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Network Chico security terms glossary

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Welcome to the Network Chico computer security terms glossary.

=P=

P2P: Any peer-to-peer file swapping program, such as Audiogalaxy, Bearshare, Blubster, E-Mule, Gnucleus, Grokster, Imesh, KaZaa, KaZaa Lite, Limewire, Morpheus, Shareaza, WinMX and Xolox. In an organization, can degrade network performance and consume vast amounts of storage. May create security issues as outsiders are granted access to internal files. Often bundled with Adware or Spyware.

Packer: A utility which compresses a file, encrypting it in the process. It adds a header that automatically expands the file in memory, when it is executed, and then transfers control to that file. Some packers can unpack without starting the packed file. Packers are ""useful"" for trojan authors as they make their work undetectable by anti-virus products.

Parasitic Virus: Parasitic viruses are those that modify some existing code resource to effect replication. The major distinction here is that companion viruses are not parasitic, and the standalone 'worms' (such the mass mailers and network creepers) tend not to be parasitic. Overwriters tend not to be considered parasitic either. Although macro virus infection necessitates the modification of document files, it has been common for macro viruses to remove pre-existing macros, making them more akin to overwriters. Thus, usually only those macro viruses with a replication method that retains (some of) the pre-existing macros from a target are considered parasitic. Some researchers consider such viruses parasitic only if macros within a module used by the virus are retained.

Partition Boot Sector: A confusing term, at best. It seems to mainly be used to mean the system boot sector of the active partition. Unfortunately, without some additional context, it seems likely this term would easily be mistaken to be a reference to the master boot sector because this houses the partition table.

Partition Table: Partition tables are a crucial part of how DOS and related operating systems understand the layout of partitions (or logical drives) on hard disks. For the sake of interoperability, most OSes that run on PCs also follow the dictates of these fundamental partition information resources.
A partition table is a 64 byte data array located at offset 1BEh of master boot records and the boot sectors of extended partitions. Each table has space for only four 16 byte partition definition entries. Each such entry records such data as the beginning and ending sector of the partition, a partition type indicator byte and whether the partition is marked 'active' (or 'bootable'). Beginning and ending sector locations are recorded in absolute CHS terms (relative to any drive geometry translation the BIOS may be set to use). As the partition table, per se, is just data it cannot be infected. Occasionally the term 'partition virus' or 'partition table virus' is seen or heard. It is a misconception and what is meant is usually a boot virus that infects MBRs.

Password Cracker: A tool to decrypt a password or password file. PestPatrol uses the term both for programs that take an algorithmic approach to cracking, as well as those that use brute force with a password cracking word list. Password crackers have legitimate uses by security administrators, who want to find weak passwords in order to change them and improve system security.

Password Cracking Word List: A list of words that a brute force password cracker can use to muscle its way into a system.

Payload: If a virus has any damaging routines (other than apparently unintended side-effects or bugs), they are known as payloads or warheads. The term is drawn by analogy with military rocket and munitions talk, where the virus is seen as the 'delivery vehicle' and the damage routine the payload or warhead. We also borrow the term trigger from this analogy.

Pervasiveness: Pervasiveness refers to a virus' potential to spread. Hence, a worm that has the ability to send itself out to a large number of victims is given a high pervasiveness rating, while a boot sector virus that spreads via 'sneakernet' (i.e. - by the manual sharing of floppy disks), is given a low pervasiveness rating. Varying pervasiveness ratings are often allocated to specific types of malware. Computer Associates uses this metric to measure a malware's potential to spread to other computers. This metric is given the second highest weight, in combination with Wild and Destructiveness metric, to calculate the overall threat assessment.

There are four levels of pervasiveness that can be allocated to a virus in the Encyclopedia:

None

This rating is given to trojans, hoaxes and in some cases, viruses that may not function as intended (and fail to replicate). Trojans and hoaxes must be maliciously or otherwise sent to potential victims. They do not have the ability to self-replicate; and generally appear in the encyclopedia with a pervasiveness rating of 'N/A' (i.e. - this characteristic is not applicable).

Examples include Win32.Butano, W97M/MadCow.A:intended and the Good Times hoax.

Please Note: 'N/A' may also used in encyclopedia entries where a virus' pervasiveness rating is unavailable.

Low

This rating is often given to 'traditional viruses'. This type encompasses the majority of macro viruses and boot sector viruses. These viruses have the capacity to replicate by themselves and require no further human intervention to spread from file to file in an infected PC. However, in order to spread from PC to PC, they hide in floppy disk boot sectors and office files such as documents and spreadsheets that may be shared among users. The limitation that they must be manually sent out or shared in order to infect other PCs, means that they will generally be given a 'low' pervasiveness rating.

Examples of such viruses include W97M/Bablas.A, WM/Concept.A and Michelangelo.

Medium

This rating is given to viruses, such as mailers (or slow mailers) that use one or more of the following techniques for distribution:

    • Send only one 'infected' message at a time
    • Occasionally send small batches of infected messages (for example, sends itself out to the first 10 addresses in the Microsoft Outlook address book)
    • The virus may have the capacity to spread out to many users, but utilizes a very specific channel (such as IRC) which will limit its potential for distribution
    • Runs its distribution mechanism only once (as opposed to, say, each time the PC is started)
    • Has the ability to spread to large numbers of users at one time, but the infection process is so obvious to even the most naive of users, that it will rarely run without being interrupted

Examples from our encyclopedia include Win32.Funso, Win32.SQL and Win32.Annoying

High

This rating is given to viruses that can distribute themselves with either great speed or, from a virus writer's perspective- success. This category of pervasiveness is often given to worms and mass-mailing viruses. Malware with a high pervasiveness rating often use one or more of the following techniques:

    • Utilizes more than one method of distribution (say by sending itself to all addresses in the Outlook address book, and by spreading through open network shares)
    • Performs its distribution process repeatedly (every time the PC is rebooted or at a specific time every day)
    • Performs its distribution process in a way that is completely hidden from the user and therefore more likely to run repeatedly without being detected
    • Uses 'social engineering' tricks successfully to prompt users to run infected attachments
    • Exploits either one or more vulnerabilities in widely distributed software applications (for example - Microsoft Windows)

Examples from the encyclopedia include Win32.Nimda.A, Win32.Badtrans.29020, VBS.ILoveYou.A and W97M/Melissa.A.

Phreaking Tool: Any executable that assists in hacking the phone system, such as by using a sound card to imitate various audible tones.

POC: See Proof of Concept.

Polymorphic Virus: In a sense, polymorphic viruses were an extension of the simpler idea of encrypted viruses. Although the replicants of encrypted viruses vary, they can still be detected (albeit imprecisely identified) by simple string scanning because they have a constant decryptor. The development of polymorphism was an attempt to overcome that shortcoming of encrypted viruses. The simplest approach to not having a constant decryptor was for the virus writer to produce several implementations of the decryption algorithm and slot just one of those forms into the small unencrypted area of each replicant. A very similar method was to have several different encryptor/decryptor pairs, randomly selecting among them at infection time. The very simplest form of this approach employs just two forms of the decryption code or two encryption/decryption pairs and thus is sometimes referred to as bimorphism. More complex variations on this approach involve more than two forms, but still a number fixed by the fact that the code for each decryptor or encrypt/decryptor pair is present in the virus' code. Whale was the first example of this approach, carrying 30 encryptor/decryptor pairs in its code. Aside from adding some overhead to analyzing the virus, such approaches were still not difficult for scanners to deal with - all the scanner developers had to do was add a scan string for each decryptor. True polymorphism, however, requires more complexity than simply selecting from a group of constant encryptor/decryptor pairs. Viruses in the V2Px family were the first truly polymorphic viruses, employing such techniques as inserting a variable number of 'do nothing' or 'noise' instructions between the 'viral' instructions, interchanging equivalent but different instructions, and swapping code blocks where the order of execution of the blocks was not important to the overall effect of the code. Such code permutations could be applied to all of a virus' code or just to the decryption routine of an encrypting virus. One of the most sophisticated forms of polymorphism at the time, in some ways setting the standard against which subsequent polymorphs were judged, was the 'Mutation Engine' (or MtE). It was distributed in the form of an object module which could be linked to the code of a virus body (the code responsible for replication), making that virus polymorphic. More recently, polymorphic viruses have 'benefited' from the advance of 32-bit computing, with some polymorphic engines theoretically capable of reproducing their host virus into 4 billion different forms. Scanning technology has obviously had to evolve well past simple string scanning to deal with such complexity while not labeling every other 'innocent' executable a virus too.

Popularity: Describes the existing or potential frequency of exploitation of the vulnerability. For example:

  • 1, 2, 3 Not Popular: Exploit techniques for the particular vulnerability are not widely known, detailed knowledge of vulnerable systems must be known, or circumstances under which the attack may be successfully exploited are very rare
  • 4, 5, 6, 7 Semi-Popular: Exploit techniques are fairly well known, and the circumstances under which the attack may be successfully exploited are somewhat common
  • 8, 9, 10 Very Popular: Exploit techniques are well known, and the circumstances under which the attack may occur are very common

Port Scanner: In hacker reconnaissance, a port scan attempts to connect to all 65536 ports on a machine in order to see if anybody is listening on those ports. Ports scans are not illegal in many places, in part because they don't actually compromise the system, in part because they can easily be spoofed, so it is hard to prove guilt, and in part because virtually any machine on the Internet can be induced to scan another machine. Many people think that port scanning is an overt hostile act and should be made illegal. An attacker will often sweep thousands (or millions) of machines rather than a single machine looking for any system that might be vulnerable. Port scans are always automated through tools called Port Scanners.

POST: Power On Self Test. When a PC is powered up or restarted, the first thing the BIOS does is perform some basic tests for the existence and/or functionality of various hardware components (e.g. whether there is enough RAM to run the rest of the BIOS code, whether there is functional display adaptor with text-mode capabilities, etc). Should any of these tests fail, the BIOS simply beeps to indicate the error, and stops - the machine just freezes. The number of beeps describes which of the sub-system tests failed. Unfortunately, there is no explicit standard between manufacturers (and even between models) for these error codes, so you need to contact technical support or the manufacturers web site to obtain this information.

Prepender: A virus that inserts a copy of its code at the beginning of the code of its victim file is known as a prepender or prepending virus. (c.f. Appender, Cavity Infector, Companion Virus, Overwriter)

Probe Tool: A tool that explores another system, looking for vulnerabilities. While these can be used by security managers, wishing to shore up their security, the tools are as likely used by attackers to evaluate where to start an attack. An example is an NT Security Scanner.

Proof of Concept: A term broadly applied to mean the first implementation of an idea that had previously only been discussed as a theoretical possibility or concept. In antivirus circles it is commonly used to describe a virus that is the first to infect a given platform or implement a given infection technique. Employed thus, it often has a pejorative connotation, particularly if used in a phrase such as 'It is just a proof of concept' which usually means the virus is very simplistic and possibly quite obvious or buggy (or both), and thus unlikely to pose a real-world threat itself.

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