How to open and recover shortcut files on a USB drive

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Oh, no… so you plugged your USB drive into a computer and tried to open the files inside, only to find that all files have become shortcuts leaving all of your data inaccessible?

What’s wrong? Is there a way to open the shortcut files? Or at least recover the data?

It is very likely that your storage device has been infected with some strange viruses or malware. But do not worry! You can fix the problem in few steps and restore your hidden or lost data.

This is what we will show you in this article. Just follow the step by step guide, and you should be good to go.

The culprit: virus or malware

More precisely, it can be a virus, a Trojan horse or a worm, for example the best known such as BUOUFO, QWERT, AUTORUN, etc.

There is a good chance that the virus has sneaked into your PC or storage device, or both. Note that the device we are talking about here can be a USB stick, microSD card, external drive, etc.

What the virus often does is hide your files and folders, turning them into shortcuts – usually a few kilobytes (KB), while the actual file size is several megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB ).

In rare cases, your items could be deleted by the virus and therefore disappear, unfortunately.
But most of the time, it’s often a quick fix.

Read on for the solution!

What you might need:

  • A Windows PC;
  • The infected removable storage media i.e. USB drive, memory card etc.
  • Antivirus program or malware removal software (see more below);
  • A file recovery program (see our data recovery software review).

Note: It is strongly recommended that you DO NOT proceed to the second or third step without trying the first.

Step 1: Check if your files are hidden

First, open the Command Prompt app. For Windows 10 and Windows 8.1, search for “cmd” in the taskbar and click on the best match (see screenshot). For Windows XP / Vista / 7, click Start> Run, type cmd and click OK.

Then copy this command attrib -h -r -s / s /df:*.* with Ctrl + C, right click and select to paste it.

Important: Here we are assuming your external drive is showing as F: under My Computer or This PC. Remember to replace “f” if the drive letter is different.

Now press the “Enter” key and check if the files and folders on your drive are now visible.

If so, congratulations. Otherwise, go to step 2.

Step 2: Scan and remove malicious threats

  1. Launch your security software for analysis. We recommend Bitdefender Antivirus Plus because it is one of the most powerful antivirus solutions on the market this year.
  2. Open the program and run a deep scan of your PC hard drive, as well as your external drive.
  3. We also suggest that you use Malwarebytes to check your PC for malware issues.
  4. After the scan, remove any malicious threats that your security software might find.

Now check the items on your device, see if the shortcut is now gone? If so, that’s great. Otherwise virus / malware may have deleted your files. Go to step 3.

Step 3: Recover data and format disk drive

First of all, get Stellar Windows Data Recovery and install the program on your PC. Connect your USB key (or memory card, external hard drive, etc.), then launch the Stellar Recovery program to analyze the disk drive represented by your device.

Once the scan is complete, browse the list of found items to see if your lost files are there. If so, collect them according to the instructions.

Then reformat your storage device on your PC (use Windows internal “quick format” or “full format” option), this guide has more. If you are using an SD card or Compact Flash card, you can also use a third party formatting tool called SD Memory Card Formatter. In this way your memory card will be erased, virus and shortcut issues will also be fixed accordingly.

But wait, it’s not over yet! You can now reuse the above data recovery software to rescan your device in case more files can be found and recovered.

Pro tips:

Normal disk reformatting will not immediately erase data saved on a storage device, check out the reasons we wrote this article.

Also, a third-party file recovery program like the one we recommend above is safe to use as it performs read-only operations and therefore will not write additional data to your disk.

That concludes this article. Hope the step by step guide helped you to remove the annoying hidden file problem, or at least you have restored your precious data.

Let us know if you have any questions during the process. Leave a comment below. We will be happy to help you.

Thanks Megha for submitting this issue.

“All files and folders became shortcuts on my 500GB external hard drive once it was connected to my Windows 7 computer and I tried to view some items. It happened all of a sudden. It’s really annoying that almost 200 GB of data is now inaccessible with a size of around 1 to 2 KB. How could this happen? Please help me. I am ready to destroy the disk as long as the data can be recovered. “

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