Pen Drive Blues: (1) Unsafe Release, (2) Files Don’t Open …

· USB (Pen Drive) Problems

Our title may seem strange: Why didn’t we write two separate articles?  Simple.  We have discovered that depending on the operating system in use, the root of the difficulty was one and the same.  It may not be the solution to the problem you are looking for, but this is a solution we did not find on the Internet (which means that perhaps the wrong search terms were used, or that the information is buried deep within the search engine), so we are sharing this with the public.


Problem One


You want to unplug the flash drive from the computer, but you receive the message that it is unsafe to do so, that you need to stop some program from using it first.  The problem is that no program, to the best of your knowledge, can be using the drive.  Your available options are: unplug – with risk of data loss; wait forever; or shut down the computer – a good idea perhaps, but not appreciated at some Internet Cafés, which is where the present writer had the difficulty.  Operating system is use there: Windows Vista Ultimate, 32-bit.


The difficulty exhibits itself in various ways: not at all – half the time; as above, the other half; and with a recommendation to scan for errors before using, as a consequence of risking the “unsafe action”.  The result is usually that no errors were found.  What a relief!  One time there was a supposed recovery of files into a folder, which in the end, did not exist.


Skip “Problem Two” if the above describes your situation correctly.


Problem Two


You want to do one of various things with the pen drive, including something from the following list, yet it is not possible. The list should not be considered exhaustive.


Copy, with the result that there is a message that the parameters are wrong.

Open a text file: but it shows itself as empty, even though in “Properties”, you see that it has so many bytes or kilobytes; (rarely, megabytes) of information.

Open a web page, with your browser set to view off-line; but you receive a message that you must be on-line – and you know this to be false!

Open an image file.

Open a pdf file – impossible – nothing happens.


Yet, some files work: in our case, we could open those with the .doc extension.


After the recent failure of our old 2004 model desktop with Windows XP Professional, we moved over to an even older XP portable model, a defective gift (in that the DVD doesn’t work) which still lets us get on with our task of writing articles.


It contained a little program, the type I had used on rare occasions, so rarely – that, as a non-PC expert, I forget about its potential.


It unlocks busy programs – well – not to be tried on those that should be occupied!


The Solution


The beauty of this program, the “Unblocker”, and probably of others like it, was that it identified the blocked program.  This becomes immediately applicable to what we have labelled as “Problem One”.


Skip this, and the following paragraph if you want, but we will explain how we got into this mess.  About three years ago, we could not go to our regular Internet Café, so we went to another.  One of the computers “hijacked” our pen-drive even alter we had used best practices, by running an anti-virus scan before plugging it in, something we always do.  As soon as the USB drive was inserted, we were given the command to restart the computer, which would have defeated the purpose of the anti-virus scan in the first place.  To make a long story short, we ended up infecting our home computer, and several other pen-drives, requiring hours of recovery of files, reformatting, etc.  It was the Pen-Drive virus, on which we have already given our own solution, on this same web site, under the name of “The Pen-drive Short-cut Virus – Solutions in Context“. We have eliminated the link as being too commercial, even if our advice is free.


Since anti-virus programs had failed to detect the problem, we opted for some kind of anti-malware program, and found three or four of these on our PC.  Some suspicious material was copied onto a pen-drive for more analysis at the Internet Café.  Not only did the traditional anti-virus programs not report any problems with what we had copied, but we had no problems with the pen-drive, as far as we can remember, until maybe the last few months.


So, what did we find?  The locked program was a URL short-cut – one of the ones we had once put into a folder named “Suspects”.



Scan of our folder with Suspected Virus files, Opened Image File of the URL text. Click to enlarge.


As of this point, I will skip details that can be found elsewhere on the Internet, or perhaps in your manuals.  You need to open a CMD (Command Prompt) Window – sometimes incorrectly still referred to as a DOS command or similar.


Go to the directory of the offending program.  Rename the file extension to .txt.  If there are spaces in the name, use quotation marks. If you want to take a risk that you will not succeed (explained below), try renaming the whole thing, it might have been even faster for me if I had done that.  In our illustration, we have not shown the original short-cut icon, just the final result, the .txt icon which everybody is familiar with.


Open the editor under CMD.  Eliminate any information which may attempt to somehow connect with any computer or URL. You could even skip this, by not opening the editor (but we wanted to know what was happening), by erasing this new text file under Windows.  What we edited is (partially) shown in the blue part of our image.


Both Problem One and Problem Two were now solved.




I was thinking of keeping the name of the web site which caused the problem, but suffice it to say – never trust offers to scan your computer for free, which pop up unexpectedly in your browser.  Someone made that mistake – and it wasn’t me.  The URL which caused the problem, had offered just such a service – its name said it all.

It need not be a URL shortcut, as explained here.  We have found a good site explaining this, and I wholeheartedly recommend reading the article linked here.  Unfortunately, information on how to create the problem abounds.

It was probably associated with the executable file in our image.  While it passed the anti-virus check, we will not be so curious as to try to decipher exactly what it does do.  It will now also be erased.


In conclusion, if you have had any of the above problems, you may have a URL which automatically tries to link – or does link – to the Internet.  Should this be the case, you need a program which can unlock and identify the problem.  Only unlocking or unblocking is not enough, unless you like to repeat the procedure every time you use the Web.  If the offending file is hidden, appropriate action must be taken under a CMD window to make it visible before it can be renamed and deleted.


Why, you might ask, didn’t we delete it directly?  Well, it might work, but first of all, we wanted to know the content of that URL.  Second, this nasty bit of work, the first time we renamed it – not quite with the same name – so perhaps you should respect the original name when living the .txt extension, changed back into its original form sometime during the renaming process and the next time I tried looking at my text  or pdf files. The problem had returned.  Not something you want!


This may not be the full solution. I still have difficulties, but not the ones described above.  The feeling exists that the pen drive is overheating, even in cold weather.  At least we had a couple of problems less.


July 8, 2018.


© Paul Karl Moeller.

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