This chapter discusses the generic (or at least "typical") structure of advanced computer worms and the common strategies that computer worms use to invade new target systems. Computer worms primarily replicate on networks, but they represent a subclass of computer viruses. Interestingly enough, even in security research communities, many people imply that computer worms are dramatically different from computer viruses. In fact, even within CARO (Computer Antivirus Researchers Organization), researchers do not share a common view about what exactly can be classified as a "worm." We wish to share a common view, but well, at least a few of us agree that all computer worms are ultimately viruses1. Let me explain.
The network-oriented infection strategy is indeed a primary difference between viruses and computer worms. Moreover, worms usually do not need to infect files but propagate as standalone programs. Additionally, several worms can take control of remote systems without any help from the users, usually exploiting a vulnerability or set of vulnerabilities. These usual characteristics of computer worms, however, do not always hold. Table 9.1 shows several well-known threats.
Table 9.1 suggests that infection of file objects is a fairly common technique among early, successful computer worms. According to one of the worm definitions, a worm must be self-contained and spread whole, not depending on attaching itself to a host file. However, this definition does not mean that worms cannot act as file infector viruses in addition to network-based propagators.
Of course, many other worms, such as Morris3, Slapper4, CodeRed, Ramen, Cheese5, Sadmind6, and Blaster, do not have file infection strategies but simply infect new nodes over the network. Thus defense methods against worms must focus on the protection of the network and the network-connected node.