Be safer than NASA: Disable autorun

A worm has infected machines on the International Space Station. But a few simple precautions likely could have prevented it.

NASA confirmed this week that a computer on the International Space Station is infected with a virus. (See "Houston, we have a virus" at The Register.)

The malicious software is called W32.TGammima.AG, and technically it's a worm. The interesting point, other than how NASA could let this happen, is the way the worm spreads--on USB flash drives.

Randy Abrams, director of technical education at ESET, alerted me about this. Touching on both interesting points, he said:

To start with, no computer going into space should have autorun enabled. Simply disabling autorun would have almost certainly rendered the worm inert. Given that age of the worm, and its low risk ranking, it is probable that current (antivirus) software was not being used either.
NASA

Malicious software spread by USB flash drives and other removable media takes advantage of a questionable design decision by Microsoft. Windows is very happy to run a program automatically when a USB flash drive is inserted into a PC. How convenient, both for end users and for bad guys.

Abrams blogged about this back in December, and I wrote about it in March. In that posting, I described how to disable autorun for Windows XP and Windows 2000 and I just revised it to include Vista.

In his December blog, Abrams writes, "Fundamentally, there are two types of readers here. The first type will disable autorun and be more secure. The second type will eventually be victims."

Don't be a victim, disable autorun (also known as autoplay) for all devices. It may be a bit inconvenient going forward, but to me, the added safety is well worthwhile.

See a summary of all my Defensive Computing postings.

About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

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