How many types of malware analysis are there

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Safeguarding digital ecosystems demands a nuanced understanding of malicious software, or malware. As threats evolve, so must our analytical approaches. Therefore, many security researchers are trying each day to figure out new techniques to analyse malwares efficiently. So, how many types of malware analysis are there?

There is three types of malware analysis:

  • Static malware analysis
  • Dynamic malware analysis
  • Hybrid malware analysis

Each onf the the previously mentioned technique has its own advantages and limitations, and are being used accordingly to the nature of the malware beeing analysed. Therefore, if you need more informations about how each one of them is performed and what tools can be used for each one of them, then just keep reading.

Static Malware Analysis

What is static malware analysis ?

Static malware analysis represents a fundamental approach in cybersecurity that involves dissecting malicious software without its execution. In this methodical examination, the focus is on scrutinizing the code structure, file characteristics, and potential signatures associated with the malware. Analysts employ file hashing to calculate unique cryptographic representations (hashes) of the malware, aiding in the identification of known malicious entities based on pre-existing signatures.

Code inspection entails a deep dive into the code’s content and structure, unraveling the intricacies of the program’s logic and potential vulnerabilities. Signature-based detection further fortifies this analytical approach by recognizing patterns or signatures indicative of known malware strains.

Static analysis stands as an initial line of defense in the perpetual arms race between cybersecurity and malicious actors, offering a crucial understanding of potential threats before they infiltrate systems. As we navigate the intricate landscape of malware analysis, static analysis emerges as an indispensable tool, forming the foundation upon which dynamic and hybrid approaches further fortify our digital defenses.

What are the advantages of static malware analysis ?

Static malware analysis offers several advantages in the realm of cybersecurity. One key benefit lies in its non-intrusive nature, allowing for the examination of malicious code without the need for execution. This characteristic facilitates the rapid identification and categorization of potential threats, contributing to swift threat detection and response.

Additionally, static analysis provides a foundation for signature-based detection, leveraging known patterns or signatures associated with established malware strains. This advantage proves effective in quickly identifying and categorizing well-known threats based on pre-existing knowledge.

Furthermore, static analysis can be applied to a wide range of file types and is less resource-intensive compared to dynamic analysis, making it a practical and efficient approach in certain scenarios. While recognizing the limitations of static analysis, particularly in dealing with polymorphic or metamorphic malware as you will see in the next section, its advantages as an initial layer of defense in cybersecurity are instrumental in fortifying overall digital security measures.

What are the limitations of static malware analysis ?

While static malware analysis provides valuable insights, it is not without its limitations. One notable constraint is its susceptibility to polymorphic or metamorphic malware. These sophisticated threats dynamically alter their code, structure, or appearance to evade detection, making them elusive to static analysis methods that rely on pre-existing signatures.

The static approach is inherently blind to the runtime behavior of the malware, as it refrains from executing the code. Consequently, any malicious activities that only manifest during execution may remain undetected through static analysis alone.

Another limitation stems from the inability to assess the temporal aspects of malware behavior. As static analysis focuses on the code’s static attributes, it may overlook dynamic changes that occur in response to specific triggers or environmental conditions.

Furthermore, encrypted or obfuscated code poses a challenge to static analysis, as it obstructs a clear understanding of the code’s logic and functionality. The reliance on heuristics and pattern matching in static analysis also introduces the risk of false positives or negatives, potentially misclassifying benign code or failing to identify subtle variations of known threats.

Despite these challenges, it is crucial to recognize that static analysis is just one component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Combining it with dynamic and hybrid approaches enhances overall threat detection and response capabilities, creating a robust defense against the evolving landscape of malicious software.

What are the tools used in static malware analysis ?

In the realm of static malware analysis, several specialized tools play a pivotal role in dissecting and scrutinizing malicious code.

  • Hex editors serve as fundamental tools, allowing analysts to examine binary files and understand the raw hexadecimal representation of code.
  • Disassemblers convert executable files into assembly language, unveiling the low-level instructions and logic of the program. Notable disassemblers include :

enabling in-depth code analysis.

  • Debuggers aid in tracking program execution, examining memory states, and identifying potential vulnerabilities:
  • Static analysis tools leverage signature-based detection, enabling the identification of known malware patterns or characteristics:
  • Binary analysis frameworks automate and streamline the static analysis process, providing scalable solutions for code dissection.
  • File analysis tools focus on examining Portable Executable (PE) files, commonly used in Windows environments, to extract valuable information about the file’s structure.
  • Hashing tools are employed to generate cryptographic representations (hashes) of files, facilitating quick identification and comparison of known malicious entities.
    • sha256sum

The arsenal of static analysis tools extends further more automated solutions like Virustotal. VirusTotal is a widely used online service that provides a comprehensive analysis of files and URLs to detect and identify malicious content. It serves as a collaborative platform that aggregates and analyzes data from various antivirus engines and other security tools to offer a holistic view of potential threats.

As the cybersecurity landscape evolves, the integration of these tools in static analysis ensures a robust defense against the intricate complexities of malicious software.

Dynamic Malware Analysis

What is dynamic malware analysis ?

Dynamic malware analysis is a crucial methodology in cybersecurity, focusing on the live execution of malicious software to unravel its behavior and potential threats. Unlike static analysis, which scrutinizes the code without execution, dynamic analysis involves running the malware in a controlled environment, often referred to as a sandbox.

During execution, analysts observe and monitor the malware’s actions, such as file modifications, network communications, and system interactions. Behavioral analysis, a key component of dynamic analysis, entails tracking the sequence of actions performed by the malware in real-time, providing insights into its intentions and capabilities.

 API (Application Programming Interface) monitoring is another essential aspect, allowing analysts to trace the API calls made by the malware during execution. This comprehensive approach enables a deeper understanding of the malware’s functionalities, its impact on the system, and the potential risks it poses.

Dynamic malware analysis plays a vital role in identifying previously unknown threats, as it uncovers the malware’s behavior beyond static attributes. As cybersecurity professionals continue to combat evolving and sophisticated threats, dynamic analysis stands as an indispensable tool in fortifying digital defenses and responding proactively to emerging challenges.

What are the advantages of dynamic malware analysis ?

Dynamic malware analysis is pivotal in the perpetual cat-and-mouse game of cybersecurity, providing crucial advantages that go beyond traditional static approaches. The dynamic approach offers a deeper understanding of malware behavior by allowing security analysts to witness the intricate maneuvers executed in real-time. This includes observing the malware’s attempts to conceal itself, propagate through networks, and potentially exploit vulnerabilities in the targeted system. The dynamic analysis also extends its reach to memory analysis, enabling analysts to inspect changes in the system’s memory during malware execution, which can reveal sophisticated evasion techniques.

Moreover, dynamic analysis is particularly adept at uncovering the evasive tactics employed by polymorphic malware. Since polymorphic threats dynamically change their code structure to evade signature-based detection, dynamic analysis becomes indispensable in capturing the mutating behavior during execution. The live execution environment facilitates the detection of subtle variations and enables analysts to adapt their defense strategies accordingly.

The interactive nature of dynamic analysis extends beyond mere observation; it enables security professionals to simulate various scenarios and gauge the impact of the malware on different system components. This proactive approach aids in crafting effective countermeasures and fortifying vulnerabilities before an actual threat materializes.

In essence, dynamic malware analysis not only reveals the immediate actions of malicious software but also empowers cybersecurity experts with actionable intelligence to fortify digital defenses. As the cyber landscape evolves, the advantages of dynamic analysis become increasingly crucial in staying ahead of sophisticated and adaptive adversaries.

What are the limitations of dynamic malware analysis ?

Despite its pivotal role in cybersecurity, dynamic malware analysis is not without its limitations. One significant constraint arises from the evasion techniques employed by certain advanced malware. Sophisticated threats often possess the capability to detect virtual or sandbox environments, altering their behavior when under observation. This evasion tactic hampers the accuracy of dynamic analysis as it may not reflect the true nature of the malware when deployed in a genuine, non-simulated environment.

Moreover, the dynamic approach may encounter challenges when dealing with encrypted or obfuscated code. As malware developers employ encryption and obfuscation to conceal their malicious intentions, it becomes more difficult for analysts to decipher the true functionality of the code during execution. This limitation can hinder the identification and understanding of the malware’s intricate behavior.

Dynamic analysis is also resource-intensive, requiring substantial computational power and storage capacity to execute and monitor potentially malicious code. As a result, scalability becomes a concern, especially when analyzing a large volume of files or dealing with complex and resource-demanding malware specimens.

Additionally, dynamic analysis tends to focus on the observable behavior during a specific execution period. It may not capture the full spectrum of the malware’s capabilities, especially if it exhibits dormant or delayed malicious activities that activate under specific conditions or over an extended period.

What are the tools used in dynamic malware analysis ?

To perform a dynamic analysis, researches uses multiple tools that either fully automate the process or at least some of the repetitive tasks. Here is a list of some of the most used dynamic analysis tools with the different features they uses:

  • Process Hacker

Process Hacker is a powerful open-source tool used extensively in dynamic malware analysis. Its capabilities span beyond a traditional task manager, offering detailed insights into running processes, services, and network connections. During dynamic analysis, security professionals leverage Process Hacker to monitor the behavior of malware, examining process interactions, memory usage, and the manipulation of system resources. This tool is particularly instrumental in identifying and understanding the impact of malicious processes on the infected system.

  • Wireshark

Wireshark, a widely used network protocol analyzer, plays a crucial role in dynamic malware analysis by capturing and dissecting network traffic. Security analysts utilize Wireshark to inspect the communication patterns of malware, revealing interactions with command and control servers or the exfiltration of sensitive data. By providing a detailed view of packet-level data, Wireshark aids in understanding how malware communicates over a network, allowing for the identification of malicious network behavior during dynamic analysis.

  • Cuckoo Sandbox

Cuckoo Sandbox is a dynamic malware analysis tool designed to execute suspicious files in isolated environments and observe their behavior. Security professionals use Cuckoo to automate the analysis process, gaining insights into file interactions, system changes, and network activities. Cuckoo Sandbox facilitates a comprehensive examination of malware behavior during execution, aiding in the detection and understanding of potential threats.

  • ApateDNS

ApateDNS is a dynamic analysis tool focused on DNS manipulation. During malware analysis, security experts use ApateDNS to simulate and manipulate DNS responses, redirecting malicious domain requests to controlled servers. By controlling DNS resolutions, analysts can observe and analyze how malware interacts with specific domains, providing valuable insights into its communication and potential command and control activities.

  • Netcat

Netcat, a versatile networking utility, finds application in dynamic malware analysis for its ability to create custom connections and manipulate network data. Security professionals leverage Netcat to establish connections between systems and observe how malware communicates over specific ports. Its simplicity and flexibility make it a valuable tool for understanding the networking aspects of malware behavior.

  • INetSim

INetSim is a toolkit for simulating various internet services during dynamic malware analysis. Security analysts deploy INetSim to emulate common internet services such as DNS, HTTP, and FTP, providing a controlled environment for malware to interact with. This tool helps in capturing and analyzing the network behavior of malware as it communicates with simulated services, aiding in the identification of malicious activities.

Each of these tools serves a unique purpose in the dynamic analysis of malware, contributing to a comprehensive understanding of how malicious software behaves within a controlled environment. From process monitoring to network traffic analysis, these tools collectively empower security professionals in the ongoing battle against evolving cyber threats.

Hybrid Malware Analysis

What is hybrid malware analysis ?

Hybrid malware analysis stands as a sophisticated and comprehensive approach in cybersecurity, seamlessly blending the strengths of both static and dynamic analysis techniques. In this nuanced methodology, analysts leverage the benefits of static analysis, which involves scrutinizing the code and characteristics of malware without execution, alongside the insights gained from dynamic analysis, where the malware is executed in a controlled environment to observe its live behavior.

This amalgamation creates a more holistic understanding of the malicious software, allowing for a deeper examination of its static attributes, such as file structure and code logic, while concurrently unraveling the dynamic intricacies, including real-time actions, system interactions, and network behavior.

Hybrid analysis is instrumental in overcoming the limitations inherent in static or dynamic approaches alone, providing a more nuanced and adaptive means of deciphering the multifaceted nature of modern malware threats.

By fusing these analytical methodologies, cybersecurity professionals enhance their ability to identify, categorize, and respond effectively to a diverse array of malicious software, ultimately fortifying digital ecosystems against the continually evolving tactics of malicious actors.

In the perpetual arms race between defenders and adversaries, hybrid malware analysis emerges as a formidable tool, offering a comprehensive lens through which to navigate the intricacies of the ever-changing cyber threat landscape.

Written by: Z. Oualid

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About the author

Z. Oualid

I am a Cyber Security Expert, I have worked with many companies around the globe to secure their applications and their networks. I am certified OSCP and OSCE which are the most recognized and hard technical certifications in the industry of cybersecurity. I am also a Certifed Ethical hacker (CEH). I hope you enjoy my articles :).

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