USB memory sticks, thumb drives or pen drives, however you want to call them, almost all have an unfortunate issue, in that they tend to stand proud of the device they are attached to, be it a desktop or laptop computer for example. This makes them vulnerable to being snapped off accidentally which renders the data inaccessible.
With the popularity of USB memory devices being used to move or store data, more are being transported, some on chains, keyrings, or just carried in a pocket. This does however make them vulnerable to scrapes and knocks. Failure to retract the connector, or replace the cap if it has one, could also allow damage to occur, so care needs to be taken with USB memory sticks. It has also been known for other accidents to happen, such as one to fall out of a shirt pocket into water.
The most common issue that is seen is caused by the USB pen drive being accidentally snapped while still inserted into another device. This will not only break the connector and the contacts, but can also potentially damage components mounted on the circuit board. The same is true of a USB thumb drive which has suffered damage through a knock, which may cause a problem when inserting the device into the port, leading to the connector being damaged.
Should your USB memory stick fall into water, it is important that it should not be inserted into a USB port while wet. Water is a conductor, and could lead to a short circuit which may damage the components on the board, or even damage the USB port.
The flash memory used in a USB thumb drive has a certain number of read/write commands which can be issue to any memory address, so over time, they eventually start to fail. While this is a large number, some applications can potentially elevate this count at an alarming rate, which is why they should not be subjected to a defragmentation process.
Data Recovery Process
Most USB memory devices which are seen generally require the connector to be fixed, at which time it is often possible for an image of the device to be taken for data recovery. However when a circuit board snaps, it can cause a strain on the interconnections between components, or even the chips themselves, causing further damage.
Any further damage caused when the board is snapped, is usually fixed to allow access to the raw data held on the device. If the device was still in use at the time of the breakage, chips such as the internal clock may be damaged, but can usually be repaired.
Should the device still be inaccessible, the final step is to gain direct access to the memory chips. This is a complex process, as the data is stored in a proprietary manner, which requires processing before an image of the data can be created containing the device image as seen by the computer when the USB thumb drive is inserted into a computer.