How To Get Started With Malware Analysis

Malware is software deliberately aimed at gaining unauthorized access to computer networks and servers. It includes all malicious software, for example, spyware, worms, adware, Trojan virus, and ransomware. Fighting back against these enemies through software engineering measures, forensics, or network administration incorporates malware analysis.

With the gradual pace of time, malware activity in the US is increasing. Almost 550,000 malware files are detected daily. In 2022, 75 percent of organizations experienced cybercrimes that resulted from using infected computer systems, ransomware attacks on business operations, phishing sites that mirror images of official sites, including PayPal, encrypted TLS/SSL files, or remote running of code on systems. One of the high-end ransomware attacks was on the UCSF School of Medicine group working on a Covid-19 cure. Additionally, ransomware compensations are increasing, and in 2021, approximately $920,353,000 were charged by criminals only in the US. Consequently, the curing bodies of malware; cyber security teams are deficient in 70% of businesses in the US, according to Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) 2022 survey. With the option of remote working in the Covid-19 crisis, the vulnerability of IT infrastructure has increased, requiring an increase in cyber security networks and malware analysts.  

What is Malware Analysis?

Malware analysis incorporates characterizing malware into:

  • Source code
  • Major elements
  • Characteristics
  • Origin
  • Capabilities
  • Potential for a future threat
  • Prevent future recurrence

As malware is a software program intended to cause harm, its analysis can help to build strategies for decreasing/stopping its replication within the digital ecosystem.

Malware can be complex, and hackers tend to take large data-ransom compensations. Analysis can trace its origin through the geographical location or IP and trace the inexplicable source.

How to Get Started With Malware Analysis?

Malware analysis is a part of the information security (infosec) profession that has struggled to find qualified professionals. Over 90% of security experts say this profession faces shortage and is not any better today than it was in past years.

For a jump-starting career as a malware analyst, the perfect candidate should have a passion for:

  • Fast learning
  • Deriving meaning from source/basics
  • Solving puzzles and link building
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Solving queries with scientific methods
  • Being resourceful
  • Technical prerequisites:

Technically, a malware analyst seeker should be well aware of the following:

  • Operating system and networking fundamentals
  • Programming hierarchy:
    • Level 1: Scripting Languages including Python, PERL
    • Level 2a: High-Level Language: C/C++
    • Level 2b: Middle-Level Languages: C/C++
    • Level 3: Assembly Language: First human readable codes, including Intel X86
    • Level 4: Machine Code: Representation of hexadecimal in binary code which is readable by the operating system
    • Level 5: Binary Coding: Readable by hardware only

Middle-level languages are typically used for writing malware and complied step by step till level 5 of the hierarchy.

For decoding the malware, reverse engineering is followed, starting from Level 5 to Level 1. It involves disassembling the binary code into the first human-readable code, including Assembly. Hence, a malware analyst should clearly understand the writing of Assembly code.

Assembly code language is a low-level language, and learning can be easy if higher-level languages are already known. For example, printing command code in a higher language includes a one-liner code, while Assembly language code might include up to 15 lines that define single function call execution.

  • Knowledge of using tools:

Some examples of malware analysis tools include:

  • Debugger: WinDbg, OllyDbg
  • Disassembling tool IDA Pro
  • Packer Identifiers
  • Binary and code analysis tools: Qunpack, PE explorer, GUNPacker, ImpRec
  • Extensive Research:

Malware progresses within months and uses old/new methods. Extensive research, including analysis reports, white papers, and research articles, can help to give a clear picture of the steps that can be taken for reverse engineering.

What Are The Three Steps of Malware Analysis?

Step 1: Behavioral analysis

It includes observing the malware’s specimen interactions with its environment and valuable insights into its behavior.

To perform the task, the analyst typically infects the isolated system with the specimen and observes the specimen’s execution with the monitoring tools.

As the malware analyst notices interesting behavioral characteristics, the laboratory environment is modified to evoke new elements. This iterative process helps uncover the malware’s inner workings and ultimately leads to its defeat.

Free tools for behavioral analysis include Wireshark, Process Explorer, and Process Monitor.

Step 2: Code Analysis

The analyst reverse-engineers the code of a malicious program to understand the behavior. 

The process involves: disassembling the code, decompiling it, and debugging it to examine the instructions at a low level.

A disassembler converts the code from the binary form into a human-readable assembly form. A decompiler recreates the program’s source code. Finally, the analyst can interact with the code with a debugger and observe its instructional effects to understand its purpose.

Code analysis can be essential in understanding sophisticated malware and developing countermeasures against it.

Some free tools for code analysis include IDA Pro Freeware and OllyDog.

Step-3: Memory Analysis

Memory analysis is a memory forensics technique that involves examining the memory of an infected computing system. It extracts bits and pieces relevant to a malicious program’s memory.

In the context of reverse-engineering malware, memory analysis helps to identify hidden malicious code called rootkits. It clarifies the program’s run-time dependencies and explains the specimen’s usability on the victim’s system. It saves time and allows the analysts to take shortcuts when studying the specimen’s behavior or code. For these reasons, memory analysis is an essential tool for anyone involved in malware reverse-engineering.

Free tools for memory analysis include Volatility Framework with its linked plugin Memoryze and the program Audit Viewer.

The analyst must explore all three phases to clearly understand malware capabilities. Analysis can include jumping back and forth between steps until sufficient information about the suspect program’s functioning is obtained, which will help identify potential threats more accurately.

Is Malware Analysis a Good Career?


Nowadays, it’s not just about knowing how computers work but also about keeping computing networks safe.

Malware analysts have a competitive edge over other cyber security jobs because they are experts in programming and language skills and have a solid understanding of complex tools.

A successful malware analyst must have an intense passion for programming and readiness to acquire professional certifications. Additionally, one must be willing to spend long hours learning all there is about this field, so it is a rewarding career choice but one requiring specialized skills and dedication for achieving success.

Is Malware Analysis Difficult?

Yes, it can be difficult to achieve milestones.

Learning about malware analysis is a rewarding path that will test patience, concentration, and temperament.

The career path is a war between those who use malicious software (hackers)and anti-malware engineers. Both groups have competing interests in protecting themselves from being hacked and fighting off attacks. It might be challenging, but eventually, when the essential function or piece of data is found after hours spent working on files, nothing can replace this feeling.

Malware Analysis Tools

The malware analysis tools look for IOCs during a suspicious file execution. The malware can be studied by observing the environment changes during execution.

Following are free/open source tools:


  • Ghidra:Released in 2019
  • Plugins include: VTGrep, Binwalk, Yara, Golang Renamer, Daenerys


  • X64dbg:
    • Suitable for windows and user-friendly GUI
    • Plugins: Available on GitHub

Hex Editors:

  • HxD:
    • A memory, disc, and hex editor for Windows that helps to tag portions of memory and search for a unique data set
  • Hiew:
  • Used for file visualization and changes in the code
  • Includes COFF/OMF object files and libraries 


  • Used for the initial running of malware specimens for extracting suspicious artifacts
  • Quick in finding malware detections through a binary code


  • Used for analyzing suspicious documents 

Why Learn About Malware Analysis?

Malware analysis can be used as an essential tool in responding to malware incidents. 

Its goal is two-fold: 

  • First, it extracts information from the sample, which helps in responding; 
  • Second, based on what is known about these sophisticated threats, the aim might also include detecting and containing them before they cause any damage.

Types of Malware Analysis:

Static Malware Analysis

Static malware analysis includes manually examining files without running them through an analyzer. It can identify malicious infrastructure, packed programs or libraries, and strings from external sources such as IP addresses and domains associated with the malware operations.

Dynamic Malware Analysis

The code is executed in a protected environment called a sandbox. It is an approach that allows experts to closely monitor suspected malicious codes without risking system infection.

It is time efficient by reducing the timeframe for detecting malicious code in reverse engineering. However, it might be challenging to disassemble codes written by clever hackers, as they already know that malware analysts will utilize sandboxes.

Hybrid Malware Analysis

The analysis combines both structural and behavioral analysis to deliver highly accurate findings. It can detect unknown threats, even those employing more sophisticated techniques such as hiding their code in memory or preventing it from being identified through traditional means, like Sandbox technology.

The World’s Most Powerful Malware Sandbox

Malware sandboxes provide:

  • A safe space for testing
  • Analysis of potential threats to any computing systems

They are essential tools used by security teams worldwide that work hard every day to fight off advanced malware attacks.

The Falcon Sandbox is the world’s most potent malware sandbox. It is a game changer for organizations looking to withstand potential cyber-attacks. The tool does a deep analysis of vague and unidentified threats. It enriches its results with threat intelligence which helps to comprehend sophisticated web application and vulnerabilities that allows organizations to withstand digital security threats.

What Do Malware Analysts Do?

The malware analyst is a crucial member of the defensive team. The job entails identifying and understanding various forms of malicious software. These include all the diverse types like adware; bots (or robots); bugs that attacker-controlled processes can root.

The security team’s malware analyst will use the skills to disassemble, deconstruct and reverse engineer the malicious code to better protect against future attacks of similar origins or capabilities. They are often called in during an attack’s early stages to clarify what type and how deeply committed hackers are. They also play a significant role when it comes time for mitigation because they can see through anything that could happen with malware inside the computer system.

With advanced persistent threats (APT), it’s not just the malicious code that we need to watch out for; but also clues and patterns that might indicate its presence. In addition, the analyst must constantly be aware of cybercriminals’ new techniques to protect systems from infection.

How Much Do Malware Analysts Make?

In US, the following is the annual pay scale:

  • Entry Level: $78,000
  • Average experience level: $120,000 – $ 165,000
  • Experienced level: up to $234,000

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