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03:39 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer

Detecting Malware Through Configuration Management

Malware analysis has two basic approaches that fall into either the static or dynamic analysis category. The static approach analyzes the malicious executable itself by disassembling it to determine its true nature. Dynamic analysis involves execution of the malware and analyzing it's behavior.

Malware analysis has two basic approaches that fall into either the static or dynamic analysis category. The static approach analyzes the malicious executable itself by disassembling it to determine its true nature. Dynamic analysis involves execution of the malware and analyzing it's behavior.I personally lean toward dynamic analysis simply because it's faster and yields answers quicker, although not as comprehensive. Yesterday, I spoke with a company that leverages configuration management to detect changes that are indicative of malware.

Described as the last line of defense,Triumfant Resolution Manager monitors changes to the filesystem, Windows Registry, processes, ports, logs, services, and memory. It's the same approach I've used many times when analyzing an unknown, probably malicious, executable. I run tools like InstallWatch and Sysinternals Process Monitor to monitor all system changes that take place when the malware runs to determine what it does and how it can be detected. Triumfant does the same thing, but with more detail, and reports it back to a central database for monitoring and remediation.

With the plethora of malware out there that isn't being caught quickly by antivirus, a solution like Triumfant has the potential to be quite effective since there are only so many ways malware can become persistent and survive reboots -- being able to monitor them continuously is powerful. Think about it for a moment. Configuration and change management tools have been used for detecting file and system changes to help identify intrusions and malicious insiders, so it's a natural progression to apply that approach to malware.

If you're not familiar with configuration management tools, or specifically security configuration management tools, there is a good overview written by Tim Bowers over at SearchSecurity.com. In "Making The Case For Network Security Configuration Management," Tim does a good job of making the case, and one of the statements that I think drives home the point is the following: "In my experience, misconfiguration-based attacks, malicious network penetrations caused by improper network configurations, are second only to software bugs as an attack vector."

Configuration management products are traditionally targeted at change management and compliance, often with a slant toward detecting intrusions, so it's interesting to see a different use case that focuses specifically on malware by detecting changes that can be missed and not remediated properly by antivirus. And it's cool to see on an enterprise scale what I've done on an individual basis when analyzing the behavior of malware.

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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