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are discussed in [Young], including zero-knowledge proofs that could be used to allow an attacker to prove that he or she is in possession of the decryption key without actually exposing it.
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The basic premise of most malware defense strategies is to leverage the fact that there is always some kind of trusted element in the system. After all, how can an antivirus program detect malicious program if it can t trust the underlying system For instance, consider an antivirus program that scans the hard drive for infected files and simply uses high-level file-system services in order to read files from the hard drive and determine whether they are infected or not. A clever malicious program could relatively easily install itself as a filesystem filter that would intercept the antivirus program s file system calls and present it with fake versions of the files on disk (these would usually be the original, uninfected versions of those files). It would simply hide the fact that it has infected numerous files on the hard drive from the antivirus program! That is why most security and antivirus programs enter deep into the operating system kernel; they must reside at a low enough level so that malicious programs can t distort their view of the system by implementing file-system filtering or a similar approach. Here is where things could get nasty. What would happen if a malicious program altered an extremely low-level component This would be problematic because the antivirus programs would be running on top of this infected component and would have no way of knowing whether they are seeing an authentic picture of the system, or an artificial one painted by a malicious program that doesn t want to be found. Let s take a quick look at how this could be possible. The lowest level at which a malicious program could theoretically infect a program is the CPU or other hardware devices that use upgradeable firmware. Most modern CPUs actually run a very low-level code that implements each and every supported assembly language instruction using low-level instruction called micro-ops ( -ops). The -op code that runs inside the processor is called firmware, and can usually be updated at the customer site using a special firmware-updating program. This is a sensible design decision since it enables software-level bug fixes that would otherwise require physically replacing the processor. The same goes for many hardware devices such as network and storage adapters. They are often based on programmable microcontrollers that support user-upgradeable firmware. It is not exactly clear what a malicious program could do at the firmware level, if anything, but the prospects are quite chilling. Malicious firmware would theoretically be included as a part of a larger malicious program and could be used to hide the existence of the malicious program from security and antivirus programs. It would compromise the integrity of the only trustworthy
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component in a computer system: the hardware. In reality, it would not be easy to implement this kind of attack. The contents of firmware update files made for Intel processors appear to be encrypted (with the decryption key hidden safely inside the processor), and their exact contents are not known. For more information on this topic see Malware: Fighting Malicious Code by Ed Skoudis and Lenny Zeltser [Skoudis].
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There are different types of motives that drive people to develop malicious programs. Some developers are interest-driven: The developer actually gains some kind of financial reward by spreading the programs. Others are motivated by certain psychological urges or by childish desires to beat the system. It is hard to classify malware in this way by just looking at what it does. For example, when you run into a malicious program that provides backdoor access to files on infected machines, you might never know whether the program was developed for stealing valuable corporate data or to allow the attacker to peep into some individual s personal files. Let s take a look at the most typical purposes of malicious programs and try to discover what motivates people to develop them. Backdoor Access This is a popular end goal for many malicious programs. The attacker gets unlimited access to the infected machine and can use it for a variety of purposes. Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks These attacks are aimed at damaging a public server hosting a Web site or other publicly available resource. The attack is performed by simply programming all infected machines (which can be a huge number of systems) to try to connect to the target resource at the exact same time and simply keep on trying. In many cases, this causes the target server to become unavailable, either due to its Internet connection being saturated, or due to its own resources being exhausted. In these cases, there is typically no direct benefit to the attacker, except perhaps revenge. One direct benefit could occur if the owner of the server under attack were a direct business competitor of the attacker. Vandalism Sometimes people do things for pure vandalism. An attacker might gain satisfaction and self-importance from deleting a victim s precious files or causing other types of damage. People have a natural urge to make an impact on the world, and unfortunately some people don t care whether it s a negative or a positive impact. Resource Theft A malicious program can be used to steal other people s computing and networking resources. Once an attacker has a carefully
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