Skip to main content

What is Macro Virus?

A macro virus is a computer virus that uses the same macro language as the software programs it infects. Word processors like Microsoft Word and Excel are common targets, and because macro viruses target software rather than systems, they may infect any operating system. Macro viruses can affect both PCs and Macs.

Mostly, macros are beneficial. A macro language is a command wording for automating specific sequences in particular applications. Macros simplify complex procedures and make them more suitable by automatically completing a specific method. Macroviruses are viruses that are designed to target macro languages and install themselves into automated processes.

What is Macro Virus

Figure 1. What is Macro Virus?

Macro viruses implant harmful code in data files such as excel and word docs; when the files are accessed or macros are active, the code is triggered, and the virus spreads to other files on the afflicted device. Macro viruses, especially MS Office viruses, can pose a serious threat to you as well as ransomware, spyware, and other types of malware.

How does a Macro Virus Work?

By pretending to be a normal macro, a macro virus takes advantage of an automatic mechanism. When you open a file infected with a macro virus, the program runs the malicious macro as if it were a normal macro. They frequently replace pre-installed macros and are active when the usual macro is performed, but they can also work without the user's awareness while the program is not in use.

When a macro virus infects a file, it usually infects all other files of the same type, so you may need to remove all other files of the same type. Macroviruses have the power to propagate, similar to how a virus infects a person, copies itself, and spreads to other people.

Macro viruses may be designed to work silently and automatically, so you are unsuspecting that your device is infected. Phishing emails that include virus-infected files are a frequent technique for macro infections to propagate. The emails are sent automatically by gaining access to your contact list and influencing you to open the email and download an infected attachment.

Macro viruses can make modifications to your files that you don't want, such as removing or modifying content and adding photos. After a macro virus, other files will be infected by the virus. Also, a macro virus can make a new file, corrupt files, and other data. Micro viruses propagate from one victim to the next by sending files and emails to others. Additionally, It can cause format your hard disk and malware will be installed on your machine.

How Macro Viruses Spread?

Many macro viruses propagate by malicious email attachments, while others spread via infected downloads or physical media like USB flash drives. Macro viruses are most often discovered hidden in documents or as malicious code in word processing tools. They may be downloaded by clicking on "phishing" links in banner advertising or URLs, or from documents attached to emails. They're hard to see since they don't do anything until an infected macro is launched, at which point they issue a sequence of commands. When a user accesses or closes an infected document, macro viruses propagate. They do not work on operating systems, but rather on applications.

The following are some of the most prevalent ways macro viruses are spread:

  • Using a disk to share files
  • Using a network to share files
  • Using an email attachment to open a file
  • Using a modem to download a file and then open it

A macro virus is similar to a Trojan virus in that it may seem harmless and users may not detect any negative consequences right away. Macro viruses, unlike Trojans, may duplicate themselves and infect other systems.

Macroviruses are a form of a virus that is exceptionally cunning and the ability of their spread quickly is a serious issue.

How to Create a Macro Virus?

A simple macro is a collection of actions that may ordinarily be entered, selected, or defined but are saved in a single spot for automation. Many programs, including Word, allow users to make a series of inputs and menu options, which you may subsequently save to a file. But, with one keypress at a time, developing a macro will not give you a speedy or clever program.

A macro language is a computer language that requires the use of an application to run. Macro languages are used to enable more advanced macro development and control of the environment. A developer may edit and create files, modify menu settings, import and export data, and much more using macro languages.

Macros are created in a programming language that allows them to interact with their environs. Macros for Microsoft Office are written in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), a modified version of Microsoft's popular Visual Basic programming language made especially for Office. Most Office products, including Access, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Project, Publisher, Visio, and Word, support VBA. It also works in the most recent versions of Office for Windows and Macintosh, and Microsoft claims that the majority of existing VBA macros will operate in Office 365.

Macro Viruses are popular among virus writers because they are simple to create. Everyone shares documents and data, macro viruses may infect a greater number of individuals than their more complicated rivals. It can infect any machine that can run Office, and it's cross-platform and multilingual. Also, Internet Explorer may download Office documents from the Web or within emails without the user having to confirm the download.

David Smith created one of the most well-known and deadly macro viruses in 1999. When a user downloaded a document, it copied itself into their email and sent automated messages to the top 50 addresses, infecting the recipients, and so on. Smith was sentenced to ten years in jail, but only served 20 months and was fined $5,000; the cost of the damage was $80 million, and it damaged over one million machines.

Microsoft was exceedingly careless with security when it initially introduced macros, but it's been improving itself ever since. Macro viruses appeared to be on the decline for a time, but they've suddenly resurfaced: in the summer of 2018, one researcher discovered that roughly half of all malware loaders were disguised as Office macro infections. Unfortunately, anti-virus software does not identify all macro viruses, however, some good programs can detect them.

What are Types of Macro Viruses?

Macroviruses come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Although some believe them to be a relic of the late 1990s, they have made a comeback in recent years, necessitating users to be extra cautious.

There are several well-known examples of macro viruses that have propagated in the real world. The Concept virus and the Melissa virus, both of which were primarily Microsoft Word infections, are among the most well-known.

In addition to the Concept macro virus and the Melissa virus, The Nuclear macro virus and Hancitor (Chanitor), should also be known. The Nuclear macro virus was close to the Concept. "ExecuteOnly" was the name given to its harmful macros. When a document was printed within the final four seconds of any minute, it displayed an odd message on the last page. Hancitor, sometimes known as Chanitor, was one of the most well-known macro viruses, originally discovered in 2014. This macro-based malware downloader was transmitted via phishing emails and camouflaged in Word documents. Its primary purpose was to download harmful payloads onto infected devices, such as banking Trojans and ransomware.

Malicious macros in Microsoft Word and other programs have been exploited by Trojans like Rovnix, malware like Dridex, and ransomware like Locky to takeover systems, log keystrokes, steal data, and so on.

U.S. Allies and Rivals Digest Trump's Victory - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.docm is a more recent macro virus. It arrived in the form of a malicious Word document with the MacDownloader macro malware.

Concept and Melissa viruses are two of the best-known viruses and will be explained in detail:

1. Melissa Virus

Melissa was a sort of email virus that first appeared in early 1999 as a problem. It was a macro-based mass-mailing virus that infected Microsoft Word and Outlook-based computers.

The Melissa virus was sent as an e-mail attachment that, when viewed, disabled a number of Word 97 and Word 2000 security features. The virus also communicated itself to the first 50 individuals in the infected user's address book if the user used the Microsoft Outlook email software. The virus did not delete files or other resources, but it did have the ability to shut down corporate and other major mail systems since email distribution became a much bigger issue. Hundreds of networks, including those of the US Marine Corps and Microsoft, were damaged by the malware.

After stealing an AOL account and using it to deliver the fast-spreading virus through emails, a programmer named David Lee Smith launched the mass-mailing macro virus. On March 26, 1999, Smith made the virus public. It was not meant to steal money or data, even if it overloaded huge networks.

The Melissa virus was attached to an email with the subject line "Important Message from [the sender's username]" and the body content "Here is the document you requested for... ". List.Doc was a common name for the attachment. The linked file was meant to include a list of passwords for several membership-only websites, but instead, it contained a Visual Basic script. The infected file was transferred into a Word template file for custom settings and default macros. The infected file was read to computer storage if the receiver viewed the attachment. The virus then used Visual Basic code to generate an Outlook object, which read the first 50 names in each Outlook Global Address Book before sending out the duplicate infected document and email.

The Melissa virus was one of the first viruses to get widespread notice because it caused an estimated $80 million in damage, necessitating computer system cleanup and repair. The malware overwhelmed email servers at more than 300 firms and government entities, shutting down some of them completely. The malware spread to thousands of computers by spreading itself to compromised devices' email lists.

On April 1, 1999, Smith was arrested. In December 1999, Smith pleaded guilty to state and federal crimes and was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison and a $5,000 fine.

To avoid infections similar to the Melissa virus:

  • Do not open attachments from unfamiliar email accounts
  • Open executable files that are attached to emails with caution.
  • Scanning devices should be done with antivirus and antispyware software.
  • Examine the attachments to an email message for viruses.
  • Firewalls should be installed on both the desktop and the network.
  • Use a web security gateway and a gateway email filter.
  • Check the email address to be sure it's coming from a trustworthy source.
  • Mail clients, web browsers, and operating systems all need to be updated and patched regularly.
  • Other warning flags to look out for include glaring grammatical problems, suspicious attachments, and unusual domain names.

2. Concept Virus

The Concept virus, which initially appeared in 1995, was the first widely distributed Microsoft Word infection. It was unique in that the virus was tied to a file instead of a specific program, and it could be propagated through email attachments. The receiver needed to do nothing more than download and open the attached Word document, and the virus would be active and ready to propagate.

The Concept virus is thought to have been produced by a Microsoft employee and propagated by being placed on CDs that Microsoft delivered all over the world. The virus would infect any document saved with the Save As function after that. It spread so quickly that it was termed "the world's most extensively diffused computer virus.

After the virus has infected the worldwide pattern, it goes on to infect any documents generated using the "Save As" command. When a user views an infected document on a clean system, the virus infects the global document template, which allows it to propagate to other computers.

The following macros make up the virus:

AAAZAO \ AAAZFS \ AutoOpen \ FileSaveAs \ PayLoad

It's important to note that "AutoOpen" and "FileSaveAs" are both valid macro names, and some users may already have these macros connected to their documents and templates.

The virus's effective operating system is Microsoft Word, not Windows or macOS, making it the first multi-environment virus. The virus didn't do much damage to the machines it infected, but it was exceedingly inconvenient and difficult to remove.

Other macro viruses, such as the Word 97 Macro virus, spread as a result of the Concept virus. Thankfully, cases of the Concept virus began to fall rapidly around 1997, and it is now just a minor concern.

What are Macro Virus Risks?

Some of the most important Macro Virus risks can be listed as follow;

  • The capacity of macro viruses to propagate swiftly is the greatest danger they pose.
  • All other documents on a user's PC become infected when an infected macro is activated.
  • A few of these viruses cause text document anomalies, such as deleted or added words.
  • Viruses can also be programmed to delete or corrupt data.
  • Furthermore, macro viruses may infect both Windows and Mac machines with the same code.
  • Every application that includes macros can act as a host, and any copy of an infected program, whether transmitted through email, saved on disk, or transferred by USB drive, carry the virus.

What Programs are Most Affected by Macro Virus?

Because macro viruses address particular applications, they frequently attack commonly used apps like Microsoft Office. The problem is so widespread that Microsoft has implemented several anti-macros malware measures. Macros should be deactivated by default in respective apps, and warnings should appear before you enable them.

Macro viruses specifically target Microsoft Word and are not restricted to Windows machines; Macs, too, can be infected with macro viruses as they run Word, Excel, and other Office applications.

What is Microsoft doing About This Problem with Macros?

Previously, macros in Microsoft Office were turned on by default. However, as the number of macro virus attacks increased, Microsoft decided to deactivate them. Macros are now deactivated by default in all versions of Microsoft Office starting with 2000. MS Office will ask you if you want to allow macros when you open a document that contains them. This significantly minimizes your chances of contracting a macro virus. On the other hand, cybercriminals continue to develop new ways to deceive users; they try to trick their victims into enabling macros before running infected macros.

What are Macro Virus Symptoms?

Macro virus infection may go undetected for a long time. Meanwhile, it may leave certain imprints that signal infection. For example, the computer's performance may be impaired, or weird error messages may appear. Macro viruses can cause your computer to slow down, delete or alter data, and affect the functionality of your device. The following are some macro virus symptoms to be aware of:

  • Your computer may become noticeably slower than normal because the virus duplicates itself repetitively.
  • Files are password protected even if password protection was not set by you.
  • Unexpected changes may appear in your files.
  • Some files may be lost or files can be saved as "templates" on your PC.
  • Weird emails from you can be reported by your friends.
  • The menu options may change in the programs you use.
  • When you open or work with certain files, you may start seeing strange error messages. The Nuclear macro virus posted this text: "And finally I would like to say: STOP ALL FRENCH NUCLEAR TESTING IN THE PACIFIC."

How to Remove Macro Viruses?

If a macro virus has infected a system, it must be removed as quickly as possible. Macro viruses typically infect Windows and Macs. It's important to know what files to check for if you're looking for a macro virus. Click Tools-Macro-Macros and write down the following filenames for and each item in the Startup folder, as suggested:

Auto Execution \ Auto Open \ auto shut off \File Output \ FileNew \ FileOpen \Save File \ Save File As \ToolsMacro

Manual removal or automated removal with a virus removal tool are the two methods for removing macro viruses from your computer. We know macro viruses primarily target Microsoft Word and Excel. Now here's how to manually delete a macro virus:

  1. Open Word or Excel in Safe Mode.
  2. Open the program by pressing the left Control key while clicking and selecting Yes. Safe mode allows you to check for viruses in your documents. If you come across an infected file;
  3. To see the infected file, click View and then Macros.
  4. Then select Organizer from the drop-down menu.
  5. Click Delete after selecting the infected macro.

You can remove all macros from the document to ensure you find the infected macro. You should be virus-free after restarting your PC. You may run Repair on your full Microsoft Office package to confirm that it is malware-free. To do so, go to your computer's Control Panel, right-click on Microsoft Office in the list, and choose Repair. The macro virus and its effects on the full Office suite should be removed as a result of this.

You may simply remove macro infections automatically if you don't want to cope with manual removal. The best solution to ensure that any macro virus is removed is to use full antivirus software. You may use your antivirus application to do a scan to see if there is any evidence of a macro virus. If anything is discovered, you may quickly remove it. Because new viruses emerge frequently you should use the best antivirus software available regularly.

How to Prevent Macro Virus?

Due to the rise of macro viruses, Microsoft Office now blocks all macros by default. Most antivirus software packages nowadays are intended to detect and eliminate any existing macro viruses on a computer while also preventing new ones from gaining ground. On the other hand, antivirus software does not identify all macro infections, and antivirus software is not all created equal.

When it comes to macro viruses, prevention is a better option than cure.

  • Phishing emails should be blocked. The fewer spam emails you get, the less likely you are to be deceived into downloading anything you don't want.
  • All software and fixes should be updated. For best security, keep your operating system and apps up to date.
  • Open attachments from unknown senders with caution. You shouldn't read emails from someone you don't know. Even if it's from someone you know, don't open suspicious-looking attachments. This is a frequent method of macro infection transmission.
  • Clicking on banner adverts should be avoided. By clicking on harmful links in advertising, you might download a document containing a macro infection. Be cautious with what you click.
  • Make sure your Microsoft Office programs don't have macros enabled.
  • Use a trusted antivirus program. You can catch macro viruses and other malware before they infect your computer if you use one of the top antivirus software options available.

What is Macro Virus Protection Tool?

Macro-enabled Microsoft Office files have a distinct file extension to indicate that they have a macro incorporated in them. Microsoft Office cannot check files or locations for macro viruses and eliminate them, any contemporary anti-malware software should be able to detect and prevent known macro viruses.

Your greatest defense against macro viruses, as well as other viruses and malware, is a robust and reliable antivirus.

What is the First Macro Virus?

The first macro virus to propagate using Microsoft Word was Concept, which was released in 1995. Hundreds of CD-ROMs labeled "Microsoft Compatibility Test" were unintentionally distributed with the malware. Inadvertently, individuals spread the malware via infected email attachments.

Even though Concept couldn't propagate via email, it was a predecessor of the Melissa virus, which spread quickly. On March 26, 1999, the Melissa Virus started spreading via email and infected a large number of computers within hours. Microsoft removed macros by default with the introduction of Microsoft Office 2000 and all later versions. Since then it has become relatively difficult to spread macroviruses. However, as long as people have access to macros, there is a risk of macro virus.