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3.12. File Format Dependency Based on Extension

Some viruses have extension dependency. Depending on the extension, a file might be placed in a different execution environment. A simple example of this is COM and BAT (ASCII) extension replacement. As a COM file, the file can function as binary. With a BAT extension, it looks like an ASCII BATCH file.

Other common examples of this kind of dependency are as follows:


  • COM/OLE2 (a trivial variant has the header of an OLE2 file)


  • MHTML (Binary+Script)



This method is often used as an attempt to confuse scanners about the type of object they are scanning. Because scanners often use header and extension information to determine the environment of the file, their scanning capabilities (such as heuristics analysis) might be affected if they do not identify the type of object properly.

For example, PIF worms typically use mIRC, BAT, or even VBS combinations, based on extension dependency. A file with a PIF extension will function as a PIF. However, with a BAT extension, it will run as a BATCH instead, and the PIF section in the front of the file is simply ignored. Other examples include an mIRC and BATCH combination based on extension dependency tricks.

Figure 3.12 demonstrates how the PIF is organized for extension dependency. The Phager virus uses the previously discussed technique.

Figure 3.12. A high-level structure of a PIF with extension dependency.

Another example that involves extension dependency tricks is INF/Zox, which infects Windows INF files. The main virus body is stored in INF/Zox in an INF file called ULTRAS.INF. However, this INF file can run as a DOS COM executable when renamed.

In the INF form, the virus uses CmdAdd (add command) entries to attack AUTOEXEC.BAT. It also uses the CopyFile entry of the DefaultInstall section to copy the ULTRAS.INF file as Z0X.SYS. The trick is that the new AUTOEXEC.BAT section will rename the Z0X.SYS file to Z0X.COM and run it. The virus starts with a comment entry in the INF form using a semicolon (;) (0x3b).

When the file is loaded as a DOS COM file, the marker is ignored as a compare (CMP) instruction. After the comment, binary code is inserted that "translates" to a jump (JMP) instruction to the binary portion of the virus code at the end of the file:

13BE:0100 3B00        CMP     AX,[BX+SI]  ; Compare instruction ignored
13BE:0102 E9F001      JMP     02F5        ; Jump to binary virus start

Zox is a direct-action overwriter virus. It overwrites INF files with itself.

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