Overview Of Malware Forensics

  • By Rajat Sharma
  • January 4, 2024
  • Cyber Security
Overview Of Malware Forensics

Overview Of Malware Forensics

Cyber forensics, also known as digital forensics or computer forensics is a branch of forensic science that deals with the investigation, analysis, and recovery of information from digital devices and networks for legal purposes. It involves the collection, preservation, examination, and presentation of digital evidence to uncover and understand cybercrimes or incidents. Here’s a overview of Malware Forensics.

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  • Evidence Collection: Forensic investigators collect evidence from various digital sources, including computers, servers, mobile devices, IoT (Internet of Things) devices, cloud services, and networks. This process requires specialized tools and techniques to ensure the preservation and integrity of evidence without altering the original data.
  • Data Preservation: Ensuring the integrity of digital evidence is crucial. Forensic experts use write-blocking tools and practices to prevent any modifications to the original data while creating forensic copies for analysis. Chain of custody protocols is also followed to maintain the evidence’s integrity for legal purposes.
  • Analysis and Examination: This phase involves scrutinizing the collected digital evidence using a variety of methods. It includes file system analysis, recovery of deleted or encrypted data, keyword searches, metadata examination, and reconstructing timelines of events to understand the sequence of actions taken by an attacker or user.
  • Network Forensics: Investigating network traffic and logs to identify intrusions, unauthorized access, or malicious activities. This involves examining packet captures, firewall logs, router logs, and other network-related data to reconstruct events and identify potential threats.
  • Memory Forensics: Analyzing the volatile memory (RAM) of a system to retrieve valuable information such as running processes, open network connections, encryption keys, and evidence of malware or intrusion activities that might not be present in the disk storage.
  • Malware Analysis: Understanding the behavior, functionality, and impact of malicious software. This involves static analysis (examining code) and dynamic analysis (running malware in controlled environments or sandboxes) to identify its capabilities, origins, and potential countermeasures.
  • Reporting and Legal Proceedings: Forensic investigators prepare detailed reports documenting their findings, methodologies, and the chain of custody. These reports are often presented as evidence in legal proceedings, requiring forensic experts to testify about their findings and processes.

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Malware Forensics

Malware forensics is the process of investigating and analyzing malicious software, known as malware, to understand its behavior, purpose, and impact on systems or networks. It involves several steps:

Identification: This stage involves recognizing the presence of malware through various indicators such as unusual network traffic, suspicious file behavior, or abnormal system performance. Antivirus alerts or user complaints could also trigger this phase.

Collection: Forensic investigators gather evidence related to the malware. This includes acquiring copies of infected files, system memory, network logs, and any other relevant data without altering or compromising the original evidence.

Analysis: Experts dissect the collected malware samples using specialized tools and techniques. This involves static analysis (examining code, file structure, and metadata) and dynamic analysis (executing malware in a controlled environment to observe its behavior).

Reverse Engineering: This step involves understanding how the malware operates. Reverse engineers disassemble or decompile the code to comprehend its functionalities, encryption techniques, communication protocols, and methods to evade detection.

Attribution: In some cases, identifying the origin or source of the malware becomes crucial. This could involve linking the malware to known threat actor groups, which requires extensive research, intelligence data, and collaboration with law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

Documentation and Reporting: Detailed reports are generated, documenting the findings, analysis methods, and recommendations for mitigation or prevention of future incidents. These reports may be used in legal proceedings or to enhance cybersecurity measures.

Forensics specialists must adhere to legal and ethical standards during the investigation, ensuring the integrity and admissibility of evidence in potential legal proceedings. They often work closely with cybersecurity teams, law enforcement agencies, and legal experts to ensure a thorough investigation and proper handling of evidence.

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Tools Used in Malware Analysis

Static Analysis Tools:

Disassemblers and Decompilers: Tools like IDA Pro, Ghidra, and Radare2 help in reverse engineering the binary code of malware to understand its structure, functions, and algorithms.

Hex Editors: Tools like HxD, Hex Workshop, or Bless allow analysts to view and edit raw binary data, which can be useful for examining file structures and making specific modifications for analysis.

PE Analysis Tools: For Windows executables, tools like PEStudio and PE Explorer assist in examining Portable Executable (PE) files for suspicious or malicious attributes.


Dynamic Analysis Tools:

Sandbox Environments: Tools like Cuckoo Sandbox, Any.Run, and Hybrid Analysis provide controlled environments to execute malware, observe its behavior, monitor network activity, and analyze its interactions with the system.

Debugger: Tools like OllyDbg, x64dbg, or WinDbg assist in analyzing the behavior of malware during runtime, allowing analysts to step through code, set breakpoints, and examine memory.


Memory Analysis Tools:

Volatility: A powerful framework for analyzing memory dumps (RAM) to extract information such as running processes, network connections, and hidden or injected code.

Rekall: Another memory analysis framework useful for examining memory artifacts across different operating systems.


Network Analysis Tools:

Wireshark: A widely used network protocol analyzer that captures and displays packets, helping analysts understand network communications initiated by malware.

NetworkMiner: A tool for network forensic analysis that parses captured traffic and extracts files, emails, and other artifacts exchanged over the network.


Behavioral Analysis Tools:

Process Monitor (Procmon): Monitors system activities in real-time, capturing events related to file system, registry, and process activity. It helps in understanding the behavior of malware upon execution.

Dependency Walker (Depends): Analyzes executable files to identify dynamic-link library (DLL) dependencies and potential indicators of compromise.


Malware Sandboxes and Threat Intelligence Platforms:

VirusTotal: A platform that aggregates multiple antivirus engines and provides a quick analysis of files by scanning them for potential threats.

Hybrid Analysis: Combines both static and dynamic analysis by running the malware in a controlled environment and providing a detailed report of its behavior.


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Rajat Sharma

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