Military Bans USB Drives, Should You?
The lowly USB drive made headlines again when the military issued an order to ban the use of USB drives and other removable media that can transfer data from a computer to a portable device. Military personnel who violate the order face court-martial.
USB drives may also have been used to deliver the Stuxnet infection to the controlling computer system at the Iraqi nuclear facility and a virus to a Spanair network that led to a fatal plane crash in 2008.
But you don't have to be a military installation or a corporate giant to be the target of a USB-enabled attack. USB malware has been found in public computers, photo kiosks, personal computers and promotional USBs.
If you want to use a USB drive and you don't know where it's been or are suspicious of its contents for any reason, follow these steps to protect your computer.
Turn off Windows' autorun function. AutoRun was designed to automatically launch programs from removable media, a convenience most of the time, but in the case of an unknown USB, it could be dangerous.
How to disable AutoRun
Hold down the shift key with one hand and then insert the USB drive. Holding down the shift key will temporarily disable autorun. You won't see the familiar dialogue box asking if you'd like to open files. Click the start button and open "Computer" to see a list of drives including the USB drive. Right click on the USB drive and select your antivirus program to run a scan of the drive. If it clears the scan, proceed with opening files on the USB drive. If not, remove it and transfer files you want to use to a clean drive or, safer yet, make new copies from your computer and use a new drive.
Turn off autorun long term
You may want to disable autorun altogether, so that you can scan external devices each time. While there are several ways to do this, you may prefer the Microsoft Fix it route over burrowing into your computer's system files. Type this address into your browser: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/967715, scroll down the page until you see two boxes with the Microsoft handyman in them. Click on "Disable Auturun,” Microsoft Fix it 50471.
You will see an alert at the bottom of this window. Choose "Save." The file has been downloaded, but you'll have to click it to run it. Once it has finished, restart the computer for the change to take effect. If manually opening and running files becomes too cumbersome, you can reverse the process to reenable Autorun. Return to the Microsoft Support page. Use Microsoft Fix it 50475.
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