Malware Analysis with Reverse Engineering

The Internet has completely changed the computer industry in general and the security-related aspects of computing in particular. Malicious software, such as viruses and worms, spreads so much faster in a world where millions of users are connected to the Internet and use e-mail daily. Just 10 years ago, a virus would usually have to copy itself to a diskette and that diskette would have to be loaded into another computer in order for the virus to spread. The infection process was fairly slow, and defense was much simpler because the channels of infection were few and required human intervention for the program to spread. That is all ancient history—the Internet has created a virtual connection between almost every computer on earth. Nowadays modern worms can spread automatically to millions of computers without any human intervention.

Reverse engineering is the process of extracting the knowledge or design blueprints from anything man-made. The concept has been around since long before computers or modern technology, and probably dates back to the days of the industrial revolution. It is very similar to scientific research, in which a researcher is attempting to work out the "blueprint" of the atom or the human mind. The difference between reverse engineering and conventional scientific research is that with reverse engineering the artifact being investigated is manmade, unlike scientific research where it is a natural phenomenon.

Reversing is used extensively in both ends of the malicious software chain. Developers of malicious software often use reversing to locate vulnerabilities in operating systems and other software. Such vulnerabilities can be used to penetrate the system's defense layers and allow infection-usually over the Internet. Beyond infection, culprits sometimes employ reversing techniques to locate software vulnerabilities that allow a malicious program to gain access to sensitive information or even take full control of the system.

At the other end of the chain, developers of antivirus software dissect and analyze every malicious program that falls into their hands. They use reversing techniques to trace every step the program takes and assess the damage it could cause, the expected rate of infection, how it could be removed from infected systems, and whether infection can be avoided altogether.

Reversing is the strongest weapon that is available against creators of malware. Our researchers routinely engage in reversing sessions in order to analyze the latest malicious programs, determine just how dangerous they are, and learn their weaknesses so that effective antivirus programs can be developed.

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