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Disable autorun to prevent autorun malware infections

Expert Nick Lewis explains how disabling autorun prevents malware from affecting users.

Is autorun malware a security issue for organizations running legitimate software, or is it just something that affects users running pirated software? Are organizations that run legacy software susceptible to autorun malware?

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The "autorun" function was abused by malware authors shortly after its debut many years ago. It was intended to make non-hard disk drives -- particularly optical drives -- more user-friendly. When most users put a CD into their computer, they want it to automatically start playing. This same functionality allowed users to quickly install legitimate software from CD-ROMs, and later, DVDs.

However, smart malware authors began exploiting autorun. The function allowed attackers to quickly infect a system by executing a malicious file stored on portable media enabled for autorun -- such as optical discs, network drives and flash drives -- when the file is automatically executed. Today, for security reasons, most client computers have autorun disabled and require users to manually execute files on portable media, whether it's running an installer or playing a music CD. This is not limited to pirated versions of Windows, but pirated versions may be more susceptible to malware since they get security updates, but they might not get upgrades or updates with new functionality.

Old versions of Windows might not allow you to disable autorun, but current versions do (another reason to upgrade or discard legacy Windows systems). Disabling autorun on older systems could potentially affect legacy software that requires a CD in the CD-ROM drive, and require users to manually start some software installations. It's a small inconvenience for users for the sake of improved security, since autorun was abused so widely by malware.

This was last published in July 2013

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