that the authenticity of "scanned" copies of documents would be questioned because of Photoshop/Gimp...with a safety deposit box, you could have notarized, physical copies...Many of the things you list are things that you really don't need at home and generally wouldn't mind driving to get when/if the need arises (SSN, wills, Birth Certificates, Tax Returns, negatives of family photos, etc)...which would make a much more difficult situation easier for you (knowing that your important personal documents were safe)...who wants to worry if the only scan of their birth certificate was going to survive when they themselves are in danger...not me...

    If you DO go with the USB Key idea, then don't trust any of the "built-in" security schemes and use your own encryption and buy 2 and use software RAID to mirror the drives. That way the data could be rebuilt if either one could each carry one of them as case something happened to the other one...also beware of the pitfalls of flash memory (limited number of writes comes to mind right away)...

    Any idea of saving hardware is moot if you're thinking of a flood in a major city (like NYC), because even waterproof hardware would be destroyed by all of the chemicals that would be floating in the water...

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"