Windows Vista tool targeted by virus writers

Security experts are warning of a possible scripting virus 'outbreak' when the OS formerly known as Longhorn finally ships

Virus writers have published what are thought to be the first examples of malicious code targeting an expected feature of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, around a week after the first beta of the next-generation operating system was released.

Five proof-of-concept viruses that target Monad, the next version of Microsoft's command prompt, were included in a recently published virus writing magazine, according to Mikko Hyppönen, the director of antivirus research at F-Secure.

Monad is a command line interface and scripting language that is similar to Unix shells such as BASH, but is based on object-oriented programming and the .Net framework. It was initially expected in Vista, but Microsoft hinted a couple of months ago that it may not be ready for initial versions of the Vista client or server. However, Microsoft has confirmed that Monad will be included in Exchange 12, the next version of the company's collaboration server due in the second half of 2006.

The proof-of-concept viruses, along with detailed explanations of how they work, were included in a magazine that was published on the Web over the last week. The viruses' only action is to infect other shell scripts on the host's operating system. They would cause little harm in the wild, but would be relatively easy to modify using the information from the article, said Hyppönen in a blog posting on Thursday.

He warned that if Microsoft ships Monad with Vista and it is enabled by default this could lead to an "outbreak of scripting viruses". Microsoft may choose to ship the tool as an add-on or disable it by default to reduce the risk, he added.

Even if Microsoft fixes this problem, virus writers are probably working hard to find other holes in the operating system itself, according to Hyppönen.

"There are always virus writers who want to be the first to write a virus for a new platform. I wouldn't be surprised if we see a virus targeting Vista itself soon," he said.

The Monad viruses were written by a virus writer who calls himself "Second Part To Hell" and is believed to live in Austria, according to Hyppönen.

The final version of Vista for the client is due to ship in Autumn 2006 with the server expected in 2007.

Microsoft was unable to comment in time for this article.