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What is a Memory Card Lock And Why You Should be Aware of it

Memory cards or SD cards are one of the best forms of storage available today. They are lightweight, compact, and compatible with a plenitude of devices; unlike other storage media, SD cards are very economical. Almost everyone has used a memory card or an SD card, but only some notice the lock that it comes with. If you have ever received a message saying that your SD card is “locked,” this guide will help you understand exactly what that means and how to deal with it.

What is an SD Card Lock?

A little physical switch can prevent write operations from being performed on the card. So when the SD card is locked, it becomes read-only, i.e., you can neither delete nor change any existing files nor add new files.

By enabling the lock on your card, you can prevent the accidental modification or deletion of the videos, pictures, and other data that’s on that card. The lock also eliminates the risk of accidentally formatting the memory card, which would result in complete data loss.

What does this lock look like? It’s a tiny switch (slider) that is located on the side of the card and can be moved in the back (locked) and forth (unlocked) positions. This switch is really small – if you have large-ish fingers, it might be hard to take hold of the switch and move it with the pad of your finger. However, in that case, you can use your fingernail to move it easily.

Where is the SD Card Lock Located?

Look at the front of the card (the side with the label). You’ll see the switch/lock on its left side. If you move this switch toward the bottom of the label (i.e., the bottom of the card), the lock will be enabled. 

If you’re looking at the card from its back, where the electrical components are facing your direction and position toward the top of the card, the locked position will be down (closest to the bottom and away from the contacts). You will unlock the card by moving the switch toward the top of the label (or toward the top of the card). 

How to Tell if My SD Card is Locked?

Usually, it’s easy to tell if the card is locked or write-protected once you have it in your hand. As we explained above, you can use the position of the small locking switch on the left side to determine if the card is locked or not. For example, sliding it upward unlocked the card, and if it’s switched down, that means it’s locked.

But sometimes, it is not that simple. For example, maybe the switch has broken, or it’s stuck in an android device, and you can’t access it. Don’t worry; there is a solution: you can determine the unlock position by trying to alter a file on that SD card. For example, if the card is in a camera or a mobile device, try to take a picture and save it. If you can, try to delete it. If you could do this, the card is most likely unlocked. If you can’t, the lock tab is on.

There are many reasons why an SD card can get locked without you realizing it:

  • The file system may have been corrupted, so you can’t access the card anymore.
  • The friction from using and carrying around the card may move this switch.
  • You might have changed some files or folder access permissions on your computer or set your card’s status to Read-Only.
  • You may have chosen the wrong option in your camera’s menu, so write-protection “lock” may have been enabled

As long as your SD card is not physically damaged, you can easily unlock it.

How to Unlock SD Card

There are several ways to unlock an SD card:

Via the Physical Switch

This is the easiest way to unlock or lock a card, but it only works with SD cards with a physical lock switch – not all cards do. Take the write-protected SD card out of the device it’s in, then flip the switch (located on the side) into the unlocked position, which is usually up.  

Via the Command Prompt (CMD)

If the write protection is on and there is no physical switch on the card, and you’re using a Windows operating system, you can use CMD to unlock it. CMD can be used to recover lost data from hard drives, both for external drives and local disks. Here’s how:

Step 1: Connect the SD card to a computer (it should be recognizable)

Step 2: Press Windows + X on the keyboard; a pop-up menu will appear. Select the “Windows PowerShell (Admin)” option

Step 3: Type these command lines in turn:

  • diskpart
  • list disk
  • select disk # (# means the number of your memory card from the list disk command).
  • attributes disk clear read-only.
  • Don’t forget to press “Enter” after typing each command line to execute it.

Via the Camera Settings

Your SD memory card in the camera is locked, and you don’t have access to a computer. In such a case, you may be able to unlock it through the camera because most cameras are equipped with built-in protection to prevent accidental deletion. Each brand’s steps will be different, but you can do this through your camera’s settings. Just go into the settings and turn off any “video protection” or “photo-protection” settings, then test the card to see if it worked.

Via the Registry Editor

This is a slightly more advanced method to unlock the SD card, but it might be your only option if you still need to be ready to format the card. Unfortunately, this option is only available on Windows, and a word of caution: be very careful when making any changes to your Registry Editor, or it can cause significant issues.

Step 1: In the search box on your taskbar, type “regedit.” Select “Registry Editor”

Step 2: Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE/SYSTEM/CurrentControlSet/Control/StorageDevicePolicies

Step 3: Double-click  “Write Protect” and set the value to 0. Press OK. This will remove write access protection. If you can’t see Write Protect, right-click on the Storage Device Policies folder and click New > Dword to create it.

Once you are done, try to remove the card and connect it again.

Via Formatting

If none of the above solutions have worked, you may have to format the card. This will delete everything you have stored on the card, but it will unlock it. So, it’s recommended to back up your data before proceeding with the formatting. Even though SD cards are amazingly resilient (even in water), they can still be prone to other types of damage. Also, they are super small, so it’s easy to lose or misplace them.  

For those wondering if backing up the files from a locked SD card is possible, yes, it is. First, connect your card to your computer using the SD card slot or a card reader. Then open the card and select all of the files that you want to back up. Press Ctrl + C or right-click and select Copy. Next, navigate to the destination folder where you want to store the backups. This could be on an external storage device or your computer. Press Ctrl + V or right-click and select Paste.

Once you have backed up the files:

  • Open File Explorer and right-click on the card. Click “Format.”
  • Choose your parameters. Click Restore Device Defaults if you are not sure. Quick Format should be enabled. Finally, click Start.

Since you have hopefully backed-up all your card data to a hard drive, feel free to wipe (format) the card completely clean. We can’t stress enough the importance of making backups before you format the card because data recovery (to recover lost files) in these cases is generally impossible. So now you can start fresh and maximize your storage space.

What Happens if I Film While My SD Card is Locked?

If the card is locked while you are using the camera, it means the camera won’t have any “writing” access. In other words, you won’t be able to save any new pictures/videos or make any changes to the existing pictures/videos. In addition, most cameras display an error message informing the user that their memory card is locked. This is to warn you that regardless of how many photos you take, the camera will not save any of them.

You can’t save anything new onto a locked memory card, but you can still see all of the old stored photos.  Remember, viewing images does not require the camera to process any new data, so the card displays whatever information is already stored in it.  

This can be a salient option if you want to check out or show all of your amazing pictures/videos to someone without worrying about accidentally deleting anything.  Even if someone tries to delete, format, or change any files on the SD card, it won’t work until you unlock it.

Do MicroSD Cards Have a Card Lock Switch?

No, they don’t. MicroSD cards are smaller than regular SD cards, which might be why they are not designed with a physical lock switch. Even if manufacturers could put the switch on the side, it would be tough to use, and force unlock may even cause the card to break. That being said, microSD cards have a locking mechanism inside their adapters.

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These cards are rated up to 1920 TBW2 and are available in capacities from 1GB to 512GIf you have any questions about SD cards or you need help choosing the right one, we will be happy to help. You can also contact us if you need the assistance of a data recovery engineer to recover data from a damaged or corrupted SD card. You can call our team at 714-460-9800 or send us a message online.

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