The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense

The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense

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by Peter Szor

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Symantec's chief antivirus researcher has written the definitive guide to contemporary virus threats, defense techniques, and analysis tools. Unlike most books on computer viruses, The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense is a reference written strictly for white hats: IT and security professionals responsible for protecting their

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Symantec's chief antivirus researcher has written the definitive guide to contemporary virus threats, defense techniques, and analysis tools. Unlike most books on computer viruses, The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense is a reference written strictly for white hats: IT and security professionals responsible for protecting their organizations against malware. Peter Szor systematically covers everything you need to know, including virus behavior and classification, protection strategies, antivirus and worm-blocking techniques, and much more.

Szor presents the state-of-the-art in both malware and protection, providing the full technical detail that professionals need to handle increasingly complex attacks. Along the way, he provides extensive information on code metamorphism and other emerging techniques, so you can anticipate and prepare for future threats.

Szor also offers the most thorough and practical primer on virus analysis ever published—addressing everything from creating your own personal laboratory to automating the analysis process. This book's coverage includes

  • Discovering how malicious code attacks on a variety of platforms
  • Classifying malware strategies for infection, in-memory operation, self-protection, payload delivery, exploitation, and more
  • Identifying and responding to code obfuscation threats: encrypted, polymorphic, and metamorphic
  • Mastering empirical methods for analyzing malicious code—and what to do with what you learn
  • Reverse-engineering malicious code with disassemblers, debuggers, emulators, and virtual machines
  • Implementing technical defenses: scanning, code emulation, disinfection, inoculation, integrity checking, sandboxing, honeypots, behavior blocking, and much more
  • Using worm blocking, host-based intrusion prevention, and network-level defense strategies

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Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
If you’re serious about fighting viruses, you know that detailed, reliable, up-to-date information is awfully scarce. Peter Szor has fixed that problem. As a Symantec security architect, Szor’s been creating innovative techniques for Norton Anti-Virus since 1999. His new book illuminates the field as never before.

Szor begins with attack strategies. He addresses malicious code interactions with CPUs, operating systems, file systems, file formats, and interpreted environments. He reviews how viruses infect boot records and files, and how they behave in memory. There’s detailed coverage of how today’s viruses hide, self-protect, and evolve.

Next, he systematically covers defense: algorithmic scanning, skeleton detection, exact/near-exact identification, code emulation, heuristic analysis, generic disinfectors, behavior blocking, sandboxing, memory disinfection, worm blocking, buffer overflow prevention, and much more. You’ll even walk through setting up your own anti-virus lab. This should be the first book in it. Bill Camarda, from the April 2005 Read Only

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PrefacePrefaceWho Should Read This Book

Over the last two decades, several publications appeared on the subject of computer viruses, but only a few have been written by professionals ("insiders") of computer virus research. Although many books exist that discuss the computer virus problem, they usually target a novice audience and are simply not too interesting for the technical professionals. There are only a few works that have no worries going into the technical details, necessary to understand, to effectively defend against computer viruses.

Part of the problem is that existing books have little—if any—information about the current complexity of computer viruses. For example, they lack serious technical information on fast-spreading computer worms that exploit vulnerabilities to invade target systems, or they do not discuss recent code evolution techniques such as code metamorphism. If you wanted to get all the information I have in this book, you would need to spend a lot of time reading articles and papers that are often hidden somewhere deep inside computer virus and security conference proceedings, and perhaps you would need to dig into malicious code for years to extract the relevant details.

I believe that this book is most useful for IT and security professionals who fight against computer viruses on a daily basis. Nowadays, system administrators as well as individual home users often need to deal with computer worms and other malicious programs on their networks. Unfortunately, security courses have very little training on computer virus protection, and the general public knows very little about how to analyze and defend theirnetwork from such attacks. To make things more difficult, computer virus analysis techniques have not been discussed in any existing works in sufficient length before.

I also think that, for anybody interested in information security, being aware of what the computer virus writers have "achieved" so far is an important thing to know.

For years, computer virus researchers used to be "file" or "infected object" oriented. To the contrary, security professionals were excited about suspicious events only on the network level. In addition, threats such as CodeRed worm appeared to inject their code into the memory of vulnerable processes over the network, but did not "infect" objects on the disk. Today, it is important to understand all of these major perspectives—the file (storage), in-memory, and network views—and correlate the events using malicious code analysis techniques.

During the years, I have trained many computer virus and security analysts to effectively analyze and respond to malicious code threats. In this book, I have included information about anything that I ever had to deal with. For example, I have relevant examples of ancient threats, such as 8-bit viruses on the Commodore 64. You will see that techniques such as stealth technology appeared in the earliest computer viruses, and on a variety of platforms. Thus, you will be able to realize that current rootkits do not represent anything new! You will find sufficient coverage on 32-bit Windows worm threats with in-depth exploit discussions, as well as 64-bit viruses and "pocket monsters" on mobile devices. All along the way, my goal is to illustrate how old techniques "reincarnate" in new threats and demonstrate up-to-date attacks with just enough technical details.

I am sure that many of you are interested in joining the fight against malicious code, and perhaps, just like me, some of you will become inventors of defense techniques. All of you should, however, be aware of the pitfalls and the challenges of this field!

That is what this book is all about.What I Cover

The purpose of this book is to demonstrate the current state of the art of computer virus and antivirus developments and to teach you the methodology of computer virus analysis and protection. I discuss infection techniques of computer viruses from all possible perspectives: file (on storage), in-memory, and network. I classify and tell you all about the dirty little tricks of computer viruses that bad guys developed over the last two decades and tell you what has been done to deal with complexities such as code polymorphism and exploits.

The easiest way to read this book is, well, to read it from chapter to chapter. However, some of the attack chapters have content that can be more relevant after understanding techniques presented in the defense chapters. If you feel that any of the chapters are not your taste, or are too difficult or lengthy, you can always jump to the next chapter. I am sure that everybody will find some parts of this book very difficult and other parts very simple, depending on individual experience.

I expect my readers to be familiar with technology and some level of programming. There are so many things discussed in this book that it is simply impossible to cover everything in sufficient length. However, you will know exactly what you might need to learn from elsewhere to be absolutely successful against malicious threats. To help you, I have created an extensive reference list for each chapter that leads you to the necessary background information.

Indeed, this book could easily have been over 1,000 pages. However, as you can tell, I am not Shakespeare. My knowledge of computer viruses is great, not my English. Most likely, you would have no benefit of my work if this were the other way around.What I Do Not Cover

I do not cover Trojan horse programs or backdoors in great length. This book is primarily about self-replicating malicious code. There are plenty of great books available on regular malicious programs, but not on computer viruses.

I do not present any virus code in the book that you could directly use to build another virus. This book is not a "virus writing" class. My understanding, however, is that the bad guys already know about most of the techniques that I discuss in this book. So, the good guys need to learn more and start to think (but not act) like a real attacker to develop their defense!

Interestingly, many universities attempt to teach computer virus research courses by offering classes on writing viruses. Would it really help if a student could write a virus to infect millions of systems around the world? Will such students know more about how to develop defense better? Simply, the answer is no...

Instead, classes should focus on the analysis of existing malicious threats. There are so many threats out there waiting for somebody to understand them—and do something against them.

Of course, the knowledge of computer viruses is like the "Force" in Star Wars. Depending on the user of the "Force," the knowledge can turn to good or evil. I cannot force you to stay away from the "Dark Side," but I urge you to do so.

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

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Meet the Author

Peter Szor is security architect for Symantec Security Response, where he has been designing and building antivirus technologies for the Norton AntiVirus product line since 1999. From 1990 to 1995, Szor wrote and maintained his own antivirus program, Pasteur. A renowned computer virus and security researcher, Szor speaks frequently at the Virus Bulletin, EICAR, ICSA, and RSA conferences, as well as the USENIX Security Symposium. He currently serves on the advisory board of Virus Bulletin magazine, and is a founding member of the AVED (AntiVirus Emergency Discussion) network.

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