What should I keep firesafe on a USB stick?
August 16, 2007 12:56 PM   Subscribe

Wife and I finally got a proper fireproof document box. We have the usual birth certificates, kids SS cards etc. But one feature of the box is it claims it will keep digital media safe for 1/2 hour at 1500ºF. I want to put a USB stick in there but I am not sure what to put on it. Any suggestions?
posted by ShawnString to Human Relations (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Credit card numbers. Scans of passports, birth certificates, SS cards, other identity documents. Online login information for various sites. Software product keys.
posted by trinity8-director at 1:12 PM on August 16, 2007

What trinity8director said. I would just add to have it all encrypted with truecrypt.
posted by sharkfu at 1:16 PM on August 16, 2007

Passwords and whatever digital pictures you have. If you have chosen to "remember me" on any website you'd be surprised how easy it is to forget a password to a site you've been visiting for years but set up using a now dead email address.

Also, if you use an email client, back up the pst or whatever file once in awhile.

I'd personally find one or two online storage mediums (gmail) and have redundancy that way, but if that's not your style try to think of what data you would try to restore first if your hard drive ate itself.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 1:16 PM on August 16, 2007

scans of your photos. Baby pics, wedding albums, all that. Whenever you see someone on TV after a fire they always mention the pictures they lost that can't be replaced.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:17 PM on August 16, 2007

If you use a Mac, it's pretty trivial to back up your "Keychain" (which contains most of your passwords, and if you use them, encryption certificates). No idea what the Windows analog is, but that would be my first thought.

If you use GPG or PGP, you need to keep a backup of your private keys, too.

Frankly with the plethora of online storage options, I'd back up most of my data to a managed facility (with the important stuff encrypted, of course) and then just keep the encryption keys on the USB key.

And backing up all your family photos, documents, and other stuff you'd hate to lose goes without saying. Although I think I'd put them onto good quality DVD+Rs instead of a USB stick; the cost-per-MB of Flash just doesn't compete yet.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:26 PM on August 16, 2007

Serial numbers of any expensive goods you have; can come in handy to give a list to police if you (god forbid) get robbed.
posted by inigo2 at 1:26 PM on August 16, 2007

private documents, passwords, etc etc. but you can come up with a much better backup solution for things like mp3s photos videos etc.
posted by ascullion at 1:41 PM on August 16, 2007

Photo documentation of the things you own, for insurance purposes. Computers, furniture, antiques, appliances, vehicles, space rockets, electric dog polishers, etc, etc.
posted by artdrectr at 1:56 PM on August 16, 2007

Whatever you are putting on the USB stick is important enough to keep a second copy offsite somewhere too.
posted by yohko at 1:56 PM on August 16, 2007

or, in the case of artdrectr's suggestion, video documentation of said electric dog polishers etc.
posted by mrmarley at 2:10 PM on August 16, 2007

Definitely any family pics - especially ones of your kids, grandparents, etc. You might also want to scan in any documentation you have regarding riders on your home owners' policy - furs, jewelry, artwork, etc. Scan in copies of receipts for large purchases, as well as photo documentation of your possessions.

Everybody thinks of birth certificates, but you might also want to consider scans of death certificates, which aren't always easy to get copies of, should the need arise (I know that I needed proof that my father wasn't living when I applied for student loans).

Assuming you already know that you SHOULD NOT keep wills, living wills, healthcare proxies, power of atty documents in a bank safe deposit bank - keep either originals or scans on your USB stick in the box.

I will readily admit that I can be a sentimental fool, but you might want to put stuff like your kids' newborn ankle bracelets, first artwork, etc. in there. Stuff like that can never be replaced.

The one thing that I *wish* we had kept (they got deleted) was all the email correspondence between me and my husband while we were courting. It's something we both overlooked, and now it's too late to go back and get any of it. Damn hotmail accts!

Kudos to you for being proactive.
posted by dancinglamb at 2:17 PM on August 16, 2007

Photos and home videos.
posted by Kololo at 2:40 PM on August 16, 2007

Medical data like pharmaceutical allergies etc.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:26 PM on August 16, 2007

For most media that you genuinely care about, it's probably wiser to store it on a secure website somewhere than on a memory stick. You should have important documents like passports, birth certificates, etc scanned into something stable and easily reachable -- I have all my visa and passport scans in gmail, for example.

I suppose passwords might be a good idea, but pretty much the only passwords I don't remember are for retarded social networking sites I signed up to in 2004.

By the way, here's an easy trick that will mean you never have to remember multiple passwords, nor run the risk of using the same password in every site you go to.

You use wrapped passwords.

For example, suppose you choose the wrap 7cw[.`km
You put the keyword for the site in the middle of the wrap, say between the [ and the .

For example, maybe metafilter becomes 7cw[.meta`km
And your bank is 7cw[.bank`km

This gives you passwords which are fairly hard to crack so long as a hacker doesn't get in the database of one of your sites and then deconstruct your wrap and go elsewhere.

But that's when you choose middles that are harder to guess but still easy for your to remember:

Metafilter: 7cw[.SLYT`km
Bank: 7cw[.mewla`km

You'd never remember
7 c w [ . m e w l a ` k m
on its own, but once you memorize 7cw[.`km as the wrapper, then all you need to do is remember what you wrapped, and now you can practically use the name of the site itself if you want to.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:22 PM on August 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

Whatever you put on the USB stick, burn it to a CD or a DVD, too, and put both in your box. Optical media may survive magnetic or electronic damage that would wreck the USB stick.
posted by gum at 5:29 PM on August 16, 2007

1500 degrees is pretty hot, but half an hour is pretty short. That stuff might not burn, but it won't be cool as a cucumber. You're just much better off storing that data on sticks in a couple of different locations outside your house, and/or, as noted, in online storage like gmail. Physical locations offsite: safe deposit box, storage unit, office file cabinet, whatever. Chances are they won't all burn at the same time.
posted by beagle at 5:46 PM on August 16, 2007

There's really no point in storing birth certificates and passports. Reproductions of these items are more or less useless. Theyre only useful if they are original and have the original seal. Its good for information purposes but staying up all night and scanning random stuff isn't the greatest idea in the world. Not to mention its a virtual goldmine to an identity thief.

Photos and digital media are good choices. Even then I wouldnt trust some usb drive to last long, especially in a fire. If its worth storing its worth duplicating. This can be as easy as taking all these items, zipping them up, and emailing to yourself. Make it a truecrypt archive and pick a good, strong, and rememberable password.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:46 PM on August 16, 2007

Serial numbers for proprietary software.
posted by pompomtom at 9:11 PM on August 16, 2007

Second dancinglamb. One of the best things you can do with a thumbdrive is scan everything -- birth certificates, SS cards, passports, driver's licenses, mortgage docs, insurance policies, investments, wills, every crucial document you own -- and store it offsite in someplace secure like a safe deposit box. That way if the bank burns down, you only have to rescan, and if the house burns down and the safe fails, boom, you've got scans of everything.

For most media that you genuinely care about, it's probably wiser to store it on a secure website somewhere than on a memory stick. You should have important documents like passports, birth certificates, etc scanned into something stable and easily reachable -- I have all my visa and passport scans in gmail, for example.

Volatility of media is certainly an issue, and I don't know enough about the volatility of flash storage to speak intelligently on the subject, but using webmail for storage of important documents, particularly a webmail service that has had numerous reports of mysteriously deleted accounts, strikes me as questionable in the extreme. You'd be better off just learning the shelf life of flash media and replacing the drive in the box as necessary. As to accessibility, simply grant access to the box to people you trust and make sure they know where to find it in the event of your death or incapacitation. It's a strategy people used for a hell of a long time before anyone thought up the internet.

If you do choose to use online storage, I'd recommend against using webmail and instead employ a professional service to store that data for you. Paid services will have better security and give you much better stability of storage. But the key here is redundancy, redundancy, redundancy.
posted by middleclasstool at 9:36 PM on August 16, 2007

Incidentally, I stored some DVD-Rs in a fire safe for a few months, and the ink I used to write on them bloomed, and the complete contents of the safe were ruined due to mold growth in the safe.

Be careful about the humidity levels in your safe, especially if you're not going to open it a lot.
posted by Caviar at 4:56 PM on August 17, 2007

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