Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Attacks/Breaches

Researcher Offers Malware Analysis Tool

Proof-of-concept tool is more difficult for hackers to detect and evade than current malware analyzers

The problem with hunting for malware is that most currently available analysis tools tip off the attacker that you're doing it. But at next month's Black Hat conference, a researcher will release a tool that is harder to detect -- and harder to avoid -- than the malware analyzers currently on the market.

Paul Royal, principal researcher at botnet hunter Damballa Inc., will make, on Aug. 6, a Black Hat presentation on a tool called Azure, which will be published as an open-source proof of concept, available for free to enterprises or vendors.

Azure is an external analysis tool that is based on Intel VT, a hardware-assisted means of virtualizing the PC. It allows the user to create the equivalent of an x86 processor-based environment that can be used to detect and analyze malware at the instruction level or at the Windows native API level.

The Intel VT-based approach will be harder to detect and evade than currently available malware analysis approaches, Royal says. Today, most analyzers rely on a debugger-based approach that directly instrument malicious programs. However, many malware authors now have methods for detecting these "in-guest" sandboxes and avoiding them, he observes.

Other malware analyzers, such as QEMU, emulate the x86 hardware beneath the operating system, which make them more difficult for hackers to detect. However, in order to operate, these tools generally require full-system emulation, and the emulated systems don't run quite the same way that "live" PCs do. Increasingly, attackers are able to detect the behavior of emulated systems and set their malware to exit before it's captured by the analyzer.

Azure uses Intel VT, which operates outside the operating system but doesn't require full-system emulation, Royal says. Instead, it creates a sandbox with an "equivalent" physical processor that can be safely infected with malware for analysis without tipping off the malware that it's attacking a virtual environment.

Royal tested Azure against Saffron, which uses the in-guest approach, and Renovo, which uses full-system emulation. In the tests, all three tools attempted to identify program code that was hidden using 15 popular "packing" tools, which are used to obfuscate malicious applications. In the end, Azure was the only one of the three that was able to uncover the program code in all 15 cases.

"It's a new way of going after this issue," Royal says.

An attacker could build an exploit that is set to detect hardware virtualization, Royal concedes. But once virtualization has been turned on, subsequent programs can't turn it on again, so it would be difficult for malware to take advantage of such an exploit, he says.

"If they took that approach, they'd actually be shrinking the number of potential targets," he says.

Royal has prepared a white paper that describes his proof of concept and will be publishing code as well. Neither the paper nor the POC will be posted on the Web until the first week of August.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Damballa Inc.
  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
    Commentary
    Ransomware Is Not the Problem
    Adam Shostack, Consultant, Entrepreneur, Technologist, Game Designer,  6/9/2021
    Edge-DRsplash-11-edge-ask-the-experts
    How Can I Test the Security of My Home-Office Employees' Routers?
    John Bock, Senior Research Scientist,  6/7/2021
    News
    New Ransomware Group Claiming Connection to REvil Gang Surfaces
    Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  6/10/2021
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Video
    Cartoon
    Current Issue
    The State of Cybersecurity Incident Response
    In this report learn how enterprises are building their incident response teams and processes, how they research potential compromises, how they respond to new breaches, and what tools and processes they use to remediate problems and improve their cyber defenses for the future.
    Flash Poll
    How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
    How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
    Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    CVE-2021-20733
    PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
    Improper authorization in handler for custom URL scheme vulnerability in ????????? (asken diet) for Android versions from v.3.0.0 to v.4.2.x allows a remote attacker to lead a user to access an arbitrary website via the vulnerable App.
    CVE-2021-20734
    PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
    Cross-site scripting vulnerability in Welcart e-Commerce versions prior to 2.2.4 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary script or HTML via unspecified vectors.
    CVE-2021-20735
    PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
    Cross-site scripting vulnerability in ETUNA EC-CUBE plugins (Delivery slip number plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.10 and earlier, Delivery slip number csv bulk registration plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.8 and earlier, and Delivery slip number mail plugin (3.0 series) 1.0.8 and earlier) allows remote attackers to ...
    CVE-2021-20736
    PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
    NoSQL injection vulnerability in GROWI versions prior to v4.2.20 allows a remote attacker to obtain and/or alter the information stored in the database via unspecified vectors.
    CVE-2021-20737
    PUBLISHED: 2021-06-22
    Improper authentication vulnerability in GROWI versions prior to v4.2.20 allows a remote attacker to view the unauthorized pages without access privileges via unspecified vectors.