Microsoft’s Changes AutoRun and AutoPlay in Windows Features

What are AutoRun and AutoPlay?

When Microsoft was coming out with its previous Windows releases before Windows 7 this year, the AutoRun and AutoPlay features were a small but powerful little application that were intended to allow more ease for the user when using optical and external drives. So if you inserted a DVD into your DVD drive, a small window automatically opens up and asks you whether you want to open up the contents on the DVD. It give you options, whether you want to open files using a specific default application for that kind of file; using Windows Explorer to search for files; or if you didn’t want to take any action at all.

The advantages of AutoRun and AutoPlay are that, first, it allows the user to have automatic access to the program defaulted to open up files in the DVD or thumb drive. Second, it also allows the user to opt to browse files using Windows Explorer before opening anything else up. Third it just makes it easier than having to search for an application or program first to open up any files on your PC. Let’s face it, a small window that magically appears to help you isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world.

The Disadvantages of AutoRun and AutoPlay

With the increased cybercrime online though, even this small and nifty app has been used for evil. Now if you bring in files to your PC from external sources, they pose a threat through the AutoRun and AutoPlay functions. Malware developers have discovered that they can send malicious code, like the infamous Conficker/Downadup worm, into your system using AutoRun or AutoPlay. So when an AutoPlay window pops from a compromised source, two functions to open folders may pop up, one where the publisher is not specified and clicking on this will allow the malware to enter your system.

Microsoft’s Solution

Because of vulnerabilities like this, Microsoft took the first step earlier this year to disable AutoRun and AutoPlay by releasing its KB971029 security update which is downloadable online and manually installed. Once installed, only CD and DVD drives can use the AutoRun function. The only disadvantage of disabling AutoRun and AutoPlay functions is now you have to go the long way of opening files by browsing the specific applications and programs you need to use to open up files on a USB stick. Some SanDisk Cruzers emulate CD drives similar to other U3 software and may be able to use the AutoRun function, but otherwise, you’ll have to open most of your files manually from now on.

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