Use This Free Windows Program To Verify Which of Your Memory Cards Are Fake

If you purchase memory cards or USB flash drives online, there is a growing risk that they might be counterfeit. Here's how you can test the authenticity of your storage devices in a matter of a few clicks.

The majority of photographers rely on digital storage in some shape or form, whether it's for memory cards used in cameras or USB drives delivered to clients. Unfortunately, there's a market out there flooded with counterfeit products that manipulate firmware to misrepresent their storage capacity. In practical terms, this means that a seemingly normal 1 TB drive could, in reality, have only 64 GB of storage capacity on it.

This issue is the subject of a video by technologist Joseph Thio where he provides an in-depth look at the minefield of counterfeit digital storage. The video begins with Thio explaining how these devices have been programmed to deceive the operating system, making it appear as if they have more capacity than they actually do. While this is not only inconvenient, it can also prove highly problematic as these fake drives can give the impression that your precious data has correctly been stored on these external storage devices when in reality, it hasn't. Thio visually demonstrates this issue, showcasing how the drive either fails to accept new files or overwrites existing data. Both scenarios would be disastrous for photographers who store, transfer, or deliver critical files.

The good news is that there are programs available to distinguish between authentic and counterfeit drives. Thio highlights a free Windows tool called Validrive by Gibson Research in his video, which looks really easy to use. For those unfamiliar with such tools, they essentially write data to the suspected drive to determine if its capacity matches the advertised claims. The video walks through the entire process of scanning, validating, and analyzing these storage devices, along with what to interpret from the scan results.

The alarming fact is that many of these counterfeit memory cards and USB flash drives were purchased from well-known platforms like Amazon and eBay, which photographers often rely on for their equipment purchases. The unfortunate truth is that we need to suspect everything we have is potentially fake until we have the chance to test their true capacity ourselves. The alternative is potential data loss, which is obviously a photographer's worst nightmare.

Have you ever encountered a counterfeit USB drive or memory card during your endeavors? Are you aware of any similar programs to address this issue? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Paul Parker's picture

Paul Parker is a commercial and fine art photographer. On the rare occasion he's not doing photography he loves being outdoors, people watching, and writing awkward "About Me" statements on websites...

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That app does not tell you if a device is counterfeit. It only tells you if the stated capacity is inaccurate. A counterfeit 1TB device could have 1TB of storage. Likewise, a genuine device could have defective components and not provide the stated storage. Counterfeit means the device is fraudulently labelled as a brand name that is not the real manufacturer. You'd need to break open the storage and examine the internals in many cases to know for sure.

In many cases, even breaking open a card may not provide a full picture. Many NAND packages targeted at SD cards and various other cards, will lack internal markings, and many will look similar. For example, it is not uncommon to see many 64GBGB cards look identically to the 128GB cards from the same brand. Often since they are using NAND from the same wafer for a wide range of capacities, e.g., depending on the number of defects, a 256GB+ die may get binned down to 128GB, 64GB and 32GB.

So far the areas where counterfeiters cannot fake things, is in sustained performance. None have been able to maintain stable performance while retaining data integrity. The current standard for fakes where they get the packaging to look the same as the genuine stuff they always tend to design them around around looking okay under Crystal Disk Mark, as well as ATTO disk benchmark, but nothing sustained, thus someone can get a fake card and be fooled on initial tests, and only discover issues when they find that their camera has random errors when attempting to record at a high bit rate.

Detecting counterfeit cards is more tricky, especially if the capacity is correct. The reason is that the serials hardware IDs of genuine cards can be cloned. They can even use pSLC cache to fake some initial performance to fool smprograms like crystal disk mark. The area they they cannot fake is sustained performance from 0 to 100% fill since that requires actual good NAND and a decent controller, and trying to fake that will only lead to corrupt data that is easy to spot since programs that verify capacity simply look for corrupt data when the advertised capacity is filled.
For example, I verified that my sandisk extreme pro micro SD card was genuine as it passed a capacity check and maintained performance. Many fakes will slow down after a short while.