While checking the PE header of DLLs and EXE(s) by PEviewer, I found something called "magic number".

After googling "magic number". I found that it is used to determine the file type. My question is how can a malware analysist benefits from this magic number ? And why is it in the PE header ?


A magic number is a set of bytes used when accessing a file to determine its type. For example, the standard Microsoft PE begins with (in ASCII) MZ, the initials of one of the developers of MS-DOS.

The initial headers in a portable executable specify a variety of information regarding the file, ranging from the supported platform, number of symbols, number of sections, time stamps, etc. As such, it is a logical location to store the magic number, as it is also part of the file metadata.

How can a malware analyst benefit from this magic number?

The only information the magic number provides is the file type, and as such that is all that can be garnered by a malware analyst, or any type of analysis. Although one can refer to the file extension to check a file type, they can be changed without affecting the contents of the file. As such, checking the magic number is a method to determine the true file type. Discrepancies would then indicate potential malicious behavior or attempts to hide data.

  • Could you provide me with the magic number of other populer file type of malware – Ahmed Aug 3 '14 at 12:57
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    @Ahmed: Wikipedia has a list of many: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_file_signatures. – JamalS Aug 3 '14 at 13:15
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    @Ahmed: you got it the wrong way around. Malware doesn't have a "magic number". Their containers do. Malware can be hidden inside executables, but also in PDFs, JPEGs, and even DOS batch files. – usr2564301 Aug 3 '14 at 13:54
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    @Ahmed: Yes, don't confuse file types with malware. The file types serve as a way of storing malicious code. – JamalS Aug 3 '14 at 15:02

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