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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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Backdoor (1): A program that surreptitiously allows access to a computer's resources (files, network connections, configuration information, etc) via a network connection is known as a backdoor or remote access trojan. Note that such functionality is often included in legitimate software designed and intended to allow such access. For example, software that allows remote administration of workstations on a company network, or that allows helpdesk staff to 'take over' a machine to remotely demonstrate how a user can achieve some desired result, are genuinely useful tools (and even desirable in many settings). The difference between backdoors or remote access Trojans and remote administration tools is that the latter are designed into a system and installed and used with the knowledge and support of the system administrator's and the other support staff they involve. Remote access trojans generally consist of two parts; a client component and a server component. In order for the trojan to function as a backdoor, the server component needs to be installed on the victim's machine. This may be accomplished by disguising the program in such a way as to entice victims into running it. It could masquerade as another program altogether (such as a game or a patch), or it could be packaged with a hacked, legitimate program that installs the trojan when the host program is executed. Once the server file has been installed on a victims machine, often accompanied by changes to the registry to ensure that the trojan is reactivated whenever the machine is restarted, the program opens a port so that the hacker can connect. The hacker can then utilize the trojan via this connection to issue commands to the victim's computer. Some remote access trojans even provide a message system, where the hacker is notified every time their victim logs onto the Internet.

Here's an abbreviated list of things that a hacker can accomplish while controlling a victim's computer via a backdoor:

  • Upload/download files
  • Make changes to the registry
  • Delete files
  • Steal passwords and other confidential information
  • Log keystrokes
  • Rename files
  • Display images or message boxes
  • Disable the keyboard or mouse
  • Hide the taskbar, start button or desktop icons
  • Shutdown the computer or reboot the computer
  • Print
  • Run applications or terminate the currently running applications
  • Detect and initialize capture devices such as web cams or microphones
  • Disable antivirus or firewall software
  • Start an FTP server on the victim's machine that could make it accessible to other unauthorized intruders

Backdoor (2): The term ‘backdoor’ is also frequently used as a synonym for a method for accessing a computer system or application that its maintainers or users are usually not aware of. Normally the term is used when the presence of this 'feature' is a secret. Such a feature whose presence is widely known - even if some arcane access method needs to be known to use it and remains a closely guarded secret - is unlikely to be referred to as a 'backdoor' unless its existence was uncovered by chance. Such surreptitious access mechanisms may be included by the developers without the knowledge of the system or application designer, or may be designed-in but kept from the customers or end users. This meaning of backdoor is of little immediate interest or relevance in the antivirus field.

Bait File: See the first meaning of Goat File.

Bimorphic Virus: An encrypted virus that has two forms of the decryption code, usually randomly selecting between them when writing its decrypter to a new replicant. (See Polymorphic Virus for more details; also see Oligomorphic Virus.)

Binder: A tool that combines two or more files into a single file, usually for the purpose of hiding one of them. A binder compiles the list of files that you select into one host file, which you can rename. A host file is a simple custom compiled program that will decompress and launch the source programs. When you start the host, the embedded files in it are automatically decompressed and launched. When a trojan is bound with Notepad, for instance, the result will appear to be Notepad, and appear to run like Notepad, but the Trojan will also be run.

BIOS: Basic Input/Output System. The program in a PC providing the lowest level of interface with the hardware. A PC's BIOS is also responsible for initiating the operating system bootstrap process by loading the boot sector of a diskette or the master boot record of a hard drive and passing control to it. Under CPM, DOS and Windows 3.x, BIOS interfaces to the hardware were paramount to the proper operation of the machine. Specialized hardware that standard BIOSes were not written to recognize and handle had to either include a BIOS extension on its adaptor card or provide device drivers allowing access to the device (or both) if they were to be used other than by proprietary software written to their hardware interface. More advanced OSes for the PC - such as the various Unixes written for it, NT, Linux, Windows 95 and so on - only depend on the BIOS for its OS bootstrapping function, providing their own (or vendor-supplied) protected mode drivers for all the hardware devices they can use. (Windows 9x allows a degree of real mode compatibility so it can be used on older machines with 'odd' hardware that is not supported by native drivers, but there are performance overheads.) Traditionally, the BIOS was supplied in a ROM chip plugged into a socket on the PC's mainboard. This arrangement allowed for the replacement of the BIOS, should that ever be necessary to accommodate new hardware requirements (or to supply bug fixes). More recently it has become standard practice to supply the BIOS in a flash memory (or flash ROM) chip, allowing updates to be written directly to the chip via software. The BIOS should not be confused with the CMOS storage area that is used to store BIOS and mainboard configuration options and data.

Boot Code: The program recorded in a boot sector is known as boot code. Boot sectors usually contain boot code because these small programs have the job of starting to load a PC's operating system once the BIOS completes its POST checks, although some types of boot sector seldom, if ever, contain boot code. Good examples of boot sectors that do not normally contain boot code are those at the head of extended partitions - under DOS and Windows OSes, such partitions cannot be made bootable so those OSes usually only place a partition table (which they do require) in such boot sectors. Thus, the system boot sectors of diskettes and partitions (logical drives) on hard drives, and the MBRs of hard drives, normally all contain boot code of some kind. It is this code, or at least the room reserved for it, that boot viruses target. Once the BIOS completes its hardware checks, it simply reads the appropriate boot sector (depending on which device it is set to boot from first and whether that device is ready) without doing any 'sanity checking' on its contents.

Boot Infector: See Boot Sector Infector.

Boot Record: The program recorded in the Boot Sector. All floppies have a boot record, whether or not the disk is actually bootable. Whenever you start or reset your computer with a disk in the A: drive, DOS reads the boot record from that diskette. If a boot virus has infected the floppy, the computer first reads the virus code (because the boot virus placed its code in the boot sector), then jumps to whatever sector the virus tells the drive to read, where the virus has stored the original boot record.

Boot Sector: A generic term encompassing system boot sectors and master boot records. Technically, this means the first logical sector of any drive (what DOS or Windows would consider to be sector 1 of that drive) and the MBR (sector 0,0,1 in CHS notation) of hard drives. As floppy disks do not have partitions, the logical drive and physical drive map sector for sector and their first logical sector is also 0,0,1. On hard drives, there is a boot sector for each logical drive (or partition, such as C: and D:) plus one for the MBR. (The 'root' entries of any extended partitions may or may not be counted - if so, the total number of boot sectors is higher than the preceding description suggests, with the final count depending on the number and nesting of extended partitions.) Most boot sectors contain boot code, which (under DOS and Windows) is usually created by FORMAT or SYS if the boot code is in a system boot sector, or by FDISK if in the master boot record of a hard drive. Sometimes the term 'boot sector' is ambiguously used to also refer to only the boot sectors of logical drives. This usage is avoided as far as possible in this glossary and the rarely used term 'system boot sector' used when this distinction needs to be made.

Boot Sector Infector: Every logical drive, both hard disk and floppy, contains a boot sector. This is true even of disks that are not bootable. These boot sectors usually contain specific information relating to the formatting of the disk (see BPB) and a small program - the boot code (which starts loading the system files of the active OS on that drive). The boot code is what displays the 'Non-system Disk or Disk Error' message familiar to those who have left a 'non-bootable' diskette in the A: drive of a PC when it booted. As well as these system boot sectors, hard drives also have a special boot sector known as a master boot sector or master boot record. As the boot code is a program, it can also be infected by a computer virus. Boot sector infections normally start from leaving an infected diskette in a PC's floppy drive and rebooting the machine. When the viral boot code is read from the boot sector and executed, the virus copies itself to a 'safe' place in memory, hooks disk I/O functions, infects the hard drive and remains resident, lying in wait for uninfected boot sectors to present themselves (these will usually be on diskettes accessed in the floppy drives). The safe memory location used by most boot viruses (and many file infectors too) is at the 'top of memory'. Brain - the first PC virus - was also the first PC boot sector infector. Although Brain was limited to diskette boot sectors, most boot viruses since typically infect the system boot sectors of floppy disks and the MBRs of hard drives. Perhaps the main advantage of this strategy is that the virus' code will always be the first to run, whichever drive type is booted from. Stoned was the first virus to implement this and in many ways remains the classic example of the technique. A few boot viruses, such as Form (which is perhaps most notable for its perseverance), infect the system boot sectors of both diskettes and hard drives. Some multipartite viruses have boot sector components that only infect MBRs while others have boot sector parts that only infect diskette or hard drive system boot sectors. Boot viruses can be polymorphic (for example, the boot component of the complexly multipartite Win95/Fono, can employ stealth techniques (Brain and many more since), and use many of the other techniques from the usual arsenal of virus tricks. In the early history of virus development, boot infectors were most commonly responsible for actual infections and featured prominently in the WildList. This was because of the high incidence of diskette sharing, that being by far the most common method of transferring data before connecting PCs to LANs and WANs became popular. Multipartite viruses with diskette boot sector components were the next most common viruses at that time, with Junkie probably being the best-known and most prevalent example. Straight file infectors barely showed in the WildList in those days. These patterns were entirely overturned as macro viruses embedded in documents became common and network (and particularly Internet) connectivity increased.

Boot Virus: A virus that infects boot sectors.

BPB: BIOS Parameter Block. A data table in the system boot sector of all FAT format logical drives, containing information about the formatting of the drive. This includes details such as the number tracks, the number of sectors per track, the size of the sectors and the number of sectors per logical cluster, which are critical to reading the drive properly.

BHO: Browser Helper Object. A component that Internet Explorer will load whenever it starts, shares IE's memory context, can perform any action on the available windows and modules. A BHO can detect events, create windows to display additional information on a viewed page, monitor messages and actions. Microsoft calls it "a spy we send to infiltrate the browser's land." BHOs are not stopped by personal firewalls, because they are seen by the firewall as your browser itself. Some exploits of this technology search all pages you view in IE and replace banner advertisements with other ads. Some monitor and report on your actions. Some change your home page.

BSI: Boot Sector Infector.

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