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Zmist Opportunities

Peter Ferrie, Péter Ször
Virus Bulletin, Mar 2001, pp. 6-7
ISSN 0956-9979
March 2001

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At VB2000 in Florida, IBM's Dave Chess and Steve White demonstrated their research findings on 'Undetectable Computer Viruses'. Early this year, the Russian virus writer Zombie released his 'Total Zombification' magazine complete with a set of articles and viruses of his own. Ominously, one of the articles in the magazine was titled 'Undetectable Virus Technology'.

Zombie has already demonstrated his set of polymorphic and metamorphic virus-writing skills. His viruses have been distributed for years in source format and other virus writers have modified them to create new variants. Certainly this will be the case again with Zombie's latest creation - W95/Zmist.

Many of us will not have seen a virus approaching this complexity for a few years. We could easily call Zmist one of the most complex binary viruses ever written. W95/SK, One_Half, ACG, and a few others come to mind in comparison. Zmist is a little bit of everything: it is an entry point obscuring virus that is metamorphic. Moreover, the virus randomly uses an additional polymorphic decryptor.

This virus supports a unique new technique: code integration. The Mistfall engine contained in it is capable of decompiling Portable Executable files to its smallest elements, requiring 32 MB of memory. Zmist will insert itself into the code: it moves code blocks out of the way, inserts itself, regenerates code and data references, including relocation information, and rebuilds the executable. This is something never seen before in previous viruses.

Zmist occasionally inserts jump instructions after every single instruction of the code section, each of which will point to the next instruction. Amazingly, these horribly modified applications will still run as before, just like the infected executables do, from generation to generation. In fact, we did not see a single crash during the test replications. Nobody expected this to work, not even Zombie. However, it is not foolproof - it takes some time for a human to find the virus in infected files. Due to its extreme camouflage Zmist is clearly the perfect anti-heuristics virus.

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