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5.7. Viruses in Kernel Mode (Windows NT/2000/XP)

Infis was the first memory-resident parasitic kernel-mode driver virus under Windows NT environments. One variant of the virus operates under Windows NT only; another variant supports Windows 2000.

The virus stays in memory as a kernel-mode driver and hooks the main NT service interrupt (INT 2Eh), so it can replicate on the fly when files are opened. This method is a nonstandard way to hook the file operations and is therefore not 100% successful, but unfortunately it turns out to be a good enough solution for a virus.

The installation routine copies the virus to the system and registers it in the Registry. The virus is attached to the end of the infected files with its own PE header and extracts itself as a standalone driver called INF.SYS into the %SystemRoot%\system32\drivers directory. The virus installs the proper Registry key to allow itself to load on next system startup:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\inf
   Type = 1
   Start = 2
   ErrorControl = 1

Each driver needs this entry to introduce itself to the Service Control Manager. The driver will be loaded each time the system starts and, just like any similar driver installation, it needs a reboot under Windows NT and 2000.

When the virus driver takes control, it allocates memory from the nonpaged pool and reads its complete copy from its file image (INF.SYS) for further use in its infection routine. Finally, the virus hooks INT 2Eh by patching the interrupt descriptor table (IDT) (see Figure 5.6). Because the virus is running in kernel mode, it enjoys the most powerful rights on the system.

Figure 5.6. A kernel-mode virus that operates on Windows NT-based systems.


Normally, INT 2Eh points to the KiSystemService() function. However, when the virus hooks INT 2Eh, it will take control before KiSystemService() can transfer control to the corresponding NTOS kernel function using the system service table.

A Win32 application normally calls an API from the Win32 subsystem. The subsystem translates the documented API calls to undocumented ones that have been exported from NTDLL.DLL, called the native API. This DLL is mapped in user mode, but for most functions it switches to kernel mode by using the INT 2Eh service interrupt with a function ID in the EAX register (under IA32 platforms). Ultimately, each file open function will eventually hit the INT 2Eh handler, KiSystemService(), which is hooked by Infis in a manner similar to a regular DOS TSR virus. The INT 2Eh hook of Infis intercepts the file open function only, checks the file name and extension, and then opens the file. The hook function of Infis checks if the host programs' file format is PE and attempts to infect.

So how can you check the system for an Infis infection? It is possible to see the name of the loaded drivers by checking the driver list. In that way, you can find the name of the virus, but such viruses could hide themselves from the driver list using stealth as well. Windows 2000/XP places the driver list under Computer Management. First, turn on the Display Administrative Tools option for the taskbar. Then click Computer Management and select Device Manager. The View has to be changed to Show Hidden Devices.

The inf driver should appear on the list. Check the dialog box shown in Figure 5.7, which was captured on an Infis-infected system.

Figure 5.7. The properties of the inf driver of the Infis virus.


Infis has many limitations. Obviously the author of the virus did not understand the various NT contexts, so Infis lacks system privileges for most file access because it does not schedule a kernel-mode infection thread that would run in the system context, bypassing the privilege level of the user-mode thread that requested a file to be opened. As a result, unless the user-mode requestor (such as Windows Explorer) runs with appropriate rights (such as Administrator) to be able to write the file object, Infis cannot infect the file in question.

Furthermore, each service ID is created by a macro when Microsoft compiles the kernel, and so the service ID can be different from one release of Windows to another. Because Infis uses hard-coded service IDs, it will not be compatible with all Windows releases, but, of course, there are reliable methods to determine the service IDs on any Windows NTbased systems. Future kernel-mode viruses will most likely support this kind of mechanism.

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