EXE Files Explained

A file ending with “EXE” is likely a self-executing program. There are hundreds of thousands of EXE files on a typical home computer with the vast majority being completely harmless. They accomplish tasks such as checking your email, calculating values, manipulating office documents and even helping you to surf the internet.EXE files are commonly referred to as “programs”, “executables” and “applications”. They may have a graphical user interface (GUI), or they may run silently in the computer’s background without you ever being aware of them.EXE files that are programs will consist of two parts primarily. The majority is a set of machine code instructions that instruct the computer how to perform a certain task. The minority will be a “header” that contains information such as the platform the program is designed for, the needed libraries to run and a host of other resources.

An executable file will always start with the ASCII MZ. Depending on the compiler used to make the EXE file, there may be further information besides just the ASCII MZ.EXE format files are meant to run primarily in DOS, Microsoft Windows, OS/2 and Unix-based systems. It should be noted that an EXE file that runs on one system may not run on another due to having different dependencies.An EXE file can perform a number of tasks. Besides simply running calculations, it can call functions from other parts of the operating system to make changes to it. Some common changes include to alter the contents of files, to change the way your operating system runs, to schedule another program to automatically run or to make modifications to the registry file.
Within the Microsoft Windows operating system, ActiveX is a software component designed to ease internet browsing. For computer users that are running Internet Explorer, ActiveX would have been already installed on their system.

The function of ActiveX is to govern the add-ons and small programs that the computer uses while on the internet. Ideally, ActiveX looks to enhance the user’s browser and search experience through animation admittance, installing security features, and adding updates.

If ActiveX is not already installed, the user can decide on a per use basis whether or not they want to download ActiveX controls. Each website is different in terms of whether or not ActiveX is required to perform certain tasks or to view particular pages. In the example of Internet Explorer users, when they arrive at pages that use ActiveX controls, the user would be prompted with a question regarding whether or not the user would like to install the ActiveX control. Since there are risks associated with ActiveX, only click “run” if the website is trusted and secure.

Hackers and cybercriminals have developed ActiveX controls of their own in an attempt to damage, corrupt and control PCs that visit and run ActiveX controls on web sites that have tainted and malicious ActiveX software.  It becomes a bit of a double-edged sword for ActiveX, as the same components that allow the software to be flexibly and integrate between all applications, are the same components that make ActiveX unsafe when threatening hackers get a hold of it. Over the last several years, some of the worst viruses and malware have been disguised as ActiveX controls. The debate continues as to whether or not Microsoft gives the user too much control and responsibility in policing the security of the computer.

Click on a File Extension Below to Learn More