The program information file, normally referred to as a PIF file, is a type of file extension that was developed in the days leading up to the advent of Windows applications. Essentially, this type of file is designed to hold information that will help an MS-DOS application know how to run in a Windows environment. The idea behind the PIF file is that the data will tell the operating system how to run the application while using the least amount of resources necessary. Today, a PIF serves a similar function with any Windows based application as well.
An example of the information contained in the PIF file is the amount of memory that is needed to drive the application that the file extension corresponds with. A path to the executable file that is associated with the file is also designated, so the system does not have to conduct a search in order to launch the program. Generally, the PIF detail will also include a specification of the type of window that should be used to open the application, such as a full screen, or a smaller window size. This is accomplished by designating the number of pixels that are to be used for the display.
While developed originally as a non-Windows application, the value of the PIF file was quickly realized and the protocols were modified by Microsoft to allow PIF files to also function in a Windows environment. The result was a full service application that helped to make the best use of resources on the hard drive, allowing computers to function at a higher rate of efficiency.
Unfortunately, hackers and others who create and distribute viruses sometimes abuse the PIF file. Because of the relative ease of creating a PIF file, it is easy to create an executable file that appears to be innocuous, but in fact is embedded with a virus. The infected file is then sent out to a number of email addresses, in anticipation of someone opening the file, infecting the hard drive, and in turn propagating by using the system to send out infected emails and attachments to everyone listed in the email program address book. The attachments usually contain a virus of some sort that will begin to infect the hard drive when the file is opened. Great care should be taken before opening any attachment that ends with “exe” or “pif”. Even if the file appears to be from a trusted source, make sure the anti-virus software on the hard drive is up to date, and scan the attachment before opening the document.