Why You Need To Reverse Engineer Malware

Reverse engineering of malware is indispensable for building a strong operational cybersecurity framework. It is valuable because it allows for an understanding of how operating systems and applications can be exploited.


The design and development of software often involves multiple inputs can cause errors and leaks that lead to vulnerabilities. Hackers can target those vulnerabilities with malicious intents that can compromise the software, system, and potentially the network.

Wikipedia defines reverse engineering as:


“the process of discovering the technological principles of a(n)....application through analysis of its structure, function and operation. That involves sometimes taking something apart and analyzing its workings in detail, usually with the intention to construct a new device or program that does the same thing without actually copying anything from the original.”


The same process applies to reverse engineering of software as other technologies. Specifically, the method used is to recreate a program’s binary code to trace it back to the original source code. For example, converting a program from a high-level programming language to a low-level language without changing the original program is reverse engineering.


Every cyber-attack utilizes some malicious code and some malware, by learning how these systems have been compromised in the past, it can provide better concepts of how to develop protections.



The Reverse Engineering Malware Process


In the event of a cyber-attack, there is a need to reverse and analyze and analyze the malware or malicious code to be able to recover operations. The first step is to help networks and systems from being compromised. This can be done by determining how the malware installed itself and spread. The next step in the process is finding methods to uninstall the malware. The next stage is to analyze data on about how the malware was able to compromise the system.


Summarized, the process is incremental and involves 1) determining a design purpose, 2) observing how it works, 3) disassemble/de-formulate, 4) analyze, 5) report design, and document everything throughout the process. (Please see graph below).



How Does Reverse Engineering Work? | Engineering360 (globalspec.com)


Reverse Engineering Malware Methods


As with anything in cybersecurity, methods and processes are required to optimize capabilities and efficiencies. Below is a summary by Teiss of the most common techniques used for reverse engineering malware. They include:

  • Static analysis: where the malware or binary is analyzed without actually running it. It can go from disassembling or decompiling malware code to a symbolic execution of a binary without essentially executing it in an actual environment.

  • Dynamic analysis: where a piece of malware is analyzed while it is running in a live environment.

  • Automated analysis: Automated malware analysis may be used to speed up processes.

  • Manual analysis: If the malware has things such as anti-analysis mechanisms or anti-debugging routines, it is preferable to conduct a manual analysis.

Malware analysis and reverse engineering tools - teiss


Reverse Engineering Malware Tools:


During the reverse engineering malware process, engineers use a variety of tools to reverse malware code. The most common are:


Disassemblers A disassembler will take apart an application to produce assembly code.

Decompilers for converting binary code into native code,

Debuggers to manipulate the execution of a program in order to gain insights into what it is doing when it is running.

PE Viewers to extract important information from executables to provide dependency viewing.

Network Analyzers to tell an engineer how a program is interacting with other machines.

See: Reverse Engineering Malware — A Look at How the Process Has Evolved | Lastline


These tools also allow for malware forensics by analyzing rootkit infections. They can also analyze protected malicious browser scripts written in JavaScript and VBScript, reverse-engineer malicious Flash programs, and analyze potentially malicious Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and Adobe PDF documents.


The importance of the reverse engineering of malware is vital to network administrators. They need the have the right tools at their disposal. It is an ongoing process and with strong forensic analytics they are able to develop and impose policy and create incident response frameworks to help mitigate further attacks. It is vital to the cybersecurity effort.

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