I am sure you are familiar with CD’s or DVD’s that execute automatically. Just insert a disc into your system and watch it “automagically” start running. Windows is set up to immediately scan removable media such as discs or USB flash drives, determine the type of content they contain, and respond accordingly.
Initially, all types of content default to “Ask Me Every Time”. In other words, every time you insert a music CD, AutoPlay will take a look at it and prompt you for what action to take. Do you want to play the music with Windows Media Player? Do you want to open the folder to view the files using Windows Explorer? Do you want to take no action whatsoever and just get rid of the pop-up box? You can choose any of those options, and you can also click the little box that says “Always do this for audio CD’s”.
It seems like a reasonable enough feature, something to make your life a little simpler by automating how Windows treats different types of content. Playing music CD’s or viewing movie DVD’s automatically in Windows Media Player rather than prompting you for an action to take may make sense to a lot of people.
There are a couple down sides to this Windows feature though. First of all, once you click the box and instruct Windows to always do “XYZ” for that type of content, it will always do “XYZ” for that type of content. If you then insert an audio CD because you want to rip a song from it, or you want to examine the files contained on the CD itself, you will first have to stop it from playing and exit out of the Windows Media Player you asked it to start. The “always do this” function can be turned off, but it requires more digging. In Windows Vista, you can go to the Control Panel and click AutoPlay to configure the various content options.
The other down side is that you are creating a potential security risk. One of the AutoPlay settings is for Software and Games. You can set this feature to automatically install or run the program. Again, at face value that may sound like a convenience and a reasonable feature to enable. However, if you happen to insert a CD or USB flash drive containing malware, and your AutoPlay function is set to automatically execute or install the software, you have granted Windows carte blanche to run the malware and compromise your system.
In an enterprise domain this can be a very serious concern. You can turn off this functionality through Group Policy. Go to Computer Configuration – Administrative Templates – Windows Components – AutoPlay Policies, and enable the “Default behavior for AutoRun” policy. Then, set the default to “Do not execute any autorun commands”. You should also enable the “Turn off AutoPlay” policy and set the default to “All drives”.
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