What are the three steps of malware analysis? A comprehensive guide


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I have seen the devastating effects malware can have on a system. It’s like a thief sneaking into your house and stealing everything valuable, except this burglar can cause irreversible damage to your digital world. That’s why malware analysis is so crucial in fighting against these intrusive programs. In this comprehensive guide, I will walk you through the three steps of malware analysis, using psychological and emotional hooks to keep you engaged and interested. Let’s dive in.

What are the three 3 steps of malware analysis?

There are a few critical steps to take when analyzing malware to better understand its behavior, code, and potential damage. These steps provide insight into the malware’s characteristics and help to determine the best course of action for removal and prevention of future infections. The three phases of malware analysis are behavioral, code, and memory forensics. Let’s take a closer look at each step.

  • Behavioral Analysis: This phase focuses on the malware’s behavior and how it interacts with its environment. Analysts will observe the malware running in a controlled environment and note any changes it makes to the system. This includes changes to the registry, file system, network connections, and CPU utilization. The goal of behavioral analysis is to identify any potential damage or malicious behavior the malware executes in order to determine the threat level.
  • Code Analysis: In this phase, analysts will dissect the malware’s code to identify the methods it uses to operate. This includes reverse engineering the code to determine how it communicates with command and control servers, how it delivers payloads, and how it evades detection. Code analysis is crucial as it provides insight into how the attacker operates and enables security professionals to develop countermeasures to prevent future attacks.
  • Memory Forensics: This step involves analyzing the system’s memory of an infected machine. Memory forensics allows analysts to identify key artifacts left by the malware, apply YARA rules to monitor malicious behaviors, and detect MITRE ATT&CK techniques used by advanced adversaries. This analysis can help determine what was executed in memory, examine changes to the operating system during runtime, and find artifacts related to malicious operations not apparent by static analysis.
  • By following these three phases of malware analysis, cybersecurity experts can better understand the behavior, code, and potential damage caused by malware. This information helps to develop countermeasures that prevent future infections, protect against damage, and secure systems.

    ???? Pro Tips:

    1. Collect all the necessary data: Firstly, gather all the data surrounding the malware such as its source, file name, creation date, and size, as well as the computer system it infected. Collecting the right data is essential to understand the problem and limit its effects.

    2. Analyze the malware’s behavior: This involves studying the malware’s behavior and understanding how it works and infects the system. You can use specialized software to carry out the analysis and determine the malware’s characteristics, including its type, purpose, and severity.

    3. Contain and Eliminate Malware: Once the malware has been analyzed, it needs to be contained, and then eliminated. This involves taking steps to prevent the malware from spreading and causing more damage or data loss. Techniques like isolation or deleting the files once they have been analyzed can help prevent further damage.

    4. Keep your antivirus software updated: Malware evolves continually, which is why it’s crucial to keep your antivirus software updated. Antivirus software can often detect and prevent malware before it has a chance to infect your system.

    5. Avoid suspicious downloads or links: Malware is often spread through malicious downloads or links. Avoid clicking on links from unknown sources, downloading software from questionable websites, or opening attachments from unknown emails. Always verify the authenticity of the website and links before downloading or clicking on them.

    Introduction to Malware Analysis

    Malware attacks have become ubiquitous in the world of cybersecurity, and the need for identifying and mitigating malware has become paramount. Malware analysis is a systematic process of dissecting malware to understand its behavior, code structure, and functionality. The analysis is performed by cybersecurity experts or teams to detect, isolate, and eliminate malware from the infected systems. The process of malware analysis is divided into three key stages: behavioral analysis, code analysis, and memory forensics.

    The Behavioral Analysis Phase

    The behavioral analysis phase in malware analysis involves understanding the actions and interactions of the malware with the host system and other devices. Typically, this is done by monitoring the network traffic generated by the infected system, observing the system’s changes, and reviewing system logs and traces. The key goal of this phase is to determine the purpose of the malware, its methods of propagation, and the extent of damage caused to the system.

    Behavioral analysis can be further categorized into static and dynamic analysis. Static analysis involves analyzing the malware without executing it, while dynamic analysis involves executing the malware in a controlled, virtual environment, and observing its behavior. Therefore, by analyzing the malware’s static and dynamic behavior, a cybersecurity expert can identify its intended function, which is vital to moving on to the next stage of code analysis.

    Understanding the Code Analysis Phase

    In the code analysis phase, the cybersecurity expert dissects the actual code structure and the functionality of the malware. Code analysis is a complex process involving reverse engineering, disassembly, and decompilation. It involves generating an exact copy of the malware while trying to understand its internal functioning, APIs used, and file characteristics.

    By analyzing the malware code, the cybersecurity expert can identify the vulnerabilities and exploits used by the malware and develop strategies for mitigating the malware’s impact. Additionally, by examining the malicious code of the malware, the expert can identify its behavior, such as data exfiltration, information theft, or operations that could cause physical damage.

    Memory Forensics Phase of Malware Analysis

    The memory forensics phase is the third and the final stage of malware analysis. It involves examining the memory of the infected system and identifying any volatile data structures that the malware might have injected or modified into the system’s memory. This is a critical stage because memory forensics allows the cybersecurity expert to identify the actual capabilities and characteristics of the malware, which may not be visible during behavioral and code analysis.

    Memory forensics involves using tools that examine the system’s physical memory or RAM. Commonly used tools for memory forensics include Volatility, Rekall, RedLine, and DumpIt. These tools can help a cybersecurity expert determine specific details, such as the malware’s process ID, injection techniques, and network connections.

    Tools and Techniques for Malware Analysis

    The process of malware analysis requires various tools and techniques. Some of the commonly used tools for malware analysis include disassemblers, debuggers, and decompilers. Additionally, analysts also use specific tools that can monitor network traffic and analyze the system’s behavior during a malware attack. These tools are essential for collecting information and generating reports about the malware’s behavior during different stages of the analysis.

    Some of the popular tools for malware analysis include:

    • IDA Pro
    • OllyDbg
    • Wireshark
    • Process Monitor
    • VirusTotal
    • Sandbox systems such as Cuckoo Sandbox or ThreatBox

    Benefits of Performing Malware Analysis

    The process of malware analysis is critical in defending against cyberattacks because it provides insights that can help in developing and implementing countermeasures.

    Some of the benefits of performing malware analysis include:

    • Identification of new malware types and strains
    • Learning the advanced tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by attackers
    • Developing systems and tools to detect and mitigate threats
    • Creating antivirus signatures to block malware from executing
    • Identifying and securing vulnerabilities in software and systems

    Challenges in Malware Analysis

    Despite the benefits of malware analysis, there are specific challenges associated with the process. One major issue is the threat posed to the analysis environment. Since malware can spread rapidly and infect other systems, malware analysts have to perform the analysis in a controlled and isolated environment. Additionally, as malware evolves, malware analysts may not have access to updated tools, techniques, and knowledge to analyze the latest threats effectively. Finally, some malware samples may be obfuscated or encrypted to prevent analysis, which adds another layer of complication to the analysis process.

    Conclusion and Further Actions for Malware Analysis

    Malware analysis is a crucial element in defending against cyberattacks. The process of analyzing malware consists of three key phases: behavioral analysis, code analysis, and memory forensics. Each phase provides unique insights into the malware’s function and behavior.

    An effective malware analysis plan requires a combination of tools, techniques, and expert knowledge. It is a rapidly evolving field that requires constant monitoring of new malware strains, TTPs, and vulnerabilities. By performing malware analysis, cybersecurity teams can enhance their understanding of the threat landscape and develop effective countermeasures to mitigate the impact of malware attacks.