Anyone who has been on the internet has, at some point, heard or read the word malware. We hear it all the time, and it is one of the most common forms of hacking out there. It is a kind of cyber attack done by cybercriminals that involves taking the normal operations of a computer system and completely disrupting the flow of work.

Malware has been an issue that has plagued users for years now, and while there are many other forms of cyber attacks out there that are far more dangerous, we must not simply brush it under the rug. As a direct result of the existence of malware, there is now a domain known as malware analysis.

Malware Analysis – Explained

This article will define what malware analysis is, the various types and stages of malware analysis, and how it’s used.

Definition

Malware analysis can be defined as the process where users attempt to understand the purpose and behavior of a URL or suspicious file. Just like any form of analysis, the goal is to collect information to understand the item in question and also how you protect yourself from any future attacks.

The greatest benefits of malware analysis include:

  • Understanding and categorizing different forms of attacks
  • Finding different loopholes and leaks that can be plugged to ensure that there are no future attacks. When you know how something is getting in, you make sure to restrict access as much as possible
  • Based on what you learn from the analysis, you can introduce or improve a system of protection. When you understand the problem, you can formulate a better solution.
  • With a greater understanding and deeper analysis now available, you can enrich the content on a website while hunting for threats. This allows you to be more targeted and specific when trying to intercept an attack in the future.

Different Types of Malware Analysis

There are three main types of malware analysis. This includes status analysis, dynamic analysis, or a hybrid of the two types of analysis.

1. Static Analysis

In static analysis, the file is simply examined for any form of malicious or suspicious intent. This is most commonly used to find different forms of malicious libraries, packed files, or infrastructure.

This is done by identifying names, hashes, IP addresses, file header data, and domains. Furthermore, using different tools, such as network analyzers or disassemblers, it is actually possible for us to observe the malware itself without actually running the file.

While static analysis does make life easier, because we do not run the code, more complex forms of malware might fly under the radar. This makes it harder to detect them, and at times, they go completely unnoticed. A prime example of such a situation would be when a file generates a string which downloads a malicious file that is based on a dynamic string and can be identified using only dynamic analysis (more on that in a bit). On such a file, static analysis will have no impact.

2. Dynamic Analysis

In dynamic analysis, a suspicious file is run in a controlled environment known as a sandbox. Like a closed experiment in a lab under controlled conditions, this system makes it a lot easier for security professionals to study the malware’s behavior. Since it is in a controlled environment, there is no risk of infection to the rest of the system or network.

Using dynamic analysis, incident responders and threat hunters get a better view of what is going on. When you have more clarity regarding a certain form of malware, you can understand it better and also identify the nature of this threat.

Another added benefit of this sandbox method is that it prevents you from spending too much time having to reverse engineer files in an attempt to discover malicious code. However, the sandbox is not perfect.

In fact, modern attackers have learned that there are sandboxes out there and have tweaked malware to hide inside code. This code is programmed to only run when certain conditions are met – conditions that are usually found outside the sandbox. This can be a tricky track to navigate.

3. Hybrid Analysis

As the name suggests, hybrid analysis is a combination of static and dynamic analysis. Since static analysis cannot detect more complex code and attackers can hide malware from the sandbox, there needs to be a third form of analysis to work around these vulnerabilities.

Using hybrid analysis makes it easier for security teams to leverage both forms of analysis. They use this method to find code that is hiding while also identifying more areas of compromise which might have been missed initially. Using this combination, it becomes easier for a security team to find any indicators of compromise (IOC) that might have infiltrated your system.

Malware Analysis Uses

Now that we know what malware analysis is, let us shine a light on where it is used.

● Malware Detection

With attackers becoming smarter and greedier every day, it is important to ensure that you are proactively monitoring your security situation. Using different forms of malware analysis makes the process of identifying and detecting malware more effective.

When we know what the issue is and where it is coming from, the threat can be more effectively detected and neutralized. Moreover, this information can be shared so other members of the community can also reinforce their security systems to find IOCs in their systems.

● Threat Hunting

Using malware analysis, we can identify how attackers infiltrate a system and this will allow the security team to proactively find different forms of malware. For example, a certain port or domain might, certain network connection, firewalls, proxy logs, SIEM data or other ways for the system to be infiltrated can be reinforced and be kept under surveillance.

● Incident Response

The more we understand a problem, know where it is coming from, and how it behaves, the easier it becomes to respond to it. This allows the resolution of complaints when the incident occurs and also makes it easier for the security apparatus to determine the impact of the recovery and remedy.

● Malware Research

With the world of technology constantly changing and improving, a security team must always be in the know. It is important to know what sorts of threats exist out there and how to tackle them. Any form of negligence can be catastrophic for a company because if attackers get into your company system, they can wreak havoc that you might not be able to recover from.

Malware analysis not only allows you to mitigate the threat but it also allows you to learn from it and use it to improve your existing practices. Malware analysis is the best way for a security company to remain on top of the issue and ensure that there is no compromise or disturbance with the data.

Final Thoughts

Malware analysis is imperative in the modern technological infrastructure. While malware may be just one of the many threats that exist out there, it is important to remain on top of the matter. When you proactively nip the problem in the bud, you are preventing foreseeable losses and damage that might arise in the future.