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Computer Viruses: Detection, Removal

& Protection Methods

1. [pic]Anti-Virus Programs
2. [pic]Detection of an Unknown Virus
3. [pic]Prophylaxis of Computer Infection
4. [pic]Recovery of Affected Objects
5. [pic]Virus Algorithm Analysis

6. Protection Methods

Anti-Virus Programs

1. [pic]Types of Anti-Viruses
2. [pic]Which Anti-Virus Program is Better?
3. [pic]Tips on Usage of Anti-Virus Programs
"Working with bad data implies good code"

Andrew Krukov, AVP Team
Types of Anti-Viruses
Anti-virus programs are the most effective means of fighting viruses. But I would like to point out at once that there are no anti-viruses guaranteeing 100 percent protection from viruses. Any declarations about their existence may be considered to be either an advertising trick or a sign of incompetence. Such systems do not exist, because, for each anti-virus algorithm, it is always possible to suggest a virus counter algorithm, making this particular virus invisible for this particular anti-virus (fortunately, the opposite is also true: for any anti-virus algorithm, it is always possible to create an anti-virus). Moreover, the impossibility of the existence of the absolute anti-virus has been mathematically proved based on the theory of finite slot machines - the author of this proof is Fred Cohen.
It is also necessary to pay attention to some terms used in anti-virus program discussion:
False Positive - when an uninfected object (file, sector or system memory) triggers the anti-virus program. The opposite term - False Negative - means that an infected object arrived undetected.
On-demand Scanning - a virus scan starts upon user request. In this mode, the anti-virus program remains inactive until a user invokes it from a command line, batch file or system scheduler.
On-the-fly Scanning - all the objects that are processed in any way (opened, closed, created, read from or written to etc.) are being constantly checked for viruses. In this mode, the anti-virus program is always active, it is a memory resident and checks objects without user request.

Which Anti-Virus Program is Better?

Which anti-virus program is the best? The answer is any program, if no viruses live in your computer and you use only a reliable virus-free software source and no other. However, if you like using new software or games, are an active e-mail user, using Word or exchanging Excel spreadsheets, then you should use some kind of anti-virus protection. Which one exactly - you should decide that for yourself, but there are several points of comparison of different anti-virus programs.
The quality of anti-virus programs is determined by the following points, from the most to least important: 1. Reliability and convenience of work - absence of anti-virus "hang ups" and other technical problems, requiring special technical knowledge from a user. 2. Quality of detection of all major kinds of viruses, scanning inside document files, spreadsheets (Microsoft Word, Excel, Office97), packed and archived files. Absence of false positives. Ability to cure infected objects. For scanners (see below), this means the availability of timely updates, which is the speed of tuning a scanner to new viruses. 3. Availability of anti-virus versions for all the popular platforms (DOS, Windows 3.xx, Windows95, WindowsNT, Novell NetWare, OS/2, Alpha, Linux etc.), not only on-demand scanning, but also scanning on-the-fly capabilities, availability of server versions with possibility for network administration. 4. Speed of work and other useful features, functions, bells and whistles.
Reliability of anti-virus programs is the most important criterion, because even the "absolute anti-virus" may become useless, if it is not able to finish the scanning process and hangs, leaving a portion of your disks and files unchecked, thereby leaving the virus in the system undetected. The anti-virus may also be useless if it demands some special knowledge from a user - most users are likely to simply ignore the anti-virus messages and press [OK] or [Cancel] at random, depending on which button is closer to the mouse cursor at this time. And if the anti-virus asks an ordinary user complicated questions too often, the user will most likely stop running such an anti-virus and even delete it from the disk.
Virus-detection quality is the next item, for quite an obvious reason. Anti-virus programs are called anti-virus, because their main purpose is to detect and remove viruses. Any highly sophisticated anti-virus is useless if it is unable to catch viruses, or does it with low efficiency. For example, if an anti-virus can not detect a certain polymorphic virus with 100% success, then after the system has been infected with this particular virus, such an anti-virus detects only part (say 99%) of all the infected files in a system. As little as 1% of infected files will remain undetected, but when this virus has infiltrated the system again, the anti-virus misses this 1% for the second time, but this time this will be 1% of the 99% left from the previous time, i.e., 1.99%. And so on until all the files become infected with the anti-virus being perfectly happy about it.
Therefore, detection quality is the second most important criterion of anti-virus quality; even more important than its multi-platform availability, various convenient features and so on. However, if an anti-virus with high quality of detection causes lots of false positives, then its level of usefulness drops significantly, because a user has to either delete uninfected files or analyze suspicious files all by himself, or gets used to these frequent false alarms and in the end misses the real virus warning (the boy who cried wolf?).
Multi-platform availability is the next item on the list, because for each OS, only a native for that OS program can make extensive use of these OS features. Non-native anti-viruses are often not as useful or sometimes even destructive. For example the "OneHalf" virus has infected a Windows95 or WindowsNT system. If you use a DOS anti-virus for disk decryption (this virus encrypts disk sectors), the results may be disappointing: the information on a disk will be damaged beyond repair, because Windows95/NT would not allow the anti-virus to use direct sector reads/writes while decrypting sectors, whereas a native Windows95 or NT anti-virus fulfills this task flawlessly.
On-the-fly checking capability is also a rather important feature of an anti-virus. Immediate, forced-virus checking of all incoming files and diskettes gives virtually a 100% guarantee of a virus free system, if, of course, the anti-virus is able to detect the supposed viruses. Anti-viruses capable of continuous file-server health care (for Novell Netware, Windows NT, and recently after massive invasion of macro viruses, also for email servers, that is scanning all the incoming mail) are very useful. If a file server version of an anti-virus contains network administration features, its value increases even more.
The next important criterion is working speed. If full system check requires several hours to complete, it is unlikely that most users are going to run it frequently. Also the slowness of anti-virus does not imply that it catches more viruses or does it better than its faster counterpart. Different anti-viruses utilize different virus scanning algorithms, some being faster and of higher quality while another may be slower and not so of such quality. Everything here depends on the abilities and competence of developers of a particular anti-virus.
Various additional options are last in the anti-virus quality criteria list because very often these options have no effect on overall usefulness. However these additional options make user's life much easier and maybe push him to run anti-virus more often.

Tips on Usage of Anti-Virus Programs

Always see that you have the latest antiviral software version available. If software updates are available, check them for "freshness". Usually new versions of anti-viruses are announced, so it is sufficient to visit the corresponding WWW/ftp/BBS sites.
Anti-virus "nationality" in most cases does not matter, because, at the present time, the processes of virus emigration to other countries and antiviral software immigration is limited only by the speed of the Internet, so both viruses and anti-viruses know no borders.
If a virus has been found on your computer, it is imperative not to panic (for those who "meet" viruses daily, a remark like this may seem funny). Panicing never does any good; thoughtless actions may result in bitter consequences.
If a virus is found in some newly arrived file(s) and has not infiltrated the system yet, there is no reason to worry: just kill the file (or remove the virus with your favorite antiviral program) and you may keep on working. If you have found a virus in several files at once or in the boot sector, the problem becomes more serious, but still it can be resolved - anti-virus developers are not drones.
Once more, you should pay attention to the term "false positive." If in some SINGLE file "living" in your computer system for a long time some single anti-virus has detected a virus, this is most likely a false positive. If this file has been run several times, but the virus still has not crawled to other files, then this is extremely strange. Try to check this file with some other anti-viruses. If all of them keep silent, send this file to the research lab of the company that developed the anti-virus, which was triggered by it.
However, if a virus has really been found in your computer, you should do the following: 1. In the case of a file-virus detection, if the computer is connected to a network, you should disconnect it from the network and inform the system administrator. If the virus has not yet infiltrated the network, this will protect the server and other workstations from virus attack. If the virus has already infected the server, disconnection from the network will not stop the virus from infiltrating into your computer again after its treatment. Reconnection to the network must be done only after all the servers and workstations have been cured. If a boot virus has been found, you should not disconnect your computer from the network: viruses of this kind do not spread over it (except file-boot viruses, of course). If the computer is infected with a macro-virus, then instead of disconnecting from network, it is enough to make sure that the corresponding editor (Word/Excel) is inactive on any computer. 2. If a file or boot virus has been detected, you should make sure that either the virus is non-resident, or the resident part of it has been disarmed: when started, some (but not all) anti-viruses automatically disable resident viruses in memory. Removal of a virus from the memory is necessary to stop its spreading. When scanning files, anti-viruses open them; many resident viruses intercept this event and infect the files being opened. As a result, the majority is infected because the virus has not been removed from memory yet. The same thing may happen in the case of boot viruses - all the diskettes being checked may become infected. If the anti-virus you use does not remove viruses from memory, you should reboot the computer from a known uninfected and well-written, protected system diskette. You should do a "cold" boot (by pressing "Reset" or power "off/on"), because several viruses "survive" after a "warm" boot. Some viruses apply a technique allowing for their survival even after the "cold" boot (see the "Ugly" virus for example), so you should also check the item "boot sequence A:, C:" in the machine's BIOS to ensure DOS boots from the system diskette and not from infected hard drive. In addition to resident/non-resident capabilities, it is useful to make yourself acquainted with other features of the virus: types of files it infects, its effects etc. The only known source of such information, containing data of this kind on virtually all known viruses, is "The AVP Virus Encyclopedia." 3. With the help of the anti-viral program, you should restore the infected files and check them for functionality. At the same time or before treatment, you should backup the infected files and print/save the anti-virus log somewhere. This is necessary for restoring files in case the treatment proves to be unsuccessful due to an error in anti-virus-treatment module, or because of an inability of this anti-virus to cure this kind of virus. In this case, you will have to resort to the services of some other anti-virus. It is much more reliable, of course, to simply restore the backed up files (if available), but, still, you will need to resort to an anti-virus - what if all the copies of the virus haven't been destroyed, or some backed up files are infected, too? It is worth mentioning that the quality of file restoration by many antiviral programs leaves much to be desired. Many popular anti- viruses often irreversibly damage files instead of curing them. Therefore, if file loss undesirable, you should execute all the previous recommendations completely. In the case of a boot virus, it is necessary to check all the diskettes to see whether they are bootable (i.e., contain DOS files) or not. Even a completely blank diskette may become a source of viral infection - it is enough to forget it in the drive and reboot (of course, if a diskette boot is enabled in BIOS). Besides the above-mentioned items, you should pay special attention to the cleanness of modules, compressed with utilities like LZEXE, PKLITE or DIET, files inside archives (ZIP, ARC, ICE, ARJ, etc.) and self-extracting data files (created by the likes of ZIP2EXE). If you accidentally pack a virus in an infected file, it will be virtually impossible to detect and remove the virus from it without unpacking. In this case, a situation in which all the antiviral programs, unable to scan inside archives, report that all disks are virus free (however, after some time, the virus re-emerges) will become typical. Colonies of viruses may infiltrate backup copies of software, too. Moreover, archives and back-up copies are the main source of long known viruses. A virus may "sit" in a distribution copy of some software for ages and then suddenly appear after software installation on a new computer. Nobody can guarantee removal of all copies of a computer virus, because a file virus may attack not only executables, but also overlay modules not having COM or EXE extensions. A boot virus may remain on some diskettes and appear suddenly after an attempt to boot from it. Therefore, it is sensible to use some resident anti-virus scanner continuously for some time after virus removal (not to mention that it's better to a use scanner at all times).

Detection of an Unknown Virus

1. [pic]Detection of a TSR Virus
2. [pic]Detection of a Boot Virus
3. [pic]Detection of a File Virus
4. [pic]Detection of a Macro Virus

Detection of a TSR Virus
In this chapter, we discuss the situations in which a user suspects that his computer is infected, but none of the anti-viruses known to him tested positive. How and where do you look for a virus? What tools are needed for this, what methods do you use and what rules do you follow?
The very first rule is - don't panic. This will never do any good. You are neither the first nor the last person whose computer has been infected. Besides, not every computer malfunction is attributed to a virus. You should remind yourself of the 3 c's more often - "cool, calm and collected." And viral infection is not the worst thing that could happen to a computer.
If you are not sure yourself, ask a system programmer for help; he will locate the virus and help remove it (if it is really a virus), or he might help find the reason for the "strange" behavior of your computer.
You should not call anti-virus companies and ask, "I think I have a virus in my computer. What should I do?". They will not be able to help you, because to remove a virus, they need somewhat more information. For an anti-virus company to be of real help, you should send them a sample of the virus - an infected file in case of a file virus, or an infected diskette (or its image) in case of a boot virus. How to detect infected files/disks will be discussed further.
Don't forget to boot up your computer from a backup copy of DOS on a virus-free and write-protected diskette before running any kind of antiviral software, and use subsequent programs only from diskettes. This is necessary to protect the system from a resident virus, because it may block program execution or use the running to infect the checked files/disks. Moreover, there are a lot of viruses that destroy data on disks if they "suspect" that their code has been uncovered. This condition, of course, does not apply to macro-viruses and disks partitioned in one of the new formats (NTFS, HPFS) - after DOS boots up, such a disk becomes inaccessible for DOS programs.

Detection of a Boot Virus

As a rule, boot sectors of disks carry small programs, whose purpose is to determine borders and sizes of logical disks (for MBR of hard drives) or operating system boot up (for boot sector).
In the beginning, you should read the contents of the sector suspected of virus presence. DISKEDIT from Norton Utilities or AVPUTIL from AVP Pro are best suited for that.
Some boot viruses may be detected almost immediately by the presence of various text strings (for example, the "Stoned" virus contains the strings: "Your PC is now Stoned!", "LEGALISE MARIJUANA!"). Some boot viruses infecting hard disks may be found in the opposite way, by the absence of strings, which must be in the boot sector. Such strings are: system file names (for example, "IO SYSMSDOS SYS") and error message strings. Absence of or change in a header string of the boot sector (the string containing the DOS version number or software vendor name, e.g., "MSDOS5.0" or "MSWIN4.0") may also be a signal of viral infection, but only if the computer does not have Windows95/NT installed - these systems, for reasons unknown, record random text string into a diskette's boot sector header.
Standard MS-DOS loader located in MBR occupies less than half a sector, and many viruses infecting the MBR of a hard drive are easily spotted by an increase in the size of the code in MBR sector.
However, there also are viruses, which infiltrate the loader without changing its text strings and with minimum changes to the loader code. To detect such a virus, in most cases, it is sufficient to format a diskette on a 100% uninfected computer, save its boot sector as a file, use this diskette for some time on the infected computer (read/write several files) and afterwards compare its current boot sector with the original one on an uninfected computer. If the boot code underwent some changes, then the virus has been caught.
Also, there are viruses using more complicated infecting techniques, for example, changing as little as 3 bytes of the Disk Partition Table, corresponding to the address of the active boot sector. To identify such a virus, it is necessary to explore boot sector codes in greater detail, up to the complete analysis of its code algorithm.
These arguments are based on the fact that standard loaders (programs saved by the operating system in boot sectors) employ standard algorithms for the loading of an operating system and are implemented in accordance with this system's standards. However, if the disks have been formatted with utilities other than standard DOS (for example, Disk Manager), then, when detecting a virus in them, one should analyze the operating algorithm and implementation of loaders created by such a utility.

Detection of a File Virus

As already mentioned, viruses are divided into resident and non-resident. Resident viruses found so far stood out for their much greater craftiness and sophistication in comparison with non-resident. Therefore, we shall discuss the simplest case for starters - attack of an unknown non-resident virus. Such a virus activates itself upon starting of any infected programs, does all it has to, passes control to the host program and afterwards (unlike resident viruses) does not interfere with its work. To detect such a virus, it is necessary to compare file size on disks and in backup copies (the reminder about the importance of keeping such copies has already become commonplace). If this doesn't help, you should do a byte comparison of distribution copies with the working copies you use. At the present, there are many such programs, the simplest of them (COMP utility) can be found in DOS.
One may also examine a hex dump of executables. In some cases, it is possible to immediately detect viral presence by some text strings residing in its code. For example, many viruses contain strings ".COM", "*.COM", ".EXE", "*.EXE", "*.*", "MZ", "COMMAND" etc. These strings may often be found at the top or end of the infected files.
There is yet one more method for the visual detection of a virus in a DOS file. It is based on the fact that executables, the source code of which was in a high level programming language, have a quite definite inside structure. In the case of Borland or Microsoft C/C++ program, the code segment is at the very beginning of a file, immediately followed by the data segment containing a copyright notice with the name of a compiler vendor company at the beginning. If the data segment in the dump is followed by one more code segment, then it might very well be that the file is infected with a virus.
The same is true for the most part of the viruses, whose target is Windows and OS/2 files. In these, OS executables have the following standard order of segments: code segment(s) followed by data segments. If a data segment is followed by one more code segment, it may be the sign of the presence of a virus.
If a user is familiar with the assembly language, he may try to figure out the code of suspicious programs. For a quick look, most suitable are the following utilities: HIEW (Hacker's View) or AVPUTIL. For more detailed analysis, one will require disassembly software - Sourcer or IDA.
It is recommended to run one of the resident antiviral behavior blockers and follow its messages about "suspicious" actions of programs (writes to COM or EXE files, writes to absolute disk addresses etc.). There are blockers not only intercepting such actions, but also displaying messages about the originating addresses of such calls (AVPTSR is one such blocker). Having discovered such a message, one should find out what program caused it and analyze its code with the help of a resident disassembler (for example, AVPUTIL.COM). Tracing the interruptions, INT 13h and 21h are often a great help in the analysis of TSR programs.
One must note that the resident DOS blockers often are powerless when working in a DOS window under Windows95/NT, because Windows95/NT allows viruses to work bypassing the blocker (and the rest TSR programs with it). DOS blockers are also unable to stop the spreading of Windows viruses.
The above methods of detection of file and boot viruses are suitable for most resident and non-resident viruses. But these methods fail if a virus is Stealth by design, which renders useless the majority of modern resident blockers, file comparison and sector read utilities.

Detection of a Macro Virus

Characteristic features of macro-viruses are: • Word: inability to convert an infected Word document to another format. • Word: infected files have the Template format, because when infecting, Word viruses convert files from the Word Document format to Template format. • Word 6 only: inability to save a document to another directory or disk with the "Save As" command. • Excel/Word: "alien" files are present in the STARTUP directory • Excel versions 5 and 7: Cookbooks contain redundant and hidden Sheets.
To check the system for viral presence, you may use the Tools/Macro menu item. If "alien" macros have been found, they may belong to a virus, but this method fails in the case of Stealth viruses, which disable this menu item, which in itself is sufficient to consider the system infected.
Many viruses contain errors or work incorrectly in various versions of Word/Excel, resulting in Word/Excel error messages, for example: WordBasic Err = Error number

If such a message appears while editing a new document or table, and you definitely do not use-run any user macros, then this may also serve as a sign of system infection.
Changes in Word, Excel and Windows system configuration files are also a sign of possible infection. Many viruses change menu items under "Tools/Options" in one way or another - enabling or disabling the following functions: "Prompt To Save Normal Template," "Allow Fast Save," "Virus Protection." Some viruses set file passwords after infecting them, and a lot of viruses create new sections and/or options in the Windows configuration file (WIN.INI).
Of course, such obvious facts such as appearing messages or dialogues with strange contents or in a language other than the default for this installation are also signs of virus.

Prophylaxis of Computer Infection

1. [pic]Where do Viruses Come From
2. [pic]The Main Rules of Protection
3. [pic]The Problem of Macro Virus Protection
One of the major methods of fighting computer viruses, like in medical science, is timely prophylaxis or preventive measures. Computer preventive measures suggest following a small set of rules, allowing to lower considerably the possibility of virus infection and data loss.
To define the main rules of computer hygiene, it is necessary to find out the main ways of virus intrusion into computer and computer network.

Where do Viruses Come From

1. [pic]Global Access Networks and EMail
2. [pic]Email Conferences, File Servers, FTP and BBS
3. [pic]Local Access Networks
4. [pic]Pirated Software
5. [pic]General Access Personal Computers
6. [pic]Repair Services

Global Access Networks and EMail

Today one of the primary sources of viral infection is the Internet. The most part of cases of infection takes place while exchanging messages in the Word/Office97 formats. The unsuspecting user of an infected by macro virus editor software sends infected letters to addressees, who in their turn send new infected letters and so on.
Let's suppose that the user is engaged in email exchange with five addressees. After sending an infected message all the five computers that receive these become infected: +-----+ |.....| +-+-----+-+ --+--------+-------------+-------------+-------------+ +---------+ | | | | | | V V V V +-----+ +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +--> +-->

Therefore, on the second level of exchange we have as much as 1+5+20=26 computers. It addressees exchange letters once a day, then by the end of the working week (five days) a minimum of 1+5+20+80+320=426 computers will become infected. It's easy to calculate that in ten days more than 100,000 computers may become infected! Moreover this number is likely to become four times that large with each passing day.
This is the most common case of virus spreading registered by anti-virus companies. Often enough an infected document file or Excel spreadsheet may get into business mailing lists of large companies. In this case not 5 but hundreds and even thousands of subscribers become victims of such mailings, who in turn may then send infected files to tens of thousands of theirs subscribers.

Email Conferences, File Servers, FTP and BBS

General access file servers and email conferences are also one of the main sources of virus spreading. Virtually every week there appear messages that some user infected his computer with a virus which had been downloaded from a BBS system, FTP server, or emailed to some Usenet group.
Often enough authors of viruses upload infected files to several BBS/FTP sites, or are sent to several groups simultaneously, often these files are camouflage as new versions of some software (sometimes as new versions of anti-virus software).
In case of mass virus outflows to BBS/FTP file servers thousands of computers main visually simultaneously become infected, but in most cases DOS or Windows viruses are uploaded, which in most cases have much lower speed of spreading then macro viruses have. For this reason incidents like this virtually never lead to mass epidemics, which is not so for macro viruses.

Local Access Networks

The third way of "fast infection" is via local access networks. If no necessary safety measures are taken, an infected workstation after logging on to a network infects one or several system utility files on a network server (LOGIN.COM in case of Novell NetWare): +---+ | |

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