The flash drive is a smart invention and provides good assistance for users. You can just bring along your compact flash drive around for any data/file transferring – fast, easy and convenient. Having said that, users must also be aware that the flash drive is a potential breeding ground for viruses.

It all boils down to a simple text file called: autorun.inf with a simple script like “[autorun] open=virus.exe icon=virus.ico”. “Open” is the command to execute the file upon having the drive detected by Windows while “icon” is optional and is merely to give an “icon” to the drive letter the USB drive resides on. It is quite easy for virus to infect an executable file especially the viruses which reside in the flash drives while being executed.

The situation is even worse when sometimes you are attacked by a new worm that can take advantage of this security flaw and copies itself to the root directory of the USB flash drive, thence automatically creates an autorun.inf file to further spread itself. Of course this threat does not only affect the USB flash drive but also other devices with a flash storage and a USB cable, e.g. mobile phone, PDA, etc.

img_powertoys.gifThere are a few ways to overcome this problem. A tried-and-tested remedy that dates back to Windows 9x is to simply hold down the Shift key every time you insert a USB flash drive. But how often you can remember to do this step? Of course you can try Tweak UI under Microsoft’s Power Toy section. Tweak UI gives you access to a number of setting that are hidden away in Windows XP default user interface, including mouse settings, Explorer settings, taskbar settings, and more. In this context, it allows you to enable /disable Autoplay for CD/DVD and removable drives by just unchecking the check boxes.

Alternatively, just delete autorun.inf from USB drive to prevent it from starting automatically.

Another solution that is most practical, of course, is installing an up-to-date anti-virus. You can also protect your flash drive by enabling write-protect on it. But this will defeat the purpose of having a USB flash drive as you can only copy files out and not in.

There are also purpose-built program to block USB or removable drives from running program automatically, such as Autorun Eater, USB Firewall, and USB Defender.