Want Cheap SSD Storage for Your Photos? Be Careful What You Buy

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screenshot by way of Motherboard

In the era of digital photography, it’s absurdly easy for us to fill our memory cards to the brim with lots of easily taken shots. This then sometimes translates over to our computers too, with internal and external hard drives quickly filling up with thousands of shots that you can’t quite bring yourself to delete because just in case…..

Basically, it can be a problem, and stumbling across affordably priced storage is a quick solution that many photographers jump at grabbing. Sometimes, however, the price and specs for offers are just too good to be true, even from normally reliable sources.

This is what happened recently with a set of super-cheap SSD drives being sold by none other than Walmart.

Until earlier this week, the online and offline retailing mega-corporation was offering a seemingly incredible deal in which a portable external SSD was available in storage sizes ranging from 500GB to a whopping 30 terabytes at prices that started for as little as $18. Remember, this is supposed to be SSD technology we’re talking about, which always costs much more than HDD storage.

Anyhow, as reported by the Motherboard tech site of Vice.com, the SSD drives physically looked like products copied from Samsung’s usually expensive compact SSD storage drives, but at absurdly low prices and much higher storage capacities. Something definitely smelled fishy for anyone paying attention.

To give an idea of how much this type of drive media typically costs, Samsung’s admittedly premium SSDs usually retail at about $230 for a 2 terabyte unit. One of the Walmart-sold units with the same capacity was going for just $22. Yep, definitely suspicious.

One security researcher with the Twitter handle Ray[Redacted] soon noted that the Walmart SSDs were the same as those he’d analyzed from an AliExpress deal he’d seen in which similar-looking SSD drives were selling for just $29 with a claimed 30TB capacity. As it turned out, both deals were for the same devices.

Naturally enough, the security researcher had ordered one of the drives from AliExpress and to his surprise, it looked more legitimate than he’d expected when it was delivered.

However, after prying open one of the drives to see its innards, the predictable scam at the heart of this wholesale charade was revealed: The “30TB SSD drive” contained a simple circuit board with two small SD cards glued onto it. What’s more, when plugged in, the drive was programmed to report 30TB of storage despite those little memory cards being far from capable of it.

Photo credit: Ray[Redacted]

The scam itself is quite old, and semi-fake drives designed this way work by secretly deleting older files as new ones are added in excess of their real (and much lower) storage capacity. In this case, the drive maker also underhanded potential users by only delivering USB 2.0 connectivity, which allows transfers at 60 MB/s instead of the 1,050 MB/s offered by a genuine high-end SSD storage device like the Samsung models mentioned above.

The most remarkable thing about this whole scam isn’t even most of these dirty device details. Instead, it’s that Walmart, a company famous for supposedly squeezing and vetting its suppliers, ended up selling the same devices. Considering how much media attention this whole reveal has generated, the cost to the retail giant’s product reputation hasn’t been minor.

As it turns out, Walmart’s online retail portal operates similarly to Amazon’s in a crucial way: third-party sellers can register to sell through it and have their products advertised on the Walmart site as if they belong to the retailer itself, though they’re sourced from outside its internal controls.

Amazon has already caught lots of flak for this same practice and the inevitable waves of low-quality fake product offerings generated on the Amazon site. Fewer people expected the same from Walmart though.

Once Motherboard contacted Walmart about the scam SSDs, they were swiftly removed by the retailer. It’s also worth noting that items sold in Walmart’s physical stores are much more strictly vetted before reaching shelves. Nonetheless, for people (photographers included) who trust Walmart for basic electronics and storage media, this kind of thing is worrying.

Shotkit Journalist, Writer & Reviewer

Stephan Jukic is a technology and photography journalist and experimental photographer who spends his time living in both Canada and Mexico. He loves cross-cultural street photo exploration and creating fine art photo compositions.

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