My students bring in their schoolwork on USB flash drives at our computer camp and I want to set up the WIndows 8.1 systems in the lab to scan the drives once plugged in. How can I set that up?
You are right to be concerned: having people plug in USB flash drives with unknown files is a prime vector for malware making it onto your computer or one of the computers in the lab, so I’d be anxious too! When an infection spreads through something like this, it can be impossible for the person to realize they’ve just done something wrong, so if it does happen, don’t expect a child to say “Hey Miss Smith, look at this!”
Fortunately just about every decent antivirus program can be configured to automatically scan any removable drive or device before letting the system see it and execute anything on the unit, whether it’s an external hard drive, a CDROM or a lowly USB flash drive.
I run Windows Defender on my reference Win8 system, so let’s have a look at how that needs to be configured. Most other anti-virus programs should be quite similar…
First off, when I plug in a USB thumb drive, here’s what I see on screen:
Click on it and you’ll see there are three main options:
Disappointingly, there’s no “scan for malware” option here, where I’d like to see it appear. But it might be happening in the background anyway. Click on “Open folder to view files” and let’s have a look:
Not much of interest in SHUTTLE (E:) but the bigger question is did the anti-virus scan this drive and its contents before adding them to the desktop?
Turns out that’s not an easy question to answer because unless it’s full of files, the scan can happen without anything being displayed on the screen. Instead, go into your anti-virus and look at its settings.
For Windows Defender, the main screen looks like this:
Still no indication. Okay, fine. Click on “Settings”…
Let’s zoom in, because option #2 is pretty darn important:
So that’s it. Make sure that’s checked in Windows Defender (or the equivalent on your anti-virus program of choice) and every time one of your students plugs in a USB flash drive, it’ll automatically be scanned for viruses and other malware before it even shows up on the Desktop. And good luck!