Malware Analysis | Basics

Malware has been around for as long as computers have been in common use. Any computer program that performs malicious activities is classified as malware. There are many types of malware ranging from sophisticated self-propagating worms, destructive logic bombs, ransomware, to harmless pranks. Everyone who regularly uses a computer will encounter malware at some point. This post will cover the basics of analyzing malware on an infected computer. It is targeted towards beginners who are new to Digital Forensics and Incident Response (DFIR) and hobbyists. The goal of this post is to teach someone unfamiliar with the basic concepts of malware analysis some Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs) used to confirm that a computer is infected with malware and how to begin extracting Indicators of Compromise (IOCs). It will cover the use of basic tools. We will not cover intermediate or advanced topics such as reverse engineering malware to discover its purpose or how it works.

The post starts with an introduction to basic malware analysis. It then covers some free tools to use in basic malware analysis. The post culminates with a walkthrough of a canned analysis on a piece of malware. The walkthrough wraps up with recommendations on where to go next to progress to intermediate or advanced malware analysis. I had numerous instances of friends and family asking me to figure out why their computer was acting weird long before moving in to cybersecurity and receiving formal training on malware analysis. I have had other cybersecurity professionals ask why it is not a waste of time to learn to build Microsoft Office macro-based payloads when Microsoft is making it harder for users to run the malicious code inside to which I always respond with “Never underestimate the user’s desire and ability to download and run anything sent to them.” People are going to download and execute malware at some point and if you are the IT expert they will ask you to figure out what happened.

One of my first instances of basic malware analysis was when I was in a situation that required using a computer shared by multiple people to access the internet. I erred on the paranoid side before using it to access any of my personal accounts and ran a network packet capture using Microsoft‘s NetMon, which is a packet capture tool similar to Wireshark. I noticed from the packet capture that the machine was communicating with a Chinese domain which appeared unusual. I then conducted a quick Google search on the domain and found that it was associated with a piece of malware. The site I found listed out additional IOCs which enabled me to check running processes to find that I had the malicious executable running. I was then able to kill the process with Task Manager. I was also able to review the registry with Regedit and delete the registry key that was created by the malware to establish persistence. I was then able to notify the other users of the machine that it had malware running on it that steals information such as account credentials. The machine was then reimaged to ensure all of the malware was removed and the machine was back to a known good state. Next, we will cover some of the basic tools that you can use to perform the same type of simple analysis.


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