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Identifying Dormant Functionality in Malware Programs

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6 Author(s)

To handle the growing flood of malware, security vendors and analysts rely on tools that automatically identify and analyze malicious code. Current systems for automated malware analysis typically follow a dynamic approach, executing an unknown program in a controlled environment (sandbox) and recording its runtime behavior. Since dynamic analysis platforms directly run malicious code, they are resilient to popular malware defense techniques such as packing and code obfuscation. Unfortunately, in many cases, only a small subset of all possible malicious behaviors is observed within the short time frame that a malware sample is executed. To mitigate this issue, previous work introduced techniques such as multi-path or forced execution to increase the coverage of dynamic malware analysis. Unfortunately, using these techniques is potentially expensive, as the number of paths that require analysis can grow exponentially. In this paper, we propose Reanimator, a novel solution to determine the capabilities (malicious functionality) of malware programs. Our solution is based on the insight that we can leverage behavior observed while dynamically executing a specific malware sample to identify similar functionality in other programs. More precisely, when we observe malicious actions during dynamic analysis, we automatically extract and model the parts of the malware binary that are responsible for this behavior. We then leverage these models to check whether similar code is present in other samples. This allows us to statically identify dormant functionality (functionality that is not observed during dynamic analysis) in malicious programs. We evaluate our approach on thousands of real-world malware samples, and we show that our system is successful in identifying additional, malicious functionality. As a result, our approach can significantly improve the coverage of malware analysis results.

Published in:

2010 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy

Date of Conference:

16-19 May 2010