The Essential Guide to Conducting Malware Forensic Investigations

Digital Forensics Anjali Singhal todayDecember 18, 2023

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Malware is a recurring and dynamic danger in the field of cybersecurity that can seriously harm networks, systems, and sensitive data. Effective malware forensic investigations are essential for determining the scope of the compromise, determining the nature of an attack, and putting mitigation plans in place for potential future threats.

Malware Analysis: What Is It?
“Software designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner’s informed consent” is the definition of malware. Malware is any software that carries out malicious tasks, such as eavesdropping, information theft, etc. The number of linked endpoints and our dependence on technology will only lead to the mutation of classic malware varieties such as viruses, Trojan horses, and worms. This leads to the emergence of new malware types that harm your systems covertly and without obvious warning.
“The process of dissecting malware to understand its core components and source code, investigating its characteristics, functionality, origin, and impact to mitigate the threat and prevent future occurrences” is the basic definition of malware analysis.

Let’s examine the definition and goals of malware analysis:

⦁ It deconstructs the malware: Demystifying malware and cyber threats to raise awareness is a significant component of malware investigation. Malware is, after all, only software designed with the specific intent to damage users. To prevent malware from entering your ecosystem or, at the very least, from spreading there, it is essential to understand the code and how it operates.

⦁ It investigates its characteristics: Malware is no different from other software in that it leaves a distinct digital trail. How does a particular family or variety of malware handle data? How does it proliferate? How quickly does it replicate, and how does it hide? It is simpler to detect malware if you are aware of its precise features.

⦁ It breaks down how it works: It is challenging to get this crucial component of malware analysis correct. Usually, malware will wait to attack until it is in a hiding place. This implies that the user won’t understand how it works until it’s too late. Through code analysis, malware analysis attempts to ascertain the software’s intended functioning.

⦁ It traces the malware’s origin: malware can be notoriously hard to trace, and hackers take advantage of this by holding data ransoms for large amounts. Malware analysis tries to see beyond the anonymization of the coder and trace it back to its origin — a person, an IP, a geographic location, or even an organization, among others. This helps in the swift intervention of legal authorities during an attack.

⦁ It attempts to forecast the effect: Through the integration of the aforementioned lines of inquiry, a likely impact profile can be determined. The worst-case impact of malware is indicated by its preferred dissemination channels, growth rate, target system characteristics, and capabilities. This helps businesses to organize and implement mitigation strategies.
We’ll go over the crucial procedures and approaches needed to carry out fruitful malware forensic investigations in this extensive blog.

  1. Initial Response and Containment
    The first thing to do when a possible malware event is discovered is to respond right away and contain the problem. This entails severing the compromised systems’ connection to the network, keeping them isolated, and stopping the infection from spreading further. To reduce damage and save digital evidence for examination, prompt containment is essential.
  2. Establishing a Forensic Investigation Plan
    A well-organized plan is necessary to direct the forensic inquiry procedure. Establish goals, allot funds, and put together a multidisciplinary team including network experts, forensic analysts, incident responders, and legal counsel on hand if necessary. Describe the investigation’s scope, taking into account the impacted systems, deadlines, and data sources that will be examined.
  3. Gathering and Preserving Evidence
    It is critical to preserve evidence in its original form. Take advantage of forensically sound techniques to obtain data from compromised systems while maintaining a chain of custody. This involves taking volatile memory (RAM) readings, gathering pertinent logs and artifacts, and making forensic photographs of storage devices.
  4. Analysis and Identification of Malware
    Examine all of the information gathered carefully to see whether malware is there. Make use of both dynamic and static analysis methods. While dynamic analysis entails running the malware in a controlled environment (sandbox) to examine its behaviour and functions, static analysis involves looking at the virus’s code, file structures, and metadata.
  5. Rebuilding the Timeline and Investigating the Cause
    Create a thorough timeline of the malware attack, following the events that led up to the first compromise and its effects. Determine the underlying reason and the attack routes that the virus used to get into the systems. Comprehending the sequence of occurrences is essential to appreciating the extent of the assault and formulating efficient countermeasures.
  6. Threat intelligence and indicators of compromise (IOCs)
    Determine and record the indicators of compromise (IOCs) that were found throughout the inquiry. File hashes, IP addresses, domain names, registry keys, and malware-related behavioural patterns are a few examples of these. Cross-reference IOCs and obtain information about known attack patterns and threat actors by utilizing threat intelligence sources.
  7. Documentation and Reporting
    Make a thorough forensic report that includes the investigation’s findings, the techniques employed, the analysis’s conclusions, the detected IOCs, a schedule, and suggestions for future prevention and remediation. The report ought to be comprehensive yet easily understandable by non-technical parties, including legal authorities or management.
  8. Actions Taken Following Investigation and Remediation
    Apply suggestions and corrective measures derived from the investigation’s conclusions. Improving overall security posture may entail patching vulnerabilities, updating security controls, rewriting rules, training users, and enhancing incident response protocols.

Summary
To understand the nature of cyber threats, mitigate risks, and strengthen defences against future assaults, it is essential to conduct comprehensive malware forensic investigations. Through the implementation of a methodical strategy that includes the gathering of evidence, analysis, documentation, remediation, and first response, companies may enhance their cybersecurity defences and protect vital resources against the always-changing field of malware attacks by utilizing forensic insights.

References

  1. resources.infosecinstitute.com. (n.d.). Computer Forensics: Overview of Malware Forensics [Updated 2019] | Infosec. [online] Available at: https://resources.infosecinstitute.com/topics/digital-forensics/computer-forensics-overview-malware-forensics/.
  2. Bluevoyant (2023). Understanding Digital Forensics: Process, Techniques, and Tools. [online] BlueVoyant. Available at: https://www.bluevoyant.com/knowledge-center/understanding-digital-forensics-process-techniques-and-tools.

Written by: Anjali Singhal

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