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Home / Hardware / How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick

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You’ve finished work for the day. The only thing left to do is stick the files onto a USB flash drive. Then you get this message: “The disk is write protected. Remove the write protection or use another disk.” You immediately pull your hair out. This is your USB stick; you should be able to read, write, and do whatever you want with it!

Okay, you didn’t pull your hair out. You stayed nice and calm. But you definitely need to get your USB drive fixed. Luckily, we’ve got a few simple steps to fix write protection on a USB drive. It’s just technology. We can fix it.

1. Check the USB Drive for Viruses

Every time you plug a USB drive into your computer, you should be automatically scanning it for viruses — especially if you have used it on a computer that you don’t own, or a public computer. Viruses often act in a manner that will fill your USB drive with nonsense files and this can make your USB drive respond with the Write Protected error.

Depending on your antivirus software, you may be able to configure it to automatically scan a USB drive when first plugged in. If not, you can navigate to the USB drive in Windows Explorer, right-click, and force a manual antivirus scan.

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick Scan USB Windows Defender

If you do find a virus, eliminate it using your antivirus software. At this point, I would advise performing a full system scan after updating your virus definitions. If there is one virus lurking on your USB drive, you never know what might be propagating on your main system.

2. Check the storage item for a physical lock.

Most SD cards and some USB flash drives have small levers or switches on the casing that control whether the item is writable or read-only, so look for such a lever or switch and move it if necessary.

  • Especially in the case of SD cards, physical locks often prove to be insurmountable forms of write protection until they’re disabled.
  • If your lock mechanism has been broken, you might be able to fix it.

3. Check the USB Drive Body

Normally I’d make something this simple the first step. However, I’d rather see you protected from a virus, rather than start with the simpler fixes. Some USB flash drives have a mechanical switch on them that puts them into Write Protect mode. This can be a very small slider switch which may have caught on something in your pocket or computer case.

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick USB With Physical Write Protection Switch

If this is the situation, then simply move the switch to the unlocked position and try to copy files again.

Luckily, there aren’t a lot of newly manufactured USB sticks with these locks on them anymore.

4. Check to Make Sure the Flash Drive Isn’t Full

If your USB stick is full, you may also get the Write Protect error message.

Open Windows Explorer, and browse to My PC. This gives you an overview of all drives connected to your system. Right-click your USB drive and select Properties. You’ll be presented with a delightful donut-chart (what was wrong the venerable pie-chart, Microsoft?) displaying your current drive capacity.

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick USB Drive Used Size Properties

As you can see, I’ve got room to spare. But if your USB drive is completely full, it can return a Write Protection error message.

5.Make sure that you’re using the right file system.

Windows and Mac computers use different file systems by default (Windows uses NTFS which is unsupported by Mac), and many flash drives, external hard drives, and SD cards are pre-formatted for Windows use. If you’re having trouble using your drive on a Mac computer after using it on a Windows computer, you can reformat the drive by doing the following:

  • Back up the drive’s contents to a Windows computer (formatting deletes the drive’s contents).
  • Plug the drive into your Mac.
  • Change the drive’s format to the “Mac OS Extended (Journaled)” format.

6. Is It Just That File?

Sometimes a single file can upset the balance. Perhaps one file is marked “read-only,” and refuses to be deleted from the drive. This causes an entirely different error message, but it can be off-putting, nonetheless.

Browse to your USB drive, and locate the offending file. Right-click, and select Properties. At the bottom of the panel, under Attributes, ensure Read-only is unchecked.

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick File Properties Read Only

Sometimes single filenames become corrupted. In addition, long filenames are an inherited Windows feature, ingrained in the MS-DOS architecture. The long and short of it is that if a filename exceeds 255 characters, you’re going to have a bad time.

Long File Name

7. DiskPart Command Prompt Utility

Are you familiar with the Command Prompt? Well, you’re about to familiarize yourself a little bit more. Don’t worry, it really isn’t scary, and is the next logical step in our effort to fix your USB drive.

Hit Windows Key + X, and select Command Prompt (Admin) from the menu. Type diskpart, and press Enter (1. in the below image). Next, type list disk, and press Enter. You should see a list of currently mounted disks, like so (2. in the below image):

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick Command Prompt Run DiskPart

Make sure you can see your USB drive. Mine is Disk 4. Make a note of your disk number. Now enter the following command:

select disk [your disk number]

Once selected, enter the following command:

attributes disk clear readonly

You’ve cleared any remaining read-only file attributes from the USB drive.

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick DiskPart Select Disk

8. Into the Registry We Go

If none of the previous steps have solved your Write Protection error, don’t worry. We’ve still got a few more tricks in the book. Next, we’re going to edit the Windows Registry. If you’re not comfortable editing the registry, I understand. You can skip to the next section — formatting your USB drive. If that step is a little too drastic, I’d advise giving this option a try.

Press Windows Key + R to open the Run dialogue. Type regedit and press Enter. Now, navigate to the following registry location:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\StorageDevicePolicies

Look for a key named WriteProtect.

If it exists, double-click it. This will open the Edit DWORD (32-bit) Value box. You can now set one of two values: 0 or 1. 1 means “Yes, write protect my USB storage devices.” Conversely, 0 means “No, don’t write protect my USB storage devices.” Set the value to 0, and then press OK.

9. Format the USB Drive

Warning: Make sure that you back up all the files and information from your USB drive to your computer. All data will be lost once the USB drive is formatted.

Formatting the hard drive is a last resort. However, it should make your USB drive able to be read and written to. Prior to formatting the USB drive, determine what kind of file system it already has — NTFS or FAT32. Normally the file system that it already has will be the file system that is best suited for the drive.

Open Windows Explorer, and browse to My PC. This gives you an overview of all drives connected to your system. Right-click your USB drive and select Properties.

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick Windows 10 USB Drive File System Type

Close the Properties window. Now, right-click the USB drive again, this time selecting Format. The Format window contains several customizable options, such as the aforementioned File system, the Allocation unit size, the Volume Label, and the Quick Format option.

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick Format USB Flash Drive

Change the Volume label to something memorable. As we are dealing with a potential hardware issue, uncheck the Quick Format box. That will force the format to do more than just erase files. For instance, if there is a bad sector on this USB drive, the “full” format will return an error.

Formatting won’t take long, but the larger the drive, the longer you’ll have to wait. Assuming there is no physical problem with the drive, your USB drive will be formatted, cleaned and ready to go.

10. But I’ve Got an SD Card

Luckily, the majority of the USB drive Write Protection error fixes listed work with SD cards, too.

How to Fix Write Protection Errors on a USB Stick sd cards

Unlike regular USB drives, SD cards still tend to come with a physical write protection switch. Ensure this is toggled before you panic.

11.Security Setting

If you are receiving “The disk is write protected…” errors on a computer that is owned by your company or a computer that is used by the public, the administrator of the machine may have set a security setting on the computer to prevent the ability to write files to a removable disk. You may want to talk to the administrator of the machine to gain proper access.

In some cases, you may be able to remove the setting using these steps.

  1. Hold the Windows Key while pressing “R” to bring up the “Run” dialog box.
  2. Type “regedit“, then press “Enter“.
  3. The Registry Editor opens. Navigate to the following location:
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE
    • System
    • CurrentControlSet
    • Control
    • StorageDevicePolicies
  4. Look for a value named “WriteProtect“. If it exists, delete it. If it does not exist, follow the same steps as above, but replace “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE” with “HKEY_CURRENT_USER“.

If the “WriteProtect” value does not exist in either location, this security setting may not be your issue.

The Take Away

Sometimes, the problem is simple. Sometimes, the problem is difficult. Hopefully, we’ve found you a solution, in either case. If your USB drive issues persist, it could be that something more significant is afoot. In those cases, such as a deleted Partition Table, third-party software like TestDisk can save the day.

Regardless, you’ve got a lot more troubleshooting tools in your arsenal now and should be able to get your USB drives working again, potentially saving you a tidy sum of money, and the pain of losing all of your files!

What fixed your USB drive? Did you have to format everything? Or was it something more serious? Do you have any tips to share with our readers? Let us know your USB drive fixes in the comments below!

Image Credit: niphon via Shutterstock.com

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