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Types and Techniques of Malware Analysis - A Practical Guide

  • deepti

  • Feb. 3, 2020, 5:05 a.m.

Did you know that 4.1 billion sensitive records were exposed in the first half of 2019 due to data breaches? Poor cybersecurity practices and the lack of awareness about the growing sophistication of threat elements are still the primary reasons for malware intrusions into enterprise systems. Cybercriminals are becoming increasingly efficient in packaging the malicious entities in forms that do not raise suspicion - for instance, an MS Word file or an email attachment.

What are the Characteristics of Malware?

Any piece of code packaged to damage or steal sensitive and protected data can be considered to be malware. These entities have the potential to remain undetected and can alter files and data in the infected system. Powerful malware programs have the ability to bring down the performance of the system or network, hence rendering it unusable, making the data contained inside the system unusable.

Detection of the presence of malware before it can cause some serious damage or hold sensitive data hostage is imperative for enterprises. Read our blog to learn more - The Importance of Timely Malware Detection and Termination

In today’s post, we are going to discuss the most common types of malware analysis techniques that are performed by security experts to understand the very nature of these intrusive elements.

Malware Analysis - Tools and Resources

Understanding malware analysis - An umbrella term, malware analysis is performed to determine the purpose and functionality of the detected malware in the host system. A malware analyst makes use of malware analysis tools to assess the damage caused due to the intrusion and identify indicators that can help unveil hidden malicious elements in the network or system.

Common Types of Malware Analysis Performed by Analysts

There are mainly two types of techniques that malware analysts ordinarily use to understand the intricacies of the malicious program. These malware analysis procedures are performed to arrive at a common goal but the tools and abilities of these methods are strikingly varied. The best cyber security practice in this regard is to conduct both the analysis tests to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the malware file and the damages it has caused to the infected system.

  1. Static Malware Analysis

The main idea of static malware analysis is to extract information from the malicious program without viewing the code. This is the safest procedure used by malware analysis tools as executing the code or running the program could potentially infect the system.

  • Basic Static Malware Analysis - Basic metadata such as names, types, and size of the file can provide crucial information to malware analysts about the nature of the intrusion and its purpose. Cross-checking the file with the enterprise database can reveal if the threat has been previously dealt with by the security analysts of the enterprise.
  • Advanced Static Malware Analysis - Also known as code analysis, this method dissects the malware binary code to study its individual components. Malware analysts reverse engineer the code using dissemblers to convert machine code to assembly code that is easily readable and understandable to them. These assembly instructions are enough data for the analysts to decipher capabilities of the malicious code. File headers and strings also provide vital information to the specialists to understand the main purpose of the malicious entity.

It is unwise to assume that cyber criminals are not aware of the malware analysis tools and techniques analysts use. In most cases, they can figure out a way to evade static analysis that misguides dissemblers, hence rendering this technique useless. This is why dynamic malware analysis needs to be performed.

  1. Dynamic Malware Analysis

Also referred to as malware behavior analysis, this method executes the malware code to study its functionalities. Since running the program is essentially a death note for the host system or network, this procedure is mainly carried out in a safe and controlled environment known as malware sandboxes.

Learn more about sandboxes here - Malware Sandboxing 101 - The Ultimate Guide

During dynamic malware analysis, when the code is run, indicators provide a detection signature that can be identified by dynamic analysis only. The behavior detection technique looks for the following:

  • Network traffic analysis
  • File-system behavior
  • Registry changes

Dynamic malware analysis tools efficiently monitor the sandbox environment to detect the alterations caused by the malware to the system. Knowing the mode of action of the malicious entity can help in rectifying the damages caused by that particular type of malware. This technique also reveals whether the malware program is in communication with the hacker’s external server.

Some sophisticated malware is designed to detect the presence of controlled sandboxes. In such cases, the files refuse to run.

What Anlyz Offers

Today, in-depth malware analysis that makes use of new-age, cutting edge technologies are required to provide stiff competition to the growing cybersecurity threat landscape. Reverss™ from Anlyz provides automated dynamic malware analysis to enable the security response teams of enterprises with the ammunition they need to rapidly mitigate and terminate malware threats. Its real-time classification and comprehensive reporting capabilities empower the SecOps team with enhanced visibility into the scope of the threat and the damages it can cause to the system. Reverss™ uses robust security libraries to track past threats and rapidly reverse any new ones.

Conclusion

Different malware programs are created to target different vulnerabilities in the target system. Some want to infect and damage data while other entities just tend to choke the bandwidth of functions that a network or system can perform. Malware analysts should always use a combination of both static and dynamic malware analysis to obtain a foolproof result of the tests.

It is crucial to determine the working of the malware program in detail, the changes it is capable of making in the infected system and how to create signatures for identification and detection. Only a thorough understanding of the functionalities of the intrusive elements can help analysts come up with efficient solutions. This can eventually save millions of dollars that enterprises have to spend on damage control after a malware attack.

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