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Network Chico security terms glossary

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Welcome to the Network Chico computer security terms glossary.

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Macro Virus: Macro viruses consist of instructions in Word Basic, Visual Basic for Applications and other application macro languages. They often reside in documents or other file types that are traditionally thought of as 'just data', and although that is not critical to determining whether something is a macro virus or not, it has been a crucial factor in the relative success of certain kinds of macro viruses. Another factor contributing to the success of macro viruses in the popular Microsoft Office application suite and related products (such as Microsoft Project) is that not only can the document files of these applications carry macro code, those macros can automatically run when certain basic events (such as opening and closing documents) occur and/or when the user expects that standard functions within the application should occur (such as selecting the Save item from the File menu). While few users tend to think of 'documents' as capable of being infected, any application which supports document-bound macros that automatically execute or usurp standard application functions is a potentially welcoming platform for macro viruses. By the late 1990s, documents had become much more widely shared than diskettes (assisted by the extensive adoption of networking technologies and particularly Internet e-mail) and document-based viruses dominated prevalence statistics. This seems likely to continue for the early years of the 21st century.

Mail Bomber: Software that will flood a victim's inbox with hundreds or thousands of pieces of mail. Such mail generally does not correctly reveal its source.

Malware: Malicious software. A catch-all term for 'programs that do bad or unwanted things'. Generally, viruses, worms and Trojans will all be classed as malware, but several other types of programs may also be included under the term. One example of a good use for the term is where the best classification of a program as a worm or a virus may be unclear, you could still refer to it as 'a piece of malware'.

Mass Mailer: A virus that distributes itself via e-mail to multiple addressees at once is known as a mass mailer. Probably the first mass mailer was the CHRISTMA EXEC worm of December 1987 (and a couple of copycats in succeeding years), but the technique then all but disappeared until the Melissa outbreak of 1999. There have, however, been many mass mailers since Melissa. An important distinction between mass mailers and slow mailers, at least in terms of threat assessment, is the scale or rate at which they send infective messages. In sending a large number of messages (and hence copies of themselves) at once, mass mailers aim to achieve rapid, widespread distribution. Presumably their writers hope enough recipients of these messages will be lulled into running the attachments (or simply opening the messages in the case of HTML-embedded script viruses) to ensure the virus' distribution outstrips spread of news about the outbreak and/or updates to virus scanners and other countermeasures. With the apparently ever-growing number of people on the Internet through the late 1990s, there was a continuous supply of fresh, very naive, inexperienced users to be fooled into double-clicking what they should not. Through the use of 'obvious' social engineering tricks, viruses such as VBS/VBSWG.J had a fair shot at their fifteen minutes of fame. Mass mailers often have the '@mm' suffix to their names, making the additional threat they may pose readily identifiable to the informed. Mass mailers are often referred to as 'worms', but this usage is not entirely accepted, and as 'e-mail worms' (perhaps to distinguish them from 'real worms').

Master Boot Record: The boot sector at the beginning of a hard drive (sector location 0,0,1 in CHS notation) is known as the master boot sector or, more commonly, the master boot record. Boot code in this disk sector is loaded by the BIOS, should it attempt to boot from the hard drive. Normally, the MBR's boot code checks the MBR's partition table to determine which partition to load an OS from. It then loads the contents of the boot partition's system boot sector (the first sector in the partition) and transfers control to that load location. This should be the beginning of the boot code of that partition and it is up to that code to 'know' how to boot the OS on that partition. The master boot record is usually referred to as such or as the MBR, sometimes as the master boot sector (or MBS) and occasionally, but incorrectly, as the partition table (which is actually just a part of the contents of the MBR). Normally the master boot record of a DOS or Windows machine is created when partitioning the drive with FDISK, although all manner of third-party partitioning and boot management tools may also write to the partition table and/or the MBR's boot code. Because the MBR contains a program (the boot code) it can be infected by a suitably crafted virus. The details of this are covered in more detail in the Boot Sector Infector item.

Master Boot Record Infector: A virus that infects master boot records. In reality, a virus that only infected MBRs would not be very successful because its chances of replicating would be very limited as new hard drives are seldom added to systems. Its chances of spreading would be even more limited as it is even rarer for hard drives to be moved from machine to machine. MBR infectors usually also infect other boot sectors (particularly those on diskettes) or are multipartite, infecting program files and MBRs (and possibly other boot sectors as well). For a detailed consideration of general boot sector infection issues, see the Boot Sector Infector item.

Master Boot Sector: See Master Boot Record.

MBR: Master Boot Record.

MBS: Master Boot Sector is a synonym for Master Boot Record.

Middle Infector: This is not a widely used term, but generally refers to an entry point obscuring (EPO) virus. Due to design considerations in some scanners, some non-EPO viruses are referred to as middle infectors and may require special handling.

Misc: Anything (other than a document) not in another category, perhaps because it falls into multiple categories, such as a tool suite.

Multipartite Virus: A virus that infects two or more different target types is generally referred to as a multipartite virus. Early multipartite viruses infected boot sectors and DOS executables, but more esoteric combinations have been seen.

Multiple Cavity Infector: An extension of the cavity infection technique, a multiple cavity infector is able to break its code into two or more pieces, placing each piece in a suitable-sized 'hole' in the infection target. As with the standard cavity infection technique, this has the advantage of not increasing the size of the target, but adds the flexibility of infecting files that do not have a single 'hole' large enough for the virus' entire code. This is a very rare infection technique and made famous by the first multiple cavity virus - CIH (although Commander_Bomber can lay claim to using much the same technique, it made its own cavities, moving pieces of the original executable image around to accommodate slivers of its code).

Mutex: MUTual EXclusion object. Mutex is a program object that allows multiple threads to share the same resource. Any thread that needs the resource must lock the mutex from other threads while it is using the resource. The mutex is unlocked when it is no longer needed or the thread is terminated. The difference between mutex and semaphore is that a mutex is owned by the thread which locked it (that is, only the process which locked the mutex can unlock it). Whereas a semaphore can be changed by another thread or process.

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