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how does it work?

I have been interested in programming for a while. Mostly Python and Mel. So I am not coming from a hardcore programming background. Although I remember being interested in Pascal and Assembler back in 1990's when I got my fist computer. But in those days I did not have access to internet or any of the BBS stuff. So I did not make much progress.

However with getting back to programming after almost 20 years :) My curiosity rose again. So I recently joined this site so I can explore the issues of malware, just for fun purposes and as an exercise. Because I believe that most of the functions embedded in the Malwares are the basic concepts of programming and they are simply interesting.

Could you please help me to find my way around... since things must have gotten abit more complicate since the 90's :) Sorry if I start to ask crazy questions that seem not to be related to each other.

First of all, I am not sure if I will go into Assembler again, it is very exciting but it is scary as well. But I might just decide to start from the basics. So here comes the first question:

What are the main conceptes here? I mean... There are worms / trojans that simply change paths and settings of the operating systems in order to get control of the crucial services of the OS and guarantee that they can manipulate how things run. And then there are the viruses as we know them... infecting files (placing their code inside the executable files) etc. Right?

So is the infection process, the same with the new EXE and DLL files as it used to be before? I mean, if a windows EXE file gets infected by a virus... will the virus and the orignal code still run under XP or WIN7? How is that working?

Thanks.