Microsoft has finally removed a function from earlier versions of its Windows operating system that has been widely abused by miscreants to surreptitiously install malware on users' computers.
The feature, known as AutoRun, allows Windows machines to automatically execute certain programs - such as media players or installers - as soon as CDs, flash drive,s and other types of media are connected. While that saves users the hassle of having to open a folder and doubleclick on a file, it also makes it easy for criminals to spread malicious payloads.
On Friday, Microsoft announced the availability of updates to the XP, Server 2003, Vista and Server 2008 versions of Windows that removes the AutoRun popup window when some types of removable media is connected. The change doesn't affect optical media such as CDs and DVDs, a shortcoming we'll get to in a moment.
The company made similar changes in April when it introduced Release Candidate 1 of Windows 7. Microsoft said at the time the move was designed to thwart the spread of worms such as Conficker, which has proved especially adept at self-replicating by exploiting the weakness.
As we pointed out then, the move is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't go far enough. That's because certain types of removable drives - those made by U3, for instance - run firmware that advertises the device to Windows as a CD. Such drives will continue to automatically execute the AutoRun routine as soon as they're plugged in.