Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Malware is software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner's informed consent. It is a portmanteau of the words malicious and software. The expression is a general term used by computer professionals to mean a variety of forms of hostile, intrusive, or annoying software or program code.
Many normal computer users are however still unfamiliar with the term, and most never use it. Instead, "computer virus" is incorrectly used in common parlance and even in the media to describe all kinds of malware, though not all malware are viruses.

Software is considered malware based on the perceived intent of the creator rather than any particular features. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, most rootkits, spyware, dishonest adware, and other malicious and unwanted software.

Malware should not be confused with defective software, that is, software which has a legitimate purpose but contains harmful bugs.

The best-known types of malware, viruses and worms, are known for the manner in which they spread, rather than any other particular behavior. The term computer virus is used for a program which has infected some executable software and which causes that software, when run, to spread the virus to other executable software. Viruses may also contain a payload which performs other actions, often malicious. A worm, on the other hand, is a program which actively transmits itself over a network to infect other computers. It too may carry a payload.
These definitions lead to the observation that a virus requires user intervention to spread, whereas a worm spreads automatically. Using this distinction, infections transmitted by email or Microsoft Word documents, which rely on the recipient opening a file or email to infect the system, would be classified as viruses rather than worms.

Some writers in the trade and popular press appear to misunderstand this distinction, and use the terms interchangeably.
Before Internet access became widespread, viruses spread on personal computers by infecting programs or the executable boot sectors of floppy disks. By inserting a copy of itself into the machine code instructions in these executables, a virus causes itself to be run whenever the program is run or the disk is booted. Early computer viruses were written for the Apple II and Macintosh, but they became more widespread with the dominance of the IBM PC and MS-DOS system. Executable-infecting viruses are dependent on users exchanging software or boot floppies, so they spread heavily in computer hobbyist circles.
With the rise of the Microsoft Windows platform in the 1990s, and the flexible macro systems of its applications, it became possible to write infectious code in the macro language of Microsoft Word and similar programs. These macro viruses infect documents and templates rather than applications, but rely on the fact that macros in a Word document are a form of executable code.
Today, worms are most commonly written for the Windows OS, although a small number are also written for Linux and Unix systems. Worms today work in the same basic way as 1988's Internet Worm: they scan the network for computers with vulnerable network services, break in to those computers, and copy themselves over. Worm outbreaks have become a cyclical plague for both home users and businesses, eclipsed recently in terms of damage by spyware
Computer Virus is a kind of malicious software written intentionally to enter a computer without the user’s permission or knowledge, with an ability to replicate itself, thus continuing to spread. Some viruses do little but replicate others can cause severe harm or adversely effect program and performance of the system. A virus should never be assumed harmless and left on a system. Most common types of viruses are mentioned below:
Resident Viruses: This type of virus is a permanent which dwells in the RAM memory. From there it can overcome and interrupt all of the operations executed by the system: corrupting files and programs that are opened, closed, copied, renamed etc.
Direct Action Viruses : The main purpose of this virus is to replicate and take action when it is executed. When a specific condition is met, the virus will go into action and infect files in the directory or folder that it is in and in directories that are specified in the AUTOEXEC.BAT file PATH. This batch file is always located in the root directory of the hard disk and carries out certain operations when the computer is booted.
Overwrite Viruses : Virus of this kind is characterized by the fact that it deletes the information contained in the files that it infects, rendering them partially or totally useless once they have been infected. The only way to clean a file infected by an overwrite virus is to delete the file completely, thus losing the original content.
Boot Virus : This type of virus affects the boot sector of a floppy or hard disk. This is a crucial part of a disk, in which information on the disk itself is stored together with a program that makes it possible to boot (start) the computer from the disk. The best way of avoiding boot viruses is to ensure that floppy disks are write-protected and never start your computer with an unknown floppy disk in the disk drive.
Macro Virus : Macro viruses infect files that are created using certain applications or programs that contain macros. These mini-programs make it possible to automate series of operations so that they are performed as a single action, thereby saving the user from having to carry them out one by one.
Directory Virus : Directory viruses change the paths that indicate the location of a file. By executing a program (file with the extension .EXE or .COM) which has been infected by a virus, you are unknowingly running the virus program, while the original file and program have been previously moved by the virus. Once infected it becomes impossible to locate the original files.
Polymorphic Virus : Polymorphic viruses encrypt or encode themselves in a different way (using different algorithms and encryption keys) every time they infect a system. This makes it impossible for anti-viruses to find them using string or signature searches (because they are different in each encryption) and also enables them to create a large number of copies of themselves.
File Infectors : This type of virus infects programs or executable files (files with an .EXE or .COM extension). When one of these programs is run, directly or indirectly, the virus is activated, producing the damaging effects it is programmed to carry out. The majority of existing viruses belong to this category, and can be classified depending on the actions that they carry out.
Companion Viruses : Companion viruses can be considered file infector viruses like resident or direct action types. They are known as companion viruses because once they get into the system they "accompany" the other files that already exist. In other words, in order to carry out their infection routines, companion viruses can wait in memory until a program is run (resident viruses) or act immediately by making copies of themselves (direct action viruses).
FAT Virus: The file allocation table or FAT is the part of a disk used to connect information and is a vital part of the normal functioning of the computer. This type of virus attack can be especially dangerous, by preventing access to certain sections of the disk where important files are stored. Damage caused can result in information losses from individual files or even entire directories.
Logic Bombs : They are not considered viruses because they do not replicate. They are not even programs in their own right but rather camouflaged segments of other programs. Their objective is to destroy data on the computer once certain conditions have been met. Logic bombs go undetected until launched, and the results can be destructive.
For a malicious program to accomplish its goals, it must be able to do so without being shut down, or deleted by the user or administrator of the computer it's running on. Concealment can also help get the malware installed in the first place. When a malicious program is disguised as something innocuous or desirable, users may be tempted to install it without knowing what it does. This is the technique of the Trojan horse or trojan.

Broadly speaking, a Trojan horse is any program that invites the user to run it, but conceals a harmful or malicious payload. The payload may take effect immediately and can lead to many undesirable effects, such as deleting all the user's files, or more commonly it may install further harmful software into the user's system to serve the creator's longer-term goals. Trojan horses known as droppers are used to start off a worm outbreak, by injecting the worm into users' local networks.I beleive i have discussed more about trojans in the previous topic.

One of the most common ways that spyware is distributed is as a Trojan horse, bundled with a piece of desirable software that the user downloads from the Internet. When the user installs the software, the spyware is installed alongside. Spyware authors who attempt to act in a legal fashion may include an end-user license agreement which states the behavior of the spyware in loose terms, and which the users are unlikely to read or understand.

Once a malicious program is installed on a system, it is often useful to the creator if it stays concealed. The same is true when a human attacker breaks into a computer directly. Techniques known as rootkits allow this concealment, by modifying the host operating system so that the malware is hidden from the user. Rootkits can prevent a malicious process from being visible in the system's list of processes, or keep its files from being read. Originally, a rootkit was a set of tools installed by a human attacker on a Unix system where the attacker had gained administrator (root) access. Today, the term is used more generally for concealment routines in a malicious program.

Some malicious programs contain routines to defend against removal: not merely to hide themselves, but to repel attempts to remove them. An early example of this behavior is recorded in the Jargon File tale of a pair of programs infesting a Xerox CP-V timesharing system:

Each ghost-job would detect the fact that the other had been killed, and would start a new copy of the recently slain program within a few milliseconds. The only way to kill both ghosts was to kill them simultaneously (very difficult) or to deliberately crash the system

Similar techniques are used by some modern malware, wherein the malware starts a number of processes which monitor one another and restart any process which is killed off by the operator.

A backdoor is a method of bypassing normal authentication procedures. Once a system has been compromised (by one of the above methods, or in some other way), one or more backdoors may be installed, in order to allow the attacker access in the future. The idea has often been suggested that computer manufacturers preinstall backdoors on their systems to provide technical support for customers, but this has never been reliably verified. Hackers typically use backdoors to secure remote access to a computer, while attempting to remain hidden from casual inspection. To install backdoors hackers may use Trojan horses, worms, or other methods.

During the 1980s and 1990s, it was usually taken for granted that malicious programs were created as a form of vandalism or prank (although some viruses were spread only to discourage users from illegal software exchange.) More recently, the greater share of malware programs have been written with a financial or profit motive in mind. This can be taken as the malware authors' choice to monetize their control over infected systems: to turn that control into a source of revenue.

Since 2003 or so, the most costly form of malware in terms of time and money spent in recovery has been the broad category known as spyware. Spyware programs are commercially produced for the purpose of gathering information about computer users, showing them pop-up ads, or altering web-browser behavior for the financial benefit of the spyware creator. For instance, some spyware programs redirect search engine results to paid advertisements. Others, often called "stealware" by the media, overwrite affiliate marketing codes so that revenue goes to the spyware creator rather than the intended recipient.

Spyware programs are sometimes installed as Trojan horses of one sort or another. They differ in that their creators present themselves openly as businesses, for instance by selling advertising space on the pop-ups created by the malware. Most such programs present the user with an end-user license agreement which purportedly protects the creator from prosecution under computer contaminant laws. However, spyware EULAs have not yet been upheld in court.

Another way that financially-motivated malware creator can profit from their infections is to directly use the infected computers to do work for the creator. Spammer viruses, such as the Sobig and Mydoom virus families, are commissioned by e-mail spam gangs. The infected computers are used as proxies to send out spam messages. The advantage to spammers of using infected computers is that they are available in large supply (thanks to the virus) and they provide anonymity, protecting the spammer from prosecution. Spammers have also used infected PCs to target anti-spam organizations with distributed denial-of-service attacks.

In order to coordinate the activity of many infected computers, attackers have used coordinating systems known as botnets. In a botnet, the malware or malbot logs in to an Internet Relay Chat channel or other chat system. The attacker can then give instructions to all the infected systems simultaneously. Botnets can also be used to push upgraded malware to the infected systems, keeping them resistant to anti-virus software or other security measures.

Lastly, it is possible for a malware creator to profit by simply stealing from the person whose computer is infected. Some malware programs install a key logger, which copies down the user's keystrokes when entering a password, credit card number, or other information that may be useful to the creator. This is then transmitted to the malware creator automatically, enabling credit card fraud and other theft. Similarly, malware may copy the CD key or password for online games, allowing the creator to steal accounts or virtual items.

Another way of stealing money from the infected PC owner is to take control of the modem and dial an expensive toll call. Dialer (or porn dialer) software dials up a premium-rate telephone number such as a U.S. "900 number" and leave the line open, charging the toll to the infected user.

Grayware (or greyware) is a general classification for applications that behave in a manner that is annoying or undesirable. Grayware encompasses spyware, adware, dialers, joke programs, remote access tools, and any other unwelcome files and programs apart from viruses that can harm the performance of computers on your network. The term has been in use since at least as early as September 2004.

Grayware refers to applications or files that are not classified as viruses or trojan horse programs, but can still negatively affect the performance of the computers on your network and introduce significant security risks to your organization. Often grayware performs a variety of undesired and threatening actions such as irritating users with pop-up windows, logging user key strokes, and exposing computer vulnerabilities to attack.

Spyware is software that installs components on a computer for the purpose of recording Web surfing habits (primarily for marketing purposes). Spyware sends this information to its author or to other interested parties when the computer is online. Spyware often downloads with items identified as 'free downloads' and does not notify the user of its existence or ask for permission to install the components. The information spyware components gather can include user keystrokes, which means that private information such as login names, passwords, and credit card numbers are vulnerable to theft. Spyware gathers data, such as account user names, passwords, credit card numbers, and other confidential information, and transmits it to third parties.

Adware is software that displays advertising banners on Web browsers such as Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox. While not categorized as malware, many users consider adware invasive. Adware programs often create unwanted effects on a system, such as annoying popup ads and the general degradation in either network connection or system performance. Adware programs are typically installed as separate programs that are bundled with certain free software. Many users inadvertently agree to installing adware by accepting the End User License Agreement (EULA) on the free software. Adware are also often installed in tandem with spyware programs. Both programs feed off of each other's functionalities - spyware programs profile users' Internet behavior, while adware programs display targeted ads that correspond to the gathered user profile.

Emerging vectors and pathways
Wikis and Blogs:
Innocuous wikis and blogs are not immune to hijacking. It has been reported that the German edition of Wikipedia has recently been used as an attempt to vector infection. Through a form of social engineering, users with ill intent have added links to web pages that contain malicious software with the claim that the web page would provide detections and remedies, when in fact it was a lure to infect.

Targeted SMTP Threats:
Targeted SMTP threats also represent an emerging attack vector through which malware is propagated. As users adapt to widespread spam attacks, cybercriminals distribute crimeware to target one specific organization or industry, often for financial gain.

Infections via "drive-by" download are spread through the Web over HTTP and FTP when resources containing spurious keywords are indexed by legitimate search engines, as well as when JavaScript is surreptitiously added to legitimate websites and advertising networks.
I belive i have covered most of the threats for home computers, in the next topic i am going to explain how to remove these types of mal wares from the infected computers....


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