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Security fix in Windows 7 may negatively impact computer accessibility for all Windows users

Posted May 09 2009 10:09pm 1 Comment
I’ve known about the following matter for almost two weeks, but have taken a wait and see attitude about writing it up here, to see if anything came out about it on the assistive technology front. I know the subject has trickled out some in A T circles, but I have still yet not heard anything mentioned anywhere about the impact of this change on accessibility products such as screen readers that run off portable, USB thumb drives.

Also, one has to wonder how will the use of Serotek’s wonderful, U3 Smart drive accessibility tool, System Access Mobile, be impacted?

The information I’m worried about is from the Technet blog Security Research & Defense, which touts itself as, “Information from Microsoft about vulnerabilities, mitigations and workarounds, active attacks, security research, tools and guidance,” so I give it some credibility. The subject is a new security fix in the latest release candidate of Windows 7, in a post titled
AutoRun changes in Windows 7

In a nutshell, the post cites that the Conficker virus, and other types of malware, have been spreading via the autorun function in Microsoft Windows. To remedy this from occurring, they have instituted a security fix in Windows 7 that will no longer allow the autorun function to come up when USB devices are plugged in.

That wouldn’t bother me, except that this includes thumb drives that give portability to screen readers and allow users to use virtually any computer. The post does share the difference in autorun and autoplay, which makes sense, but it is pretty clear that this will keep the latest version of Windows from running portable applications from a jump drive, but still allow them to run when launched from a CD or DVD.

And, if you’re sitting there grinning, saying that you just won’t upgrade to Windows 7, the post also states that this fix will be made available to Windows Vista and XP as well. I don’t see how we’re going to avoid this change. I don’t know when this will happen, but figure it will come as one of those Windows automatic updates.

I’m not a total geek, so some of the language in the article is not always clear to me. It does raise the issue of U3 smart drives, which I use in training students on using System Access, but I’m not totally clear how that will be affected. I’m happy to append this post with more information if anybody would care to enlighten me.

I know that there are other options, such as System Access’s ability to burn a CD to run the program, but I have liked the portability of just popping in a thumb drive.

I’ve been using thumb drives for access for a couple of years for my own use when away from home. When training, I’ve actually begun to carry around three drives in my pocket. On one, I have System Access; on another, I have JAWS, which I use with a couple of students; and, on my most recent addition, I’ve got NVDA, the open source, screen reading program, which I demo as a free alternative.

I hope I’m not coming across as some Chicken Little on this subject. Its just that I know there are many applications which run on thumb drives, including many assistive technology programs and I’m just trying to either get some answers or discussion going on a matter that I’m afraid is going to negatively impact computer accessibility for many.
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