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Malware: Fighting Malicious Code [Paperback]

Ed Skoudis , Lenny Zeltser
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 7 2003 0131014056 978-0131014053 1
Malicious code is a set of instructions that runs on your computer and makes your system do something that you do not want it to do. For example, it can delete sensitive configuration files from your hard drive, rendering your computer completely inoperable; infect your computer and use it as a jumping-off point to spread to all of your buddies' computers; and steal files from your machine. Malicious code in the hands of a crafty attacker is indeed powerful. It's becoming even more of a problem because many of the very same factors fueling the evolution of the computer industry are making our systems even more vulnerable to malicious code. Specifically, malicious code writers benefit from the trends toward mixing static data and executable instructions, increasingly homogenous computing environments, unprecedented connectivity, an ever-larger clueless user base, and an unfriendly world. Skoudis addressed malicious code in just one chapter of his previous book. Here, a dozen chapters focus on one of the most interesting and rapidly developing areas of computer attacks.*Chapter 11, "Defender's Toolbox," rolls together the defensive strategies described in the book. As a bonus, Skoudis gives recipes for creating your own malicious code analysis laboratory using cheap hardware and software.

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From the Inside Flap

Foreword

Several years ago I attended a special conference on intrusion detection in McLean, Virginia. Each attendee was assigned to one of four teams charged with assessing the state of the art and making recommendations for future research in various areas related to intrusion detection. At the end, a representative from each team presented the output of that team's work to all attendees. Although each team's report was very interesting and worthwhile, the malicious code team's assessment of progress in that area particularly caught my attention. This team's conclusion was that not much genuine progress in characterizing and identifying malicious code had been made over the years. Given that viruses have been in existence for at least two decades and that all kinds of malicious code has been written and deployed "in the wild," it would not at all have been unexpected to hear that great strides in understanding malicious code have occurred to the point that sophisticated programs can now accurately and efficiently identify almost every instance of malicious code. But such was not the case. Some researchers who were not at the conference would undoubtedly disagree with the malicious code team's assessment, but I am confident that they would be in the minority. A considerable amount of work to better identify and deal with malware is underway, but genuine progress in understanding and detecting malware has indeed been frustratingly slow.

The irony of it all is that today's computing world is saturated with malware. Viruses and worms are so prevalent that newspaper, magazine, and television accounts of the "latest and greatest" virus or worm are now commonplace. Even young computer users typically understand basically what a virus is and why viruses are undesirable. "Create your own virus" toolkits have been available for years. Public "hacker tool" sites, relatively rare ten years ago, are now prevalent on the Internet. Going to a "hacker tool" site to obtain malware is not, however, necessary for someone to obtain malware. In August 2002, the Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center (CERT/CC) reported that a perpetrator had modified copies of the source code for OpenSSH such that they contained Trojan horse routines. Unsuspecting users went to the OpenSSH site and mirror sites to download OpenSSH in the expectation that they would be tightening security by encrypting network traffic between hosts. Instead, they introduced routines within the OpenSSH source that allowed attackers to gain remote control of their systems. And even Ed Skoudis, one of the few people in the world who can identify virtually every type of attack and also the author of this book, Malware: Fighting Malicious Code, reports in the first chapter that he found several Trojan horse programs that performed brute force password cracking in one of his systems. Malware is not a rarity; it is prevalent, and the problem is getting worse.

Malware does not exist in a vacuum--it cannot magically infuse itself into systems and network devices. Just as biological parasites generally exploit one or more weaknesses in the host, malware requires special conditions if it is to execute and then produce the intended results. Today's computing world, fortunately for the authors of malware but unfortunately for the user community, provides a nearly ideal environment. Why? Primarily, it is because of the many vulnerabilities in software that is commonly used today. Too many software vendors typically rush the software development process in an attempt to cut development costs and to get a competitive edge for their software products, thereby maximizing profits. The code they produce is often not carefully designed, implemented, or adequately tested. The result is bug-riddled software--software that behaves abnormally or, worse yet, causes the system on which it runs to behave abnormally, in many cases allowing perpetrators a chance to execute malware that exploits abnormal conditions and/or install more malware that does what perpetrators need it to do (such as capture keyboard output). With virtually no government regulation of the software industry and a user community that naively continues to purchase and use bug-riddled software and too often fails to patch the bugs that are discovered in it, malware truly has a "target rich" environment in which it can flourish.

Worse yet, a major change in the usability of cracking utilities has transpired. Not all that long ago, anyone who obtained a copy of a cracking utility usually had to struggle to learn how to use it. Most of the user interfaces were command line interfaces with a cryptic syntax that often only the author of a particular tool could master. Help facilities in these utilities was virtually unheard of. The result was difficult or impossible to use tools, tools that could be used by only "the few, the proud." The level of security-related threat was thus not really very high. The usability of cracking utilities has, however, improved substantially over time. A large number of tools are now so easy to use that they are often sarcastically called kiddie scripts. All a would-be attacker needs to do with such tools is download them, enter a little information (such as an answer to "What IP address do you want to attack?"), move a pointer to Go and then click a mouse button. The emergence of kiddie scripts has had much of the same effect that guns had centuries ago. Before guns were widely used in battle, a large individual, all things considered, had a huge advantage over a small individual. The gun became the "great equalizer." Kiddie scripts likewise are a great equalizer, although in a somewhat different sense. Someone who uses a kiddie script may not be able to do all the things that a very experienced attacker might be able to do, but the inexperienced person might at least be able to do many or most of these things.

The types of motivation to deploy malware are also eye opening. Traditional "hackers" are now only a part of the potential force of cyber world adversaries. Organized crime has moved into the computing arena, looking for opportunities such as making unauthorized funds transfers. Industrial espionage agents, disgruntled or greedy insiders, "information warfare" specialists within the military and government arenas, jilted lovers, sexual predators, identity thieves, and even cyber terrorists are among the many categories of individuals who are likely to use malware to breach security in systems and networks. Computer security professionals are taught that attacks are the by-products of capabilities, means, and opportunity. Malware translates to capabilities. The opportunities are truly mind-boggling when one considers just how diverse computing environments are today and how many different types of people can potentially obtain access to systems and networks.

All is not lost, however. The war against malware has at least a few bright sports. Anti-virus software is widely available today, for example, and, if it is updated regularly, it is effective in detecting and eradicating quite a few types of malware, especially (but not limited to) viruses and worms on Windows and Macintosh systems. The success of antivirus software represents some degree of victory in the war against malware. But the overwhelming majority of this type of software is pretty simplistic, as you'll see in Chapter 2 of this book, and, worse yet, there are many users who still do not run antivirus software on their Windows and Macintosh systems, or if they do, they may fail to update it as necessary. Other kinds of malware detection and eradication software have been developed, as covered in various chapters throughout this book, but once again the lack of deployment (often by organizations that need this type of software the most) is a major limitation with this type of software.

The problem of the existence of many types of malware and the fact that malware seems to become increasingly sophisticated so quickly has created a huge gap between malware as we know it and our capabilities of dealing with it. If we are ever going to reduce the size of this gap, we need to leap ahead instead of taking minute steps in understanding and dealing with malicious code. The availability of a detailed, comprehensive work on the types of malware that exist, how they work, and how to defend against them would be one of the best catalysts for such a leap. Malware: Fighting Malicious Code is such a work. Ed Skoudis presents the necessary groundwork for understanding malware in Chapter 1 with a neat little taxonomy, then proceeds to cover each major type of malicious code--viruses, worms, malicious mobile code, backdoors, Trojan horses, user-mode rootkits, kernel rootkits, and deeper levels of malicious code and hybrid malware, in the subsequent chapters. He then presents scenarios in which malicious code has been planted in systems and concludes with how to safely and effectively analyze potential and real malware. My favorite chapter is chapter eight (on kernel-mode rootkits) because Ed takes a topic in which there is at best scattered knowledge and puts it together into a highly detailed and comprehensible framework. I must admit that I was the most uncomfortable after reading this particular chapter, too, because I for the first time realized just how many clever ways there are to subvert kernels. I poked around one of my own Linux systems afterwards to try the things that Ed covered in an attempt to assure myself that the system had not been subverted at the kernel layer. I found that after reading this chapter, I was able to do this surprisingly well for someone who spends most of his time dealing with Windows, not Linux systems. Chapter 10 (on scenarios), applies what Ed has covered in the first nine chapters. Scenarios and case studies are the best way to "bring concepts home," and Ed has done that in a very nice way in the scenarios chapter. It is always interesting to learn about malicious code, but if you do not know what to do about it when you are through reading, you really haven't benefited. This whole book establishes that effective, proven, and workable solutions against this threat are available and describes in great detail how these solutions can be implemented.

I have never seen such a group of issues of the nature of the ones covered in Malware: Fighting Malicious Code so clearly and systematically presented. Ed is a top-rated SANS faculty member, and if you have any doubt that he can write as well as he can lecture, reading this book should completely remove it. His ability to present all the relevant technical details so understandably but without diluting the technical content is one that few authors have. His frequent injection of humorous statements is "topping on the cake," keeping the interest level high no matter how technical the subject matter. I keep thinking about how much more students who have taken various computer security courses from me over the years would have gotten out of these courses had this book been available earlier.

--E. Eugene Schultz, Ph.D., CISSP, CISM

From the Back Cover

  • Reveals how attackers install malicious code and how they evade detection
  • Shows how you can defeat their schemes and keep your computers and network safe!
  • Details viruses, worms, backdoors, Trojan horses, RootKits, and other threats
  • Explains how to handle today's threats, with an eye on handling the threats to come

"This is a truly outstanding book-enormous technical wealth and beautifully written."
—Warwick Ford

"Ed does it again, piercing the veil of mystery surrounding many of the more technical aspects of computer security!"
—Harlan Carvey, CISSP

"This book is entertaining and informative, while justifiably scaring you. Luckily it also tells you how to protect yourself, but makes you realize it's going to be a permanent spy-vs-spy struggle."
—Radia Perlman, Distinguished Engineer, Sun Microsystems

Keep control of your systems out of the hands of unknown attackers

Ignoring the threat of malware is one of the most reckless things you can do in today's increasingly hostile computing environment. Malware is malicious code planted on your computer, and it can give the attacker a truly alarming degree of control over your system, network, and data-all without your knowledge! Written for computer pros and savvy home users by computer security expert Edward Skoudis, Malware: Fighting Malicious Code covers everything you need to know about malware, and how to defeat it!

This book devotes a full chapter to each type of malware-viruses, worms, malicious code delivered through Web browsers and e-mail clients, backdoors, Trojan horses, user-level RootKits, and kernel-level manipulation. You'll learn about the characteristics and methods of attack, evolutionary trends, and how to defend against each type of attack. Real-world examples of malware attacks help you translate thought into action, and a special defender's toolbox chapter shows how to build your own inexpensive code analysis lab to investigate new malware specimens on your own. Throughout, Skoudis' clear, engaging style makes the material approachable and enjoyable to learn. This book includes:

  • Solutions and examples that cover both UNIX® and Windows®
  • Practical, time-tested, real-world actions you can take to secure your systems
  • Instructions for building your own inexpensive malware code analysis lab so you can get familiar with attack and defensive tools harmlessly!

Malware: Fighting Malicious Code is intended for system administrators, network personnel, security personnel, savvy home computer users, and anyone else interested in keeping their systems safe from attackers.


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Customer Reviews

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4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback
I reviewed Ed's "Counter Hack" in Nov 2001, giving it five stars as the perfect introduction for newcomers to the security field. 2 1/2 years later I'm happy to say "Malware" delivers the same quality, clarity, and insight that made "Counter Hack" a winner. My only regret is not having read and reviewed "Malware" sooner!
One of the impressive aspects of this book is the degree to which it is "future-proofed." Ed looks at current threats like worms, viruses, trojans, and user- and kernel-mode rootkits, like any author might. He then takes malicious software to the next level, from the kernel to BIOS and finally to CPU microcode. These BIOS- and microcode-level attacks are still largely theoretical (aside from BIOS-destroying code), at least as far as the public knows. When the world sees these threats emerge, "Malware" will be waiting to explain their capabilities.
Ed writes exceptionally well, bringing coverage of Linux and Windows kernel internals to the masses. I enjoyed learning about the trojaned Tcpdump distribution, anti-forensics, DLL injection, and API hooking. Lenny Zeltser's chapters on malware analysis were helpful as well, and I recommend attending his reverse engineering classes. The book also shines with respect to skillful use of tables and diagrams to explain key points.
The only technical inaccuracy I found was the proposition that UNIX filesystems maintain a c_time as "creation time" (p. 319 and elsewhere). c_time is "change of inode time," like changing permissions on a file. Windows' NTFS "c_time" is indeed "creation time," however. I also found myself skipping many of the author's analogies, like the king, knights, castle, etc.
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Format:Paperback
Working with a computer that doesn't want to behave on its own is frustrating enough. Between buggy code and the blue screen of death, many of us have wanted to throw our computers against the wall. Unfortunately, not only do we need to deal with these wonderful, little problems, but we also need to deal with programs that are intentionally trying to inflict problems on or through our computers.
These programs, collectively called "malware", include many different categories; however, we know them best as the "virus", "Trojan horse", "rootkits", "backdoors", and a lot of others. These malware tools (based on "mal", the Latin word for "bad" or "evil") are the bane not only of system administrators but also of the average home user who just doesn't know any better.
"Malware: Fighting Malicious Code" by Ed Skoudis is meant to educate the reader not only of the dangers of malware but also of ways to combat malware.
"To defeat your enemy, you first must know him." - Sun Tzu
This phrase is the core philosophy of this book. This 647-page fighter's manual is the computer-age version of Tzu's "The Art of War", except in this case the war is between you and the low-life morons who create the programs that facilitated the need for Skoudis to write this book.
I found this book to be far more fascinating than I thought it would be. After all, how exciting can a book about virii and Trojan horses really be? "Malware" is written with a surprising amount of detailed, historical facts, real-world examples, and light-hearted humor that help to keep your attention. The author also takes extra steps to differentiate between the various types of malware. After all, how many people do you know who continually (and incorrectly) use "virus", "Trojan horse", and "worm" interchangeably?
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5.0 out of 5 stars best of it's kind March 8 2004
Format:Paperback
I've read a few books on viruses, worms, and malware. This is the best by far. Prior to reading this text I considered myself pretty well versed in the subject area of all but a couple of chapters. I was pleasantly suprised to uncover a ton of new knowledge, tools, and tricks in each chapter. Now that I've finished reading this book, my only regret is that the experience is over.
The 12 chapters of this book include the following major topics: Viruses, Worms, Malicious Mobile Code, Backdoors, Trojan Horses, User Mode RootKits, Kernel-Mode RootKits, Going Deeper, Scenarios, and Malware Analysis. At first glance this all seems like pretty standard fare. However, Skoudis really digs into each subject. He includes in-depth analysis of many live and current malware specimines. I even learned a lot of not so well documented things about Unix and Windows from this book.
Ed is able to explain complex technical material in a way that's easy to digest and enjoyable to the reader. While it's written more for a techie, this book can also be read and appreciated by a novice.
The chapters on Malicious Mobile Code and RootKits were particularly enlighning. The chapter entitled "Going Deeper" explores possibilities for malware at the BIOS and CPU microcode levels in addition to combo-malware. The chapter on "Malware Analysis" is a nice intorduction to revers engineering and analyzing malware.
I attended a SANS track instructed by the the author recently. I told him how much I enjoyed reading "Counter Hack" a couple of years back. He said that "Counter Hack" was like an InfoSec 101/102 course and "Malware" is like InfoSec 103/104. I agree that this is a great follow "Counter Hack".
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Book on Understanding and Fighting Malware
"Malware: Fighting Malicious Code" is the most comprehensive book to date on malicious code. The book devotes a full chapter to each type of malware: viruses, worms, malicious... Read more
Published on March 8 2004 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Massive, magnificient, mischievous, machiavelian, Malware!
Eds latest book is his best and most fun to read. This tome is an amazing treatise on malicious code. Read more
Published on March 4 2004 by Mike Poor
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Buy!!!
Once again, Ed has captured the essence of exactly what makes him one of the greatest educators I have ever had the privilege to meet. Read more
Published on Feb. 12 2004 by Charles Hornat - www.infosecwriters.com
5.0 out of 5 stars One of a kind....must read for security professionals
This book is an excellent resource on Malware of all types! I highly recommend that all security professionals read this book. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2004 by JOSEPH P. BOWLING
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome!
I rarely label something a 'masterpiece', but Ed Skoudis's "Malware: Fighting Malicious Code" is nothing short of that. Read more
Published on Dec 29 2003 by Dr Anton Chuvakin
5.0 out of 5 stars Levels the Playing Field
Utterly fascinating. It comprehensively surveys the field of malware. It clearly explains viruses, worms and Trojans. Read more
Published on Dec 13 2003 by W Boudville
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly everything you need to know about malware
Ed Skoudis does a great job of detailing just about everything you need to know about malware.
The problem is that many users unknowingly and unwittingly open their computers... Read more
Published on Dec 8 2003 by Ben Rothke
5.0 out of 5 stars All you need to know about this book
This is a very good book. If you are interested in the subject of application security then I would buy it, borrow it from a friend..whatever.. Read more
Published on Nov. 27 2003 by X. Zhang
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