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3.22. Multipartite Viruses

The first virus that infected COM files and boot sectors, Ghostball, was discovered by Fridrik Skulason in October 1989. Another early example of a multipartite virus was Tequila. Tequila could infect DOS EXE files as well as the MBR (master boot sector) of hard disks.

Multipartite viruses are often tricky and hard to remove. For instance, the Junkie virus infects COM files and is also a boot virus. Junkie can infect COM files on the hidden partitions52 that some computer manufacturers use to hide data and extra code by marking the partition entries specifically. Because Junkie loads to memory before these hidden files are accessed, these files can get infected easily. Scanners typically scan the content of the visible partitions only, so such infections often lead to mysterious reinfections of the system. This is because the virus has been cleaned from everywhere but from the hidden partition, so the virus can infect the system again as soon as the hidden partition is used to run one of the infected COM files.

In the past, boot and multipartite viruses were especially successful at infecting machines that used the DOS operating system. On modern Windows systems, such viruses are less of a threat, but they do exist.

The Memorial virus53 introduced DOS COM, EXE, and PE infection techniques in the same virus. The payload of the Memorial virus is show in Figure 3.16.

Figure 3.16. The message of the W95/Memorial virus.


W95/Memorial also used the VxD (Virtual Device Driver) format of Windows 9x systems to load itself into kernel mode and hook the file system to infect files on the fly whenever they were accessed. As a result, Memorial also infects 16-bit and 32-bit files.

Another interesting example of a multipartite infection is the Russian virus, 3APA3A, which was found in the wild in Moscow in October 199454. 3APA3A is a normal boot virus on a diskette, occupying two sectors for itself, but it uses a special infection method on the hard disk. It infects the DOS core file IO.SYS. First it makes a copy of IO.SYS, and then it overwrites the original. After the infection, the root directory contains two IO.SYS files, but the first is set as a volume label of the disk; thus, the DIR command does not display two files, but a volume label "IO SYS" and a single IO.SYS file. The point is to trick DOS into loading the infected copy of IO.SYS. Then the virus starts the original one after itself. This happens because DOS will load the first IO.SYS file regardless of its attributes. This method represents a special subclass of companion infection techniques.

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