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3.3. Operating System Dependency

Traditionally, operating systems were hard-coded to a particular CPU architecture. Microsoft's first operating systems, such as MS-DOS, supported Intel processors only. Even Microsoft Windows supported only Intel-compatible hardware. However, in the '90s the need to support more CPU architectures with the same operating system was increasing. Windows NT was Microsoft's first operating system that supported multiple CPU architectures.

Most computer viruses can operate only on a single operating system. However, cross-compatibility between DOS, Windows, Windows 95/98, and Windows NT/2000/XP still exists on the Intel platforms even today. Thus, some of the viruses that were written for DOS can still replicate on newer systems. We tend to use less and less old, "authentic" software, however, thus reducing the risk of such infections. Furthermore, some of the older tricks of computer viruses will not work in the newer environments. On Windows NT, for example, port commands cannot be used directly to access the hardware from DOS programs. As a result, all DOS viruses that use direct port commands will fail at some point because the operating system generates an error. This might prevent the replication of the virus altogether if the port commands (IN/OUT operations) occur before the virus multiplies itself.

A 32-bit Windows virus that will infect only portable executable (PE) files will not be able to replicate itself on DOS because PE is not a native file format of DOS and thus will not execute on it. However, so-called multipartite viruses are able to infect several different file formats or system areas, enabling them to jump from one operating environment to another. The most important environmental dependency of binary computer viruses is the operating system itself.

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