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by Ray Carlson

Q. I think my computer got a virus from a USB flash drive. Is that possible?

A. Definitely. When you insert a USB drive or CD in the computer, the computer tries to start whatever is on the item. For example, starting the install program if it is new software or playing music or downloading pictures if you have indicated which program should do such a task. Windows does this by finding a file named “autorun.inf” on the USB or CD drive and that file directs the computer to whatever file should be opened first. A virus on an infected computer can take advantage of this feature by inserting its own autorun file on any USB drive inserted in that computer. When the drive is inserted in another computer, the autorun file opens the virus on that computer.

Conflicker or downadup is a rapidly spreading dangerous virus that uses this process as one way to spread. To avoid this risk, you can disable the autorun feature. Go to Google and type in “disable Autorun”. Google will list websites that explain the process. Find one that fits your system and your level of background in working with your computer. Once the autorun is disabled, nothing happens when you insert a USB drive or CD. As a result, you have an opportunity to check the USB drive or CD with your anti-virus program before using whatever is on it. Having the content open automatically is more convenient but much riskier.

Published: Courier 3/15/09 - Page 4C