We in the [amateur] media can from time to time do an exposé on something. For this installment of Teknosophy Theater, I’d like to discuss the Sandisk U3 USB portable thumbdrive, the modern equivalent to demonic possession. Sit back and enjoy…
I’ve had a few friends who’ve purchased USB thumbdrives over the years and have asked me to “hook them up” – (basically i use a giant scissors to cut through the invisible blister pack, I plug it into their USB port, and then they buy me lunch). But I’ve noticed that some of thes manufacturers have really abused their power lately and included whatever they felt like including on the drives. Yes, a lot of these drives now come with spyware and malware that interferes with your thumbdriving life and leaves average users feeling even more confused, intimidated, and used.
Many drive manufacturers include software on their drives: Western Digital sometimes puts little migration and scanning utilities on their hard drives, Sony (always searching for some sort of stylish yet ephemeral differentiation) puts some MicroVault encryption software on theirs… but all of these are removable by a human being. Simply put the drive in, click on the folder full of bonus software, and delete it, no big deal: “Thanks anyways guys, maybe next time.” But the mother of them all… is the SanDisk Cruzer. It comes with this evil U3 software that really can’t be deleted by the user. You may actually have to perform an exorcism. Cue flashback sequence.
A few years back, a friend of mine had me backup some files onto her thumbdrive. I wondered why there was a CD-ROM in her computer called U3, and assumed it was a U2 parody band or something. So, I ejected the CD tray and huh? No disc. Okay, why does her computer claim it has a CD in it, when it doesn’t? I open up the “drive” and a whole pile of SanDisk security software explodes in my face. It came up with this weird software and tried to convince me that it was useful and deserved to live:
Instead of playing along, though, I decided to show it who’s boss. I popped the thing into my Linux laptop and removed it manually, like real men do. Fair enough.
I selected the Cruzer (/dev/sdb in my case, as you see in the top-right), deleted all of its partitions, and created one big new one in the filesystem of my choice. BUT THAT WAS 2 YEARS AGO.
Fast forward to today. So, now that I have Teknosophy to vent my frustrations with computers and expose customer abuses, I realized this U3 business was a great candidate for an article. So, I purchased an 8GB SanDisk Cruzer Mini from OfficeMax ($50, which is slightly too much for a thumbdrive) and brought it home. Maybe they stopped such tomfoolery, I thought. What I discovered was, in the past 2 years, U3 has gotten worse. Much worse. Sure, the usual crappy spyware and “useful” utilities are still lurking/festering on it when it comes out of the blisterpack, but now, you can’t remove it unless you ask it politely. Yes, imagine an armed home invader… who won’t go away (even if the cops shoot him up) unless you say pretty please first. Let me explain…
I first stuck the little demon into my USB port. It started popping up all sorts of spyware and malware and popups and began infesting my computer:
First, a giant window pops up and proclaims to me that without it, I won’t have a good multimedia life. It claims that it can give me games to play, Internets to browse, Multimedias to… media, and even keep me free of viruses (you know, those things that pop up and try to control your computer). I didn’t realize how incomplete my life was without SanDisk. Sounds like a government program to me… especially with its inability to go away:
The whole time it’s plugged in (and sometimes when it’s not), it sits there, hovering, lurking, scheming, spying, wasting my time and resources. Fair enough, so do most Windows programs. But then, I plugged it into my Mac…
Oh boy. It mounted itself as a thumbdrive, as well as a fake CD/DVD disk! So I opened it up:
Okay great, maybe I can delete these babies:
Now we should be able to kill that CD partition using Disk Utility:
Or maybe not (notice the U3 System disc is still there on the left):
Ah well, maybe the Mac isn’t as powerful as Linux. I then plugged it into my Linux computer to show readers how easy it was to exorcise the U3 with a special utility… but lo and behold IT WOULDN’T GO AWAY. I tried deleting the partitions using the Gparted utility… I tried removing the stupid little hidden files… IT WOULD NOT BUDGE. Here it is on my Linux deskop staring at me, taunting me:
This reminded me of the point in every Zombie movie where your best friend turns on you and tries to eat you. EVEN LINUX loaded the super-secret U3 partition. It didn’t understand how to produce the menus and hovering icons, but it still loaded the evil “fake CDROM drive” and at that point the challenge became greater. So, back to Windows for me. Deleting its partition the manly way required another utility, Computer Management. I first ejected the fake CD:
Then I right-clicked on the U3 drive and formatted:
All Kosher now, right? So I pull out the drive… oh wait!
IT COMES BACK. NO MATTER WHAT I DO. IT WILL NOT GO AWAY. I was about 5 seconds away from calling a Jesuit Priest. Instead, I pulled the drive out, and reluctantly re-inserted the U3 thumbdrive. Up came its little hovercraft:
Up spewed its main menu. I clicked Settings, Launchpad Settings:
Then clicked the U3 Uninstall:
And off it went. It can preserve any files you have stored on it (takes a bit longer), but I decided to just have it wipe itself clean. [EDIT: IT LIES. It says it will preserve the files you had on there, but DO NOT TRUST IT. Copy the contents to your hard drive BEFORE initiating the removal process. I failed to back it up when doing this for a customer, and it PERMANENTLY DESTROYED all of his files during the process.] It still took quite a while, and when it was done… WHOA. IT FROZE UP the whole computer until I unplugged it:
Wow. Now Windows flips out and my computer throws itself down a staircase. No problem, though. I pop the drive back in, and LUCKILY it removed ENOUGH of the poison that I could get the rest out myself, back in Computer Management land:
And it began working as a normal freakin’ thumbdrive. I still had to delete some U3Recover.exe file from the drive, but from then on it behaved itself. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men, couldn’t get rid of the U3 menace. I had to ask it politely to leave on its own terms. I think we can all learn a few lessons from this:
1: SanDisk is evil. All kidding aside, I really hate the fact that this industry is FILLED with idiotic companies run by idiotic people programming idiotic software that does idiotic things AND THEY DON’T EVEN REALIZE IT. Guess what, SanDisk, NOT EVERYONE HARDLY ANYONE wants your stupid software and NOT EVERYONE uses Windows, so NOT EVERYONE can remove your retarded malware. (Nice “Made for Linux” logo on the back of your packaging. Talk about lying through your teeth.)
2: I apologize for my curt and unrefined writing style this week, and I promise you a more positive article next time. I hope, however, that this article conveyed the speechless and frustrated stupor in which I found myself. As you can see, I’m not the only victim: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/243608-32-remove-smart-software-sandisk-flash-drive
3: Maybe I’m just overlooking something here. I bet there’s some tiny command-line Unix utility from the 1970s that would allow me to edit the drive bit-by-bit… maybe that’d do it. I don’t feel like messing with it anymore, and more importantly, it shouldn’t be the consumer’s problem.
4: NEVER BUY SANDISK PRODUCTS, EVER. Until I say so. This isn’t a fluke, folks. This is something they’ve been putting on their products for YEARS now. This is something their marketing Bobbleheads consider a valuable asset, a differentiator, a proprietary technological edge on the competition. They should all be fired and replaced with salt-water fish. At least those are pleasant to look at.
Well folks, that’s all for me. I’m going to go take a bath in Holy Water and try to calm down. Until next week, I’m your host…
(Thanks to Dustin for the hilariously accurate Photoshopping.)