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May the source be with you, but remember the KISS principle ;-)
Skepticism and critical thinking is not panacea, but can help to understand the world better
Copyright: Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov 1994-2013. Unpublished notes. Version 0.80.October, 2013
Contents : Foreword : Ch01 : Ch02 : Ch03 : Ch04 : Ch05 : Ch06 : Ch07 : Ch08 : Ch09 : Ch10 : Ch11 : Ch12 : Ch13
The preoccupation with computer "hacking"
is a way for physically unattractive males
to enter the mainstream of society.
There is general law that the more particular organism is adapted to particular environment, the more sensitive it is to even slightest changes of this environment. This law holds for malware and is exploration of its action in historical context is one of the reasons of writing this book. Change of environment is often deadly for malware. Like any highly specialized organism it is very sensitive to slightest changes in OS or in case they use TCP/IP network configuration.
Proliferation on Windows-based malware (like DOS viruses in the past) is to a certain extent a byproduct of Microsoft’s dominance in personal computers. MS-DOS, the first mass produced operating system for the first mass produced computer, is amazingly virus friendly. Essentially each new generation of computers leads to the creation and widespread adoption) of certain new types of programs. Here, Microsoft certainly made a significant contribution and it’s not accidental that among several new widespread programs that came to light, due to the PC revolution, were computer viruses.
Similarity the mass penetration of Windows created a new base for malware and such types of malware as spyware and extortionware parasite on a huge, multimillion mass of entry-level users with Windows-based computers.
At the same time Microsoft platform provides users with unique advantages and opportunities and malware problem are to certain externalities of popularity and power of the dominant platform. In reality the cost of AV protection is a part of the cost of the ownership of the Microsoft platform that should be viewed as such..
One interesting problem here is how to make Windows PC more resistant to malware without relying of signature updates from Microsoft or other anti-malware vendors. Not the Microsoft Security Essentials are bad: it is free and well tested malware scanner, but there should be other, better ways to protect PC. This problem of making DOS and later Windows immune to malware infections (or at least particular, prevalent now) infections is the main research interest of the author in this field. The author worked on it on and off since late 1988, so almost 25 years.
We can define several types of computer science research problems connected with "inreseing the immunity" of the Windows to malware.
The analyses of penetration mechanisms and propagation methods of malware (vulnerability points). In early days of malware (the world of DOS boot viruses and file viruses) DOS can be immunized to a particular file virus by running a small resident program which faked the mechanism by which the file virus checks its presence on the computer to avoid multiple infections of the same PC.
Simple changes in environent often block the ability of virfus
to propogate. For example in case of DOS it was critical fo viruses to infect
DOS utilities as there were the most frequntly used programs on the computer.
They all have system attribute set and in order to infect the file it should
first be cleared, file infected and the attribute reset again, Simple
enhancement of this system attribute via a resident program make any executable
with this attribute immune to the viruses. Similarly just moving Web browser
to other platform, for example Linux and accessing it via program like VNC makes
Windows now much more resistant to a typical malware attack via rogue web sites
that are conveniently provided to us by search engines like Google.
Quick methods of parcial reverse engineering of malware source.
This is basically a branch of
reverse engineering and
includes the disassembly and reverse translation of the source code. In the
old days viruses were really small, tiny programs. For example most sucessful
file viruses were under 2K of size. And despite the fact that virus writers
often used special methods to make disassembly more difficult it was relativly
easy to get some understanding of how virus works at least to the point at which
it is tested its own presence in the OS (to avoid double infection) which is
enogh for creating of the vassine against this virus. Later virus authors became
more sophisicated and dynamically encrypted parts of the body of
the virus with only a small sliding window decrypted at any given moment of
virus execution. This made regula disassembler useless and the only way to see
the actual code was debuggung program. The problem of disassembling programs
is often considered to be a "gray area" that borders on piracy. But in fighting
malware it has an undisputable justification and value. Moreover, in case of
malware the notion of copyright is seriously twisted if not reversed at all.
Of course the volume of information about malware and antiviral programs is well beyond the capabilities of any single person. So despite the fact that the author checked all the facts, one needs to access information provided critically. It can and probably does contain errors.
This is an introductory book, but not a "for dummies" book. This book presupposes some level of understanding of the malware problem, assembler language and operating system and applications used by malware. It is partially based on my Russian language book Computer Virology that was published in 1991, but I am too lazy to translate all this old material and this book is considerably shorter and more superficial that the old one. Some new types of malware that were not existent in 1991 were added but it is amusing to see how the development of Windows malware repeats the path of DOS malware on a new technological level. One interesting nuance is that there is some government interest in using malware as a cyber weapon, the development that started probably around 1996-1998.
Again those chapters are actually pretty raw unpublished notes and should be treated as such.
Still due to the lack of objective/skeptical information about anti-malware protection I feel that it make sense to put on the WEB my notes "as is". I just hope that some provided information and, especially, the angle of attacking the problem might be useful.
Dr. Nikolai Bezroukov
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