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The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense [Paperback]

Peter Szor
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Book Description

Feb. 3 2005 0321304543 978-0321304544 1
Peter Szor takes you behind the scenes of anti-virus research, showing howthey are analyzed, how they spread, and--most importantly--how to effectivelydefend against them. This book offers an encyclopedic treatment of thecomputer virus, including: a history of computer viruses, virus behavior,classification, protection strategies, anti-virus and worm-blocking techniques,and how to conduct an accurate threat analysis. The Art of Computer VirusResearch and Defense entertains readers with its look at anti-virus research, butmore importantly it truly arms them in the fight against computer viruses.As one of the lead researchers behind Norton AntiVirus, the most popularantivirus program in the industry, Peter Szor studies viruses every day. Byshowing how viruses really work, this book will help security professionals andstudents protect against them, recognize them, and analyze and limit thedamage they can do.

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From the Inside Flap

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 their network 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.

From the Back Cover

"Of all the computer-related books I've read recently, this one influenced my thoughts about security the most. There is very little trustworthy information about computer viruses. Peter Szor is one of the best virus analysts in the world and has the perfect credentials to write this book."

—Halvar Flake, Reverse Engineer, SABRE Security GmbH

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


© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.


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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and educational April 7 2010
Format:Paperback
I have read about two thirds of the book so far. The first half talks about viruses and their techniques, and the second half talks about how to defend against them. This book has taught me a lot so far, and has been very helpful. I am a university computer science student hoping for a career in this field, and this book has been an excellent kick-start.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best technical books I've ever read Feb. 27 2005
By Richard Bejtlich - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Peter Szor's 'The Art of Computer Virus Research and Defense' (TAOCVRAD) is one of the best technical books I've ever read, and I've reviewed over 150 security and networking books during the past 5 years. This book so thoroughly owns the subject of computer viruses that I recommend any authors seeking to write their own virus book find a new topic. Every technical computing professional needs to read this book, fast.

I read this book from cover to cover. The author does not lie when he says acquiring the same amount of information requires digging in obscure virus journals and analyzing malicious code. TAOCVRAD's single most powerful aspect is the author's persistence in naming one or more sample viruses that exemplify whatever concept he is discussing. In other words, all of his theory is backed by, or builds on, real-life examples. Each chapter contains moderate end-notes that provide pointers for additional research.

A truly great book has the power to change deeply-entrenched opinions, or make readers look at old problems in a new light. In my case, I altered my perception of the virus problem and ways to fight it. First, I changed my concept of viruses and worms. Peter builds on Fred Cohen's virus definition to say 'a computer virus is a program that recursively and explicitly copies a possibly evolved version of itself.' He calls worms a 'subclass of computer viruses.' I used to disagree with Peter; I believed a virus infects files and requires user interaction, and a worm spreads by itself via the network. Now I agree with Peter's viewpoint: 'worms are network viruses, primarily replicating on networks... If the primary vector of the virus is the network, it should be classified as a worm.' The distinction is subtle, but it makes sense to consider worms a subclass of viruses given Peter's extensive analysis of both types of malware.

Second, I recognized I held an opinion Peter considers unfortunate: 'some computer security people do not seem to consider computer viruses as a serious aspect of security, or they ignore the relationship between computer security and computer viruses.' I was guilty as charged. I used to positively detest viruses because they seemed like mindless automated code that did little but replicate. After reading about scores of real viruses, I have a profound appreciation for virus technology. Viruses introduced techniques for obfuscation, stealth, and exploitation a decade earlier, in some cases, than the single-shot exploit code we see today.

Third, Peter put a human face on the problems associated with closed-source operating systems like Microsoft Windows. Many so-called Native API calls are undocumented, and as such make life difficult for anti-virus developers. (Virus writers tend to know them.) With Microsoft entering the anti-virus market, will it leverage these secrets to outperform competitors lacking this internal knowledge?

Readers of Ed Skoudis' 'Malware' or Jose Nazario's 'Defense and Detection Strategies against Internet Worms' will find this new book greatly complements those two works. Those wishing to get the most value from TAOCVRAD should have Intel assembly coding skills and several years of hands-on security experience.

I had almost no issues with this book, which is striking given it is nearly 700 pages long. In a few places I found the language a little rough, but not enough to bother me. I believe a code listing on p. 372 should show a '<=' instead of '=', but I may be wrong. Although the author works for Symantec, I did not see an undue amount of Symantec-centric material. Chapter 13 is somewhat of an exception, but I do not fault the author. I felt the network section (ch 14) could have been stronger, since advice to block all IP fragments or ICMP at border routers isn't necessarily wise. I can't personally vouch for all of the author's virus analysis as his skill level exceeds mine by an order of magnitude.

TAOCVRAD is the must-buy security book of 2005. You could spend weeks learning from this book. Readers should be thankful Peter decided to share so much of his knowledge with us in an accessible and educational format.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb and exceptional book! March 31 2005
By Dr Anton Chuvakin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If the phase "a bible of malware" weren't a cliché, I would have used it to describe this book without hesitation. I read a lot of security (and specifically, malware) titles, but I have never seen a book that comprehensive and detailed, period.

The author appears to know _everything_ that was going on in the malicious software space since the 80s (for example, who knew that there were viruses written in DEC's DCL language)... A lot of effort is spent classifying various infection, in-memory, self-protection, payload and other virus strategies. I loved the section on malware self-protection, such as anti-debugging and anti-disassembly tactics and even self-brute-forcing virus code (I never knew there are sooo many of those tricks). Nowhere else I saw the detailed explanation of oligomorphic, polymorphic and metamorphic viruses... Note that while the book does cover the fun historical viruses, its coverage extends all the way to phishing attacks of the 2004-2005.

My other favorite part is the chapter on worms. "Vanilla" viruses often feel like the creatures of the past, and the worms steal all the glory. The other holds a view that worms are just a type of viruses that he justifies fairly well. Indeed, there is no accepted definition of a "worm".

The book is obviously aimed towards virus defense, although both sides are covered in [at times] excruciating detail. The entire part is dedicated to history and technology of virus scanning. Personally, I never saw it covered with that level of detail. Finally, I had a chance to learn what `heuristic detection' means. On the defense side, the book also covers behavior blocking and host intrusion prevention, which has a chance of emerging as the main approaches of virus fighting, supplanting pure signature-based scanning. Similarly fun was a section on network-level defense strategies (such as using ACLs, firewalls, etc).

A surprisingly small chapter covers malicious code analysis techniques. I would have appreciated a more detailed info on using VMware for malware analysis.

Overall, the book is very technical, but (if need be) can be read without diving too deeply into PDP11 assembly  , just to get familiar with all the malware classifications, infection methods and other tricks. Highly recommended for technical security professionals, might also benefit others in IT and beyond. I think it will also fit the textbook profile for an advanced computer security course.

Anton Chuvakin, Ph.D., GCIA, GCIH, GCFA is a Security Strategist with a major security company. He is an author of the book "Security Warrior" and a contributor to "Know Your Enemy II". In his spare time, he maintains his security portal info-secure.org
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written book about analyzing malicious software.. Aug. 10 2005
By r2d3_ge - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you are interested in historical details about viruses/malware, if you are searching for details about various techniques getting used by malicious software and if you are interested how people in the AV industry work... This book is definatly THE reference. Peter, a very competent virus researcher, who is known through his various articles in the Virus Bulletin magazine shows you all the techniques you need to analyse, to detect and to remove malicious software. His technical overview includes the entire history of computer viruses and is written in a very impressive and entertaining style. While I have read many books and articles about exploiting software, he also serves the most understandable definition of exploiting techniques like the classical stack overflow etc. I must say that his style impressed me so much that I read through the book in one day, something normally happening to me when reading thrillers of James Patterson. But this book is so well written, that you can rarely lay it out of your hands. You just want to know where Peter leds to, the next step in the voyage through the malicious world of computer viruses and malware. This book is geared through everybody trying to understanding what's happening in the malicious code polluting the Internet. For me well worth the money I spent on it.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Read on Computer Virus Aug. 12 2005
By Cody Wu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I was wondering in the bookshop trying to find some in-depth books on Computer Virus and Network Security and suddenly I came across this book. In a few pages the book lit up my eyes and the author successfully attracted my attention and I was simply amazed by his solid background and rich knowledge and also his effort in presenting all the materials in an orderly and logical way that has successfully flatten the learning curve for people fresh to the area.

Well, some people may complain that this is a disappointing book in that it hasn't gone far enough to illustrate the necessary virus writing skills and they believe only in this way can one speciallized in virus defense benefit most. Again, this is not the truth as far as I see. If one simply want to write virus by following existing codes he can only gain a narrow horizon by focusing upon one or two popular virus. But as the old idiom goes, you will miss the forest by seeing a tree only. New virus are produced by those high-intelligent poeple everyday and promises to continue to come in the forseeable future. New technologies too, emerge and then disapper with the patch or hot fixes. But as long as you have a comprehensive knowledge of the basic of virus research and defense you will never lose in this battle against virus. I think the author has trying to model his book to be some thing beyond the mere technology collection but to present to us how one might equip himself with the fundamental knowledge of the virus's history, main ideas, or even try to give definition in some places. So this is why the author names his creation to be "Virus research & defense" instead of "virus writing & defense". And as far as I see, his attempt has been a huge success.

And what's more, even for people who are crazy about writing virus this book is not such a disappointment. It incorporate many code snippet into the book and these code has actually reveal the dark side of the virus and one smart enough and with some knowledge in coding will be able to rebuild the complete viruses. Those who complain about the lack of virus writing skills might better try to figure out the reason in themselves. Anyway, there are a lot of sample virus within your easy reach on the internet. So why take the trouble to reproduce it here?

And finally I would like to show my thanks for the great effort Peter has spent on this book. For me this book has brought to me great pleasures and it has helped to orgnize my knowledge about computer virus in a more systematical manner. For those either new to the area or those professionals this is a must read and you shouldn't miss it.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible resource Feb. 21 2005
By Anthony Lawrence - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is simply incredible - over 700 pages of detailed analysis of viruses from the general to the specific. Their history, the trends, the future, how they work - it's all here.

This can be heavy geek territory. If you aren't fascinated by the details of executable programs and the like, some of this will be hard sledding. But if you are the type who likes to take things apart to see how they work, this is for you: Peter Szor, Symantec's chief antivirus researcher, who saw his first virus before he even knew how to read assembly language, carefully explores this subject from beginning to end.

A lot of this is, of course Windows related, but there is also coverage of Linux viruses and worms. All sorts of virus types are explored and laid out in general, and certain specific instances are explored in detail.

I read through this quickly in an hour or so to get the big picture, but it will be sitting close at hand for several weeks as I spend more time in specific sections. It's really an encyclopedic piece of work.

Recommended mostly for the curious geek or serious security professional only, but highly, highly recommended for that audience. For the less geeky, this would still be of interest because the historical and more general overviews it contains.
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