Trojan horse (computing)
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- This article is about computer system security. For Odysseus's subterfuge in the Trojan War, see Trojan Horse.
In the context of computer software, a Trojan horse is a program that contains or installs a malicious program (sometimes called the payload or 'trojan'). The term is derived from the classical myth of the Trojan Horse. Trojan horses may appear to be useful or interesting programs (or at the very least harmless) to an unsuspecting user, but are actually harmful when executed. (See Social engineering (security).)
Often the term is shortened to simply trojan, even though this turns the adjective into a noun, reversing the myth (Greeks, not Trojans, were gaining malicious access).
There are two common types of Trojan horses. One, is otherwise useful software that has been corrupted by a cracker inserting malicious code that executes while the program is used. Examples include various implementations of weather alerting programs, computer clock setting software, and peer to peer file sharing utilities. The other type is a standalone program that masquerades as something else, like a game or image file, in order to trick the user into some misdirected complicity that is needed to carry out the program's objectives.
Trojan horse programs cannot operate autonomously, in contrast to some other types of malware, like viruses or worms. Just as the Greeks needed the Trojans to bring the horse inside for their plan to work, Trojan horse programs depend on actions by the intended victims. As such, if trojans replicate and even distribute themselves, each new victim must run the program/trojan. Therefore their virulence is of a different nature, depending on successful implementation of social engineering concepts rather than flaws in a computer system's security design or configuration.
Example of a simple Trojan horse
A simple example of a trojan horse would be a program named "waterfalls.scr" claiming to be a free waterfall screensaver which, when run, instead would allow access to the users computer remotely.
Types of Trojan horse payloads
Trojan horse payloads are almost always designed to do various harmful things, but could be harmless. They are broken down in classification based on how they breach systems and the damage they cause. The seven main types of Trojan horse payloads are:
- Remote Access
- Email Sending
- Data Destructive
- Proxy trojan (disguising others as the infected computer)
- FTP trojan (adding or copying data from the infected computer)
- security software disabler
- denial-of-service attack (DoS)
- URL trojan (directing the infected computer to only connect to the internet via an expensive dial-up connection)
Some examples are:
- erasing or overwriting data on a computer.
- encrypting files in a cryptoviral extortion attack.
- corrupting files in a subtle way.
- upload and download files.
- allowing remote access to the victim's computer. This is called a RAT. (remote administration tool)
- spreading other malware, such as viruses. In this case the Trojan horse is called a 'dropper' or 'vector'.
- setting up networks of zombie computers in order to launch DDoS attacks or send spam.
- spying on the user of a computer and covertly reporting data like browsing habits to other people (see the article on spyware).
- make screenshots.
- logging keystrokes to steal information such as passwords and credit card numbers (also known as a keylogger).
- phish for bank or other account details, which can be used for criminal activities.
- installing a backdoor on a computer system.
- opening and closing CD-ROM tray.
- harvest e-mail addresses and use them for spam.
- Restarts the computer whenever the infected program is started.
Time bombs and logic bombs
"Time bombs" and "logic bombs" are types of trojan horses.
"Time bombs" activate on particular dates and/or times. "Logic bombs" activate on certain conditions met by the computer.
Droppers perform two tasks at once. A dropper performs a legitimate task but also installs a computer virus or a computer worm on a system or disk at the same time.
Precautions against Trojan horses
Trojan horses can be protected against through end-user awareness, namely to treat them like a virus. Viruses can cause a great deal of damage to a personal computer but even more damage to a business, particularly a small business that usually does not have the same virus protection capabilities as a large business. Since a Trojan Horse virus payload is hidden, it is harder to protect yourself or your company from it, but there are things that you can do.
Trojan Horses are most commonly spread through an e-mail, much like other types of common viruses. The only difference being of course is that a Trojan Horse payload is hidden. The best ways to protect yourself and your company from Trojan Horses are as follows:
1. If you receive e-mail from someone that you do not know or you receive an unknown attachment, never open it right away. As an e-mail user you should confirm the source. Some hackers have the ability to steal address books, so if you see e-mail from someone you know, it is not necessarily safe.
2. When setting up your e-mail client, make sure that you have the settings so that attachments do not open automatically. Some e-mail clients come ready with an anti-virus program that scans any attachments before they are opened. If your client does not come with this, it would be best to purchase one or download one for free.
3. Make sure your computer has an anti-virus program on it and update it regularly. If you have an auto-update option included in your anti-virus program you should turn it on; that way if you forget to update your software you can still be protected from threats
4. Operating systems offer patches to protect their users from certain threats. Software developers like Microsoft offer patches that in a sense "close the hole" that the Trojan horse or other virus would use to get through to your system. If you keep your system updated with these patches, your computer is kept much safer.
5. Avoid using peer-to-peer or P2P sharing networks like Kazaa, Limewire, Ares, or Gnutella because they are generally unprotected from viruses and Trojan Horse viruses spread through them especially easily. Some of these programs do offer some virus protection, but this is often not strong enough. If you insist on using P2P, it would be safe to not download files that claim to be "rare" songs, books, movies, pictures, etc.
Besides these sensible precautions, one can also install anti-trojan software, some of which is offered free.
Methods of Infection
The majority of trojan horse infections occur because the user was tricked into running an infected program. This is why it is advised to not open unexpected attachments on emails -- the program is often a cute animation or a sexy picture, but behind the scenes it infects the computer with a trojan or worm. The infected program doesn't have to arrive via email, though; it can be sent to you in an Instant Message, downloaded from a Web site or by FTP, or even delivered on a CD or floppy disk. (Physical delivery is uncommon, but if you were the specific target of an attack, it would be a fairly reliable way to infect your computer.) Furthermore, an infected program could come from someone who sits down at your computer and loads it manually.
Websites: You can be infected by visiting a rogue website.
Email: If you use Microsoft Outlook, you're vulnerable to many of the same problems that Internet Explorer has, even if you don't use IE directly.
Open ports: Computers running their own servers (HTTP, FTP, or SMTP, for example), allowing Windows file sharing, or running programs that provide filesharing capabilities such as Instant Messengers (AOL's AIM, MSN Messenger, etc.) may have vulnerabilities similar to those described above. These programs and services may open a network port giving attackers a means for interacting with these programs from anywhere on the Internet. Vulnerabilities allowing unauthorized remote entry are regularly found in such programs, so they should be avoided or properly secured.
A firewall may be used to limit access to open ports. Firewalls are widely used in practice, and they help to mitigate the problem of remote trojan insertion via open ports, but they are not a totally impenetrable solution, either.
Some of the modern trojans that come through messages. They come in as a very important looking message, but contain trojans, the executable files are same or look same as that of windows system proccesses like 'Svchost.exe', some of the look alike trojans are:
Well-known trojan horses
- Back Orifice
- Back Orifice 2000
- Pest Trap
- List of trojan horses
- Spy software
- Farewell Dossier
- Secure computing
- Social engineering (security)
- Remote administration tool
- Employee monitoring software
- What is a Trojan Horse? Webopedia
- The Difference between a Virus, a Worm and a Trojan Horse Webopedia
- Trojan horses and how they are used en-masse in botnets Virus Bulletin's The World of Botnets by Dr Alan Solomon and Gadi Evron-->