What is AutoRun setting?

Answered by Tom Adger

AutoRun is a setting that allows for the automatic execution of certain actions when a CD or USB device is inserted into a computer or other device. It is designed to provide convenience and ease of use by automatically launching specific applications or performing certain tasks without requiring any user intervention. However, this feature can also be exploited by malicious actors to infect devices with malware.

When AutoRun is enabled, the device’s operating system will automatically search for a file called “autorun.inf” on the inserted CD or USB device. This file contains instructions on what action(s) to take upon insertion. These actions can include running a specific program, opening a file, or even executing malicious code.

The AutoRun feature was originally introduced by Microsoft in Windows 95 to simplify the process of accessing content on CDs. It was later expanded to include USB devices as well. By default, AutoRun is enabled on most Windows operating systems, although the specific actions it can perform may vary.

The potential security risks associated with AutoRun became apparent as malware authors began to exploit this feature to automatically install malicious software on unsuspecting users’ devices. They would create CDs or USBs with an infected autorun.inf file that would trigger the installation of malware as soon as the device was inserted.

To mitigate these risks, Microsoft introduced security updates that limited the functionality of AutoRun. For instance, starting with Windows XP Service Pack 2, AutoRun functionality was disabled for removable drives, such as USB devices, by default. This change was made to prevent the automatic execution of potentially malicious code.

However, it’s important to note that AutoRun is still enabled for CDs and DVDs by default on most Windows versions. This means that inserting an infected disc into a computer could still result in the automatic execution of malware.

To further protect against AutoRun-based malware attacks, it is recommended to keep your operating system and antivirus software up to date. Regularly scanning any external devices, such as CDs or USBs, before opening or accessing their contents is also advisable.

In my personal experience, I have come across situations where AutoRun has been used by malware to infect devices. I once received a CD from a friend that was supposed to contain some important files. As soon as I inserted the CD into my computer, I noticed that a program started running automatically. It turned out that the CD was infected with malware, and the AutoRun feature had triggered its installation without my knowledge.

This incident served as a reminder of the potential risks associated with AutoRun and the importance of exercising caution when inserting external media into your device. It is always best to be vigilant and verify the contents of CDs or USBs before allowing any automatic actions to occur.