Fake USB Flash Drives and How To Find Them

Recently I had need of some easy, fast and silent storage (to plug into my smart TV for video file playback) so I went for a couple of 128GB Kingston DataTraveler G4 USB Flash drives, I’ve used Kingston before and always found them to be solid and reliable (they may not be the fastest or the best, but one usually pays more for those kind of things).  I shopped around and bought a couple that seemed reasonably priced from a seller on eBay.  When they arrived I was a little disappointed to see they had been sent in a flimsy DL letter envelope (not padded at all), but thought little of it as these things weren’t likely to take any harm in the post anyway.  I opened the packages and looked at the USB sticks…  as I handled them I started noticing little things, such as a faint print of the text on the wrong side, like one gets from using a stamp a second time without refreshing the ink, then there was the slightly bent angle at which the plug protruded from the plastic body, and the lack of any details stamped on the plug metal itself (which is always present on Kingston USB sticks).  The lids were difficult to remove too, when I compared them to my 16GB Kingston USB stick I noticed that the small retaining tabs were a different size.

I plugged one in, it immediately glowed with a red flashing LED inside, this is definitely something I had not seen from a Kingston G4 USB stick, my yellow Kingston G2 does have this but that is a much older design, and it’s a matching yellow LED; the Kingston 128GB G4 has a white body and a green end piece, and there is no LED inside my 16GB anyway so I would not have expected there to be one inside any of the G4 USB sticks.

I considered these strange flaws, said to myself ‘if it works then they don’t really matter’.  The sticks didn’t work.  I tried to write data to them, it would write at around 20MB/s for about 10 seconds and then stop, the USB stick would continue to flash away for a few minutes before the copy operation would continue (as reported by Windows), this to me looks like either a faulty / seconds (i.e. rejected during QA by Kingston) memory chip or just plain fakety fake memory chip, coupled with additional circuitry that simply couldn’t cope with the speed, it probably had a small fast cache that quickly filled up, then it took a long time to place that into the actual main flash memory store.  Another thing to note about these USB sticks was that the plastic in the plug was black instead of blue, which would indicate that they were probably USB 2 or even USB 1, definitely not USB3 (which always has blue plastic in the USB plug / socket).

I tried reading back the data that had (eventually) been written, some video files… to my surprise they did actually appear to read OK, and there was more than 20GB by the time I decided to stop the copy operation.  The data may well have been intact, though I doubt there would have been the full 128GB available (in actuality, only about 115GB was showing as available, but this would be expected due to overheads etc).  I decided that this warranted further investigation, a bit of digging on the internet uncovered a useful method of testing for fakes, there are numerous videos on YouTube that make use of a program called RMPrepUSB, download here: https://www.rmprepusb.com/tutorials/-fake-usb-flash-memory-drives#TOC-Downloads

It uses destructive write tests to test the size and speed, the website explains the process and how fake devices are made very well.  I tested both of my fake USB sticks using the software and both failed miserably, I also tested my 16GB ‘genuine’ USB stick and it passed all of the tests with flying colours, thus proving what I suspected, and that the software worked.

After proving beyond any reasonable doubt that these were indeed fake 128GB USB sticks I started the returns procedure with the eBay seller, at time of writing this is in progress and I have no doubt that with eBay behind me I’ll get my full refund (if eBay get one thing right, it’s standing behind their buyers).  I also decided to completely wipe the USB sticks, writing all zeroes to them to remove any of the video data I had copied during testing, don’t want to give the seller or anyone else anything like that (this took several hours at the crippled write speed, but did eventually complete).

Moral of the story – buy from a reputable source, and test any suspect flash memory (or indeed any memory that you buy) using a proper tool such as RMPrepUSB.

About Jonathan

I am the owner of this blog and domain. I usually don't bite unless provoked.
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1 Response to Fake USB Flash Drives and How To Find Them

  1. Jonathan says:

    After this experience with USB flash drives I decided to instead make use of a spare 256GB SSD I had which was unused and unloved, sitting in a drawer. I purchased a slim USB3 case and a 2m USB3 cable (branded Lindy, the price was right!), installed the SSD in the case and hey presto, I have 256GB in a convenient and silent USB connected drive onto which I can transfer video files or even record directly to using my smart TV record feature. I added four little rubber feet to stop it from sliding around under the TV, gotta love DIY rubber feet.

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