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5.3. Temporary Memory-Resident Viruses

A slightly more exotic type of computer virus is not always resident in the computer's memory. Instead, the virus remains in memory for a short period of time or until a particular event occurs. Such an event might be triggered after a certain number of successful infections. For example, the Bulgarian virus, Anthrax, uses this method. Anthrax infects the MBR and installs itself in memory during the booting of the infected PC. The virus remains in memory until it successfully infects one EXE file. At that point, the virus removes itself from memory4 and becomes a direct-action virus that will only infect another file when an infected EXE file is executed.

Such viruses tend to be much less successful at becoming in the wild. First of all, direct-action viruses are much easier to spot because they increase the disk activity considerably, though this problem could be mitigated by the attacker. Permanent resident viruses, however, are usually more infectious and spread much more rapidly than temporary memoryresident viruses.

Nevertheless, there are a few successful viruses, such as the Hungarian DOS virus, Monxla, that use a similar technique to infect files. Monxla monitors the INT 20h (return to DOS) interrupt. The virus remains active in memory with the host and intercepts when the host returns to DOS. The virus quickly infects all COM files in the current directory. In this way, the virus might be able to spread to new systems, successfully avoiding user attention because the increased disk activity is more typical when you execute new programs or exit from them.

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