Virus writers have unleashed the first program that infects 64-bit Windows files, antivirus firm Symantec said Monday.
The virus, dubbed W64.Shruggle by Symantec, seems mainly to be an experiment to test the concept of a 64-bit infecter and is not actively spread, said Alfred Huger, senior director of security for Symantec.
“The most interesting thing about this is that virus writers are already developing for the 64-bit platform,” he said.
Symantec got a copy of the virus from an antivirus newsgroup the company monitors, Huger said. The virus, even if released on the Internet, would not spread, he added, because the Windows software that the program exploits has not been released by Microsoft yet. Some developers are trying out the 64-bit extensions for Windows, but the software is still being tested. The virus will not run on 32-bit versions of Windows, such as Windows 2000 and Windows XP, owned by the vast majority of Microsoft users.
“This is for the future, when this stuff comes out of beta,” Huger said.
That a virus for 64-bit Windows has been developed so early is somewhat ironic, since 64-bit processors, such as AMD's Opteron, haves specific features to boost the security of Windows PCs. That protection is targeted at worms and other attacks that, unlike e-mail viruses, don't rely on tricking the user to be triggered.
While the digital pest is little threat, it does indicate that virus writers are thinking ahead. Such “proof of concept” programs tend to be aimed at identifying vulnerabilities, not exploiting them. Other recent viruses targets at new platforms include two programs that aimed to infect the Symbian and Windows CE operating systems used by many smart phones.
“They prove that there is a viable threat,” Huger said.