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Overcoming USB Flash Write-Protection

Last month, I was mucking around with my Asus RT-AC68U router. Among other experiments, I plugged in a USB flash drive into one of its ports to share it with the network. This morning, I unplugged it from the router to try to use it for recovery on a temporarily disabled test PC. No dice: instead of using it to reboot that machine, I found myself tasked with overcoming USB flash write-protection on that drive.

overcoming USB flash write-protection

Cute little sucker, but unfortunately dysfunctional.

What’s Involved in Overcoming USB Flash Write-Protection?

Good question! I turned to a tutorial on TenForums for my first set of answers. It’s entitled “Disk Write Protection – Enable or Disable in Windows.” The tutorial makes three basic prescriptions

Flip a physical switch: some UFDs (and most external USB drive enclosures) have a write-lock switch on them. It’s something like the old tab on floppy disks that turned off their write-ability. My Patriot Memory TAB 16GB USB 3.0 UFD lacked this tab, so this option was out.

Group Policy change/Registry hack: Pro, Enterprise and Education versions are amenable to a GPO setting or a Registry hack. Neither worked for me.

Use Diskpart to turn off readonly attribute: The syntax, after selecting the disk you wish to reset is: attributes disk clear readonly. Didn’t work either.

Bummer! None of the easy fixes worked. So I started poking around further. I soon found out that most UFD makers offer proprietary low-level formatting utilities to scrub their drives when they go south. A quick trip to the Patriot Memory Support forums showed a well-visited thread where owners can request a copy of their utility, and get it e-mailed to them. That’s what I did next.

Low-Level Formatting Madness

Being temperamentally disinclined to wait for much when troubleshooting, I kept poking around online and found a Website named FlashDrive-Repair.com. They’ve got utilities from many vendors, including Patriot Memory, available for download. Their downloads also get a clean bill of health from VirusTotal (phew! the Internet can be a dodgy place). But none of the tools I could find there worked, either — the two I tried gave up when they discovered the UFD was write-protected. What good is a low-level formatting tool that pays attention to such things?

So now I’m waiting for Patriot to cough up their utility, and try that one out. If it works, I’ll restore the UFD to service. If it doesn’t, I’ll toss it out and buy another set of 16GB UFDs from Newegg the next time I order something from them. Looks like they go for $9-15 for the ultra-compact models these days. No great loss either way.

I’ll report back when I hear from Patriot as to whether their proprietary tool does the trick. In the interim, keep those fingers crossed!

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