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Network Chico security terms glossary

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Search the security terms glossary:

Welcome to the Network Chico computer security terms glossary.


Search Hijacker: Any software that resets your browser's settings to point to other sites when you perform a search. Hijacks may reroute your info and address requests through an unseen site, capturing that info. In such hijacks, your browser may behave normally, but be slower. Search results when such a hijacker is running will sometimes differ from non-hijacked results.

Simplicity: The amount of effort required to exploit a vulnerability. Some attacks against systems can be more difficult to exploit than others. Some exploits merely require inputting a command string, while others involve compiling code and executing the resulting program under an explicit set of conditions. For example:

  • 1, 2, 3 Complex: Detailed computer security knowledge and experience is required, and exploit techniques are difficult to obtain or execute
  • 4, 5, 6, 7 Simple: General computer security knowledge is required, and exploit techniques are easily obtained and executed
  • 8, 9, 10 Extremely Simple: Unskilled attackers can easily obtain and execute exploit techniques. Typically, compiled binaries or GUI exploit tools are readily available

Slack Space: In more general usage, slack space is the disk space 'wasted' by the difference between a file's real size and the minimum storage unit of the file system storing it. For example, on a FAT32 file system under Windows 9x, disk cluster size may be 4KB (4096 bytes). What this means is that regardless of their actual sizes, all files from 1 to 4096 bytes will remove 4096 bytes of free disk space from the drive as the file system cannot allocate drive space in units smaller than a cluster. Thus, if you created ten one byte files, despite having only stored ten bytes of data, you will have used 40960 bytes of disk space. In a sense this is a waste of 40950 bytes of disk space, which is said to be 'slack space'. (There are solutions to this 'problem' of wasting disk space, such as sub-block allocation methods and the like, and these are employed in more advanced file systems.) An important thing to be aware of is that few popular operating systems overwrite this unused space between the end of a file and the end of the last cluster the file occupies. Thus, pieces of 'inert' virus code can be found in various kinds of 'slack space'. Whilst this is unlikely to be seen when scanning files, such code may be detected in memory and incorrectly reported as an active infection once the contents of (cluster-sized) disk buffers are copied elsewhere (see Ghost Positive for an example with boot sectors). There are, however, other kinds of slack space that can be of more significance to virus writers. For example, the internal format of Win32 portable executables (the PE format) is section based, with files consisting of a header and one or more sections containing code, data resources and the like. Each section, including the header, is 'padded out' to the nearest whole multiple of the file alignment size (which is specified in the header). This arrangement means that PE files can contain sections that do not completely fill the last section assigned to them in the file, just as the final cluster assigned to a file may not be filled. Some viruses have taken advantage of this section slack space, perhaps most notably CIH (see also Multiple Cavity Infector).

Slow Infector: Most resident viruses attempt to maximize their hit rate by infecting at least the commonly used programs on a system. Some go so far as to attempt to infect all possible targets (see Fast Infector). However, infecting many targets tends to increase the likelihood of being detected so some resident viruses only infect files as they are modified or created. This beats integrity checking methods, as the addition of a new file or modification of an existing one reported by an integrity checker would normally be expected so the user will ignore the reported change, assuming it to be entirely due to (legitimate) reasons for the file's creation or modification. An early example is the Darth Vader virus. A related, though different, technique for reducing the likelihood of detection is that of the sparse infector.

Slow Mailer: A slow mailer is a virus that distributes itself from victim machines via e-mail but not in the 'explosive' manner attributed to mass mailers. Ska (aka Happy99) and Kak are classic examples of slow mailers, respectively sending itself once to each addressee the victim sends e-mail to or embedding itself in all outgoing HTML messages the victim sends. Despite the mass mailers such as Melissa and LoveLetter hogging the media spotlight, Ska and Kak are also excellent examples of how slow mailers 'last the distance'. For example, several sources of prevalence statistics show roughly twice as many Kak incidents in 2000 as LoveLetter incidents, with the explosive nature of LoveLetter - then the most prevalent virus in history - seen in the fact that most LoveLetter incidents were recorded in a single month (May). Slow mailers often have the '@m' suffix to their names, making the additional threat they may pose readily identifiable to the informed.

Slow Polymorphism: A term occasionally applied to polymorphic viruses that only morph their code 'occasionally' rather than each time they replicate, as is more common. This is an 'anti-antivirus research' technique.

Sneakernet: The network of inter-personal contacts that existed before ethernet made LANs commonplace and long before the Internet as we know it today existed. The name is a play on 'sneaker' and 'ethernet' and refers to the sharing patterns seen when data files and programs were mainly distributed and copied between workmates, other professional colleagues and friends via diskette. As all diskettes have boot sectors and most PCs will attempt to boot from a diskette left in a floppy drive, boot sector infectors were the most prevalent viruses when sneakernet was the predominant sharing mechanism.

Sniffer: A wiretap that eavesdrops on computer networks. The attacker must be between the sender and the receiver in order to sniff traffic. This is easy in corporations using shared media. Sniffers are frequently used as part of automated programs to sift information off the wire, such as clear-text passwords, and sometimes password hashes (to be cracked).

Social Engineering:

  1. There are two main ways to obtain technical or administrative information about a computer system. The first is from the machines and systems themselves and the second is from the administrators and users of the machines. Surreptitious or unauthorized attempts to obtain such system information are known as hacking or cracking if the attempt involves obtaining the information from the machines and as social engineering if they involve manipulating or 'tricking' a person into divulging the information.
  2. By extension of the previous meaning, the term social engineering is often used to describe the 'tricks' used by mass mailing viruses to entice recipients messages with viral attachments to run (or 'view') those attachments.

SOCKS Proxy: Socks (or "SOCKS") is an IETF standard protocol for TCP/IP-based networking applications. A proxy server (a server that sits between a client application and a real server) can use SOCKS to accept requests from clients so that they can be forwarded across the Internet. Socks uses sockets to represent and keep track of individual connections. SOCKS proxy servers are widespread, and used legitimately for improving system performance, caching web pages and filtering client requests. Unfortunately, SOCKS proxy servers can also be used for undermining system security; attackers can hide their IP address by "bouncing" their requests off a victim’s computer with an open SOCKS proxy.

SPAM Tool: Any software designed to extract email addresses from web sites and other sources, remove ""dangerous"" or ""illegal"" addresses, and/or efficiently send unsolicited (and perhaps untraceable) mail to these addresses.

Sparse Infector: Although not an approach to beat integrity checking, like slow infection methods, sparse infection is also an approach to reduce the chances of early detection. The main idea is to replicate only occasionally; for example, only infecting one in every 100 programs that are executed. Another approach a sparse infector may take to deciding which files to infect is to only target files that meet certain criteria such as having a size divisible by a particular value or with a creation date of a certain day of the month and so on.

Spoofer: To spoof is to forge your identity. Attackers use spoofers to forge their IP address (IP spoofing). The most common use of spoofing today is smurf and fraggle attacks. These attacks use spoofed packets against amplifiers in order to overload the victim's connection. This is done by sending a single packet to a broadcast address with the victim as the source address. All the machines within the broadcast domain then respond back to the victim, overloading the victim's Internet connection. Since smurfing accounts for more than half the traffic on some backbones, ISPs are starting to take spoofing seriously and have started implementing measures within their routers that verify valid source addresses before passing the packets.

Spyware Cookie: Any cookie that is shared among two or more unrelated sites for the purpose of gathering and sharing private user information. See also the Network Chico browser cookie page.

Spyware or Spy Ware: A program that gathers information and can be 'silently' installed and run in 'stealth' mode. This kind of software is used to gather information from a user's machine, such as recorded keystrokes (passwords), a list of websites visited by the user, applications installed on the machine, the version of operating system, registry settings, etc.

SR-1: Service Release 1. A Service Release is an incremental update and/or bug-fix version of an application, similar to the better-known term Service Pack (or SP). SR-1 is usually of significance in antivirus issues when talking about Word 97 SR-1, as this release introduced some subtle changes to Word's VBA environment that had implications for the replication mechanisms of most Word macro viruses written prior to its release. (See also Class Infector.)

Stealth Virus: Aside from infecting seldom (see Slow Infector and Sparse Infector), some viruses take other steps to make themselves difficult to detect. For example, stealth boot viruses intercept attempts to read the boot sector (where they reside) and return copies of the original boot sector so it is seen as it was prior to infection - the first PC virus, Brain, is an example of this. More sophisticated boot sector stealth also intercepts write functions, preventing the viral code being overwritten and perhaps redirecting such writes to the 'safe' copy of the original boot sector. Stealth file infectors typically hide any file size increases they are responsible for when a file's properties are read from the disk - Number of the Beast and Frodo were early examples. Macro viruses have also attempted many stealth techniques, such as replacing the standard list of macros with a list from which the virus' macros are missing, and preventing users from accessing the Visual Basic Editor. For their stealth functions to work, a virus must be 'resident'.
With executable viruses, this residency means the virus' modifications go undetected by antivirus programs as well as preventing the user from noticing changes (such as in file sizes and the like). However, with macro viruses, such stealth mechanisms only help prevent the user noticing or reporting changes because virus scanners look directly at the document files containing the viruses and are not dependent on internal functions of Word - the only functions a macro virus can usurp - in order to detect these viruses. In general, to counter stealth mechanisms you must be able to re-establish a 'clean' environment. With boot and program stealth, restarting from a clean system is necessary to ensure there is no possibility of the normal system functions being interfered with. With stealth macro viruses a clean user environment is needed. This can be attained by assuring that all global templates and other code resources that may be loaded during the host application's startup phase, and as a result of loading a (potentially) infected document, do not get a chance to run.

Surveillance: Any software designed to use a webcam, microphone, screen capture, or other approaches to monitor and capture information. Some such software will transmit this captured information to a remote source. See also Key Logger.

SYN Flood Attack: In the normal course of a TCP connection, a SYN (TCP connection request) is sent to a target computer. When the target computer receives the SYN, it sends a SYN_RECEIVED message back to the machine that sent the SYN (reading the IP source address of the originating packet). The target computer then waits for the machine that originated the request to send back a SYN_ACK upon receipt of its SYN_RECEIVED message (this SYN-RECEIVED state is saved in a buffer either until the ACK is received or until the request has been waiting for a particular finite period of time and is then purged). When this "three-way" handshake is completed, data can travel freely between the two computers. During a SYN Flood Attack, a SYN is sent to the target computer, however the source IP address is spoofed. The target computer attempts to send its SYN_RECEIVED message back to the originating IP address of the SYN, however, because the address is spoofed, this message will either be sent to an IP address that does not exist or to a computer that did not send the original SYN (and therefore will ignore this message). When this occurs, the target machine may send several more SYN_RECEIVED messages, and wait for a finite time for a SYN_ACK that will never come, storing this information in a buffer. The more of these spoofed packets that are sent to the target computer, the more system resources that are used on the target computer. Once the limit is reached for a given TCP port, the target computer responds by resetting all further connection requests until system resources are freed. The result of this attack is a Denial of Service.

System Boot Sector: A seldom used term denoting the boot sectors at the beginning of disk partitions and other logical drives such as floppies and some other removable drives. This term is used in the glossary to denote the set of boot sectors excluding master boot records.

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