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history and evolution of computer viruses...part 6-7

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history and evolution of computer viruses...part 6-7

Post by jkakashi01 on Wed Feb 13, 2008 2:13 pm

part 6


Computer viruses evolve in much the same way as in other areas of IT. Two of the most important factors in understanding how viruses have reached their current level are the development of programming languages and the appearance of increasingly powerful hardware.

In 1981, almost at the same time as Elk Kloner (the first virus for 8-bit processors) made its appearance, a new operating system was growing in popularity. Its full name was Microsoft Disk Operating System, although computer buffs throughout the world would soon refer to it simply as DOS.

DOS viruses

The development of MS DOS systems occurred in parallel to the appearance of new, more powerful hardware. Personal computers were gradually establishing themselves as tools that people could use in their everyday lives, and the result was that the number of PCs users grew substantially. Perhaps inevitably, more users also started creating viruses. Gradually, we witnessed the appearance of the first viruses and Trojans for DOS, written in assembler language and demonstrating a degree of skill on the part of their authors.

Far less programmers know assembler language than are familiar with high-level languages that are far easier to learn. Malicious code written in Fortran, Basic, Cobol, C or Pascal soon began to appear. The last two languages, which are well established and very powerful, are the most widely used, particularly in their TurboC and Turbo Pascal versions. This ultimately led to the appearance of ?virus families?: that is, viruses that are followed by a vast number of related viruses which are slightly modified forms of the original code.

Other users took the less ?artistic? approach of creating destructive viruses that did not require any great knowledge of programming. As a result, batch processing file viruses or BAT viruses began to appear.

Win16 viruses

The development of 16-bit processors led to a new era in computing. The first consequence was the birth of Windows, which, at the time, was just an application to make it easier to handle DOS using a graphic interface.

The structure of Windows 3.xx files is rather difficult to understand, and the assembler language code is very complicated, as a result of which few programmers initially attempted to develop viruses for this platform. But this problem was soon solved thanks to the development of programming tools for high-level languages, above all Visual Basic. This application is so effective that many virus creators adopted it as their ?daily working tool?. This meant that writing a virus had become a very straightforward task, and viruses soon appeared in their hundreds. This development was accompanied by the appearance of the first Trojans able to steal passwords. As a result, more than 500 variants of the AOL Trojan family -designed to steal personal information from infected computers- were identified.

part 7

This seventh edition on the history of computer viruses will look at how the development of Windows and Visual Basic has influenced the evolution of viruses, as with the development of these, worldwide epidemics also evolved such as the first one caused by Melissa in 1999.

While Windows changed from being an application designed to make DOS easier to manage to a 32-bit platform and operating system in its own right, virus creators went back to using assembler as the main language for programming viruses.

Versions 5 and 6 of Visual Basic (VB) were developed, making it the preferred tool, along with Borland Delphi (the Pascal development for the Windows environment), for Trojan and worm writers. Then, Visual C, a powerful environment developed in C for Windows, was adopted for creating viruses, Trojans and worms. This last type of malware gained unusual strength, taking over almost all other types of viruses. Even though the characteristics of worms have changed over time, they all have the same objective: to spread to as many computers as possible, as quickly as possible.

With time, Visual Basic became extremely popular and Microsoft implemented part of the functionality of this language as an interpreter capable of running script files with a similar syntax.

At the same time as the Win32 platform was implemented, the first script viruses also appeared: malware inside a simple text file. These demonstrated that not only executable files (.EXE and .COM files) could carry viruses. As already seen with BAT viruses, there are also other means of propagation, proving the saying "anything that can be executed directly or through a interpreter can contain malware." To be specific, the first viruses that infected the macros included in Microsoft Office emerged. As a result, Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint become ways of spreading ?lethal weapons?, which destroyed information when the user simply opened a document.

Melissa and self-executing worms

plane The powerful script interpreters in Microsoft Office allowed virus authors to arm their creations with the characteristics of worms. A clear example is Melissa, a Word macro virus with the characteristics of a worm that infects Word 97 and 2000 documents. This worm automatically sends itself out as an attachment to an e-mail message to the first 50 contacts in the Outlook address book on the affected computer. This technique, which has unfortunately become very popular nowadays, was first used in this virus which, in 1999, caused one of the largest epidemics in computer history in just a few days. In fact, companies like Microsoft, Intel or Lucent Technologies had to block their connections to the Internet due to the actions of Melissa.

The technique started by Melissa was developed in 1999 by viruses like VBS/Freelink, which unlike its predecessor sent itself out to all the contacts in the address book on the infected PC. This started a new wave of worms capable of sending themselves out to all the contacts in the Outlook address book on the infected computer. Of these, the worm that most stands out from the rest is VBS/LoveLetter, more commonly known as ?I love You?, which emerged in May 2000 and caused an epidemic that caused damage estimated at 10,000 million euros. In order to get the user?s attention and help it to spread, this worm sent itself out in an e-mail message with the subject ?ILOVEYOU? and an attached file called ?LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.VBS?. When the user opened this attachment, the computer was infected.

plane As well as Melissa, in 1999 another type of virus emerged that also marked a milestone in virus history. In November of that year, VBS/BubbleBoy appeared, a new type of Internet worm written in VB Script. VBS/BubbleBoy was automatically run without the user needing to click on an attached file, as it exploited a vulnerability in Internet Explorer 5 to automatically run when the message was opened or viewed. This worm was followed in 2000 by JS/Kak.Worm, which spread by hiding behind Java Script in the auto-signature in Microsoft Outlook Express, allowing it to infect computers without the user needing to run an attached file. These were the first samples of a series of worms, which were joined later on by worms capable of attacking computers when the user is browsing the Internet.

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