Category Archives: What you need to know?

Reverse Engineering Malware – What you need to know?

Every now and then, a nasty piece of Malware raises its ugly head and wreck havoc on the Enterprise Infrastructure. It is often necessary to analyze the Malware and understand its working so that

  • The impact of the Malware on IT Systems can be ascertained AND
  • The nature of preventative controls that can be put in place so that this threat does not spread further.

In such scenarios, Reverse Engineering of the Malware becomes a requirement. Reverse engineering of a malware or an unknown piece of binary file is the process of analyzing and understanding its characteristics, behavior. There are several approaches that several different people use. But in this Blog post, the goal is to give a quick little guide for Malware Reversing so that anyone with an inclination to pick it can do so very easily. This in my mind is an essential tool in the hands of a Security Analyst. The basic skills needed to do this are listed below:

  • Some programming skills, or at the very least be able to understand and read source code
  • Logical Mindset capable of analyzing and interpreting the Vectors used by the Malware Code
  • Lots and Lots of Patience and Interest

Let us now get into the basics. We need to understand that Malware programs have several stages before they infect and compromise a machine. Typically a malware performs the following:

  • Get itself persistent by adding its executable path in the registry, autorun, etc – Exploit
  • Comfortably elevate itself to another process, so that it cannot be easily found – Masquerade
  • Deter the process of it’s analysis by rapidly changing its code signature – Polymorphism
  • Make connections to remote servers sometimes to update itself or also to report back to its Master – Callback
  • Perform the necessary tasks on the affected system – Data Exfiltration or Zombie

All these Malicious Programs, have one goal or the other, but eventually they end up handing over control of your machine to strangers and potentially bad guys as well. Some Intentions of Malware are listed below:

  • Steal sensitive information / Key-logging / identity theft / usernames and password / banking information / Company patents / source code / etc (including personal data that may have been part of the system)
  • Access private networks
  • Perform DDoS Attacks
  • Spamming
  • Browser hijacking, ad-wares to perform fraud
  • Ransom-ware: deny access to the users’ own data and demand money to give access back – in other words extortion
  • Data exfiltration

Reverse Engineering Methodology:
This effort involves determining not only what the malware can do specifically, but also establishing how to identify the presence of such programs on affected systems. There might be so many (right) ways to do this, but for something quick we shall follow the steps laid out here.

Why Quick?? Because in an Enterprise sometimes we might not have all the time to really perform in-depth analysis, as time is a major factor when responding to incidents of this kind.

The Setup:
In order to perform an Effective Malware Analysis, we need to have a Tool Kit and an Environment for Analysis. Some of the key things to take care while setting up the environment are:

  • The Environment should be isolated with no connections to the Enterprise Data Sensitive network.
  • The environment should have its own  Proxy service so that it does not have scope to spread. The Proxy can be a sink hole where it just logs the connections made.
  • Set-up 2 sand boxes, 1 physical and 1 VM, as some malware programs only work on  on a physical box as they are VM-aware.
  • Make sure these sandboxes are standard images, with bare minimum corporate patching done. This should theoretically be equivalent to the weakest link in the organization.
  • Install all the required tools listed below to do certain type of analysis.
  • Tools required: strings, ida pro, pmdump, volatility framework, upx, packerid, pescanner, pe explorer, md5hashollydbg, deep freeze, winalysis, lp

The Analysis: The analysis of Malware is usually a two-phased approach – Behavior Analysis and Code Analysis. These two analysis methods yield so much information that detection and response becomes easy.

  • Behavioral analysis: Observing malware interactions with its environment like network connections, files dropped, evasive measures taken etc. This can be identified by installing the Malware, “getting infected” as you may call it.
    • Once infected, you can capture the network packets, to look at potential domains and IP addresses the software tries to connect. This will help in perimeter filtering and Endpoint ‘Firewall’ing
    • If the Malware drops some files using C2, then that also can be observed as a part of the getting infected process. This will help in gather SHA and MD5 values for the dropped files and banning them in Endpoint solutions from execution
  • Code analysis: Examining the code that comprises the program to infer what exactly the malware is capable of doing when executed. This does not help in response schemes, but is very important from a Forensics Purpose. Code Analysis can help in determining the extent of loss, the extent of vulnerability in the system that is being exploited etc.
  • Code Analysis can be done as follows:
    • Firstly Identify if either the unknown file is protected, obfuscated, encrypted (armoring) and/or packed (the original code is compressed, encrypted or both). To do this, we can use packerid or pe explorer.This technique is applied in an attempt to evade signature based malware detection, and to deter the efforts of static analysis. Identifying the packer specifically, can exactly tell you what you are missing in terms of detection using Perimeter tools.
    • Then with basic analysis like enumerating exports, imports, function use, syscalls, winapi, mutex, dll dependencies, strings and some grepping, using the winalysis or other similar tools that you might be comfortable with, you can come up with several theories about the file. These theories will give an understanding of the various attack vectors employed by the file. This can help lock down a system to these kinds of Malware attempts.
    • Drilling down further into the specific attack functions and looking at the code itself can help understand the vulnerability being exploited. This is very useful for Developers in fixing the holes in the software. This will help in a sort of retroactive patching methodology.
Post Analysis Steps: 
  1. Once the analysis is done on the Behavior and the Code aspects of the Malware, you have lots of data about at hand. Documenting the Analysis is very key because, future variants may use the same Attack Vector, Same Exploit Code etc to gain access to a machine/application.
  2. Use the documentation prepared as above to compare against subsequent analysis. This will save a great deal of time in detecting and responding to future threats posed.
  3. Snapshot of the VM also can be retained for future reference.
  4. Destroy the Analysis VM and start over again!!!
Practical Example
There will be a follow up post to this with a Hands-On Tutorial of how its done!!!! Keep Following this blog and Happy Reversing!!!!
Additional Resources:


Website to get malware samples for analysis:

Websites to assist you in malware analysis:
REMnux (Linux distribution for malware analysis) –
ISEC Labs Anubis Tool –
GFI Sandbox –
Hex to Binary/ASCII –
Hex to ASCII –
Jsunpack –


APT – What you need to know?

APT – Advanced Persistent Threat is the latest buzz word in the industry. Everyone who is in the Security Industry, professionals and business alike want to get into the bandwagon that is called APT. Security product vendors are all gearing to cater to “APT” and all their current product lines or future releases address APT in some form of the other. Now, the fever has spread to the IT Management as well and now they want their Security teams to detect and prevent APT. Even though the InfoSec public has caught up with it, how much thought have we put into understanding the magnitude of the problem at hand? Is it enough to just jump on to something without understanding it fully or do we need a more educated and intelligent decision making?

Let us find out more in this post!!!!

As always, I would like to define APT to start with. This is key because once the definitions are clear, all we would need is to align our thinking to that definition. Then, I will list down what flaws we have in our current approach towards security. Finally, I will try to list down as many possible solutions to the problem at hand.

Defining APT:
Simply put, APT is a Security Threat to the Enterprise (even End User for that matter) that is Advanced in execution that traditional security filters are not able to catch outright and is persistent enough that it keeps moving from one compromised target to another evading detection. 

Is it a technology of the future? – No, it is not. APT is nothing but a threat we are not trained to see. One of the main reasons why APT has been so successful in many organizations is the fact that we have an outdated security strategy. For example, we are keen on tracking a Data Exfiltration from a compromised machine. How do we do it today?

  • To start of with, we look for Data Loss Prevention Solutions and see which vendor is the market leader
  • Then we implement DLP solutions with basic policies for generic data loss (PDF, WORD DOC, XLS, Source Codes, Credit Card Numbers, PAN, PII etc)
  • We fine tune the DLP policies for our enterprise specifically and implement detection and prevention capabilities
  • We log the data from DLP solutions to SIEM and alert when something of interest happens.
  • In addition or In replacement, IDS/IPS rules will be implemented to identify data loss traffic based on REGEX file names etc.
  • In some cases we would also look at Traffic going to Blacklisted Domains and IP.
I am sure all of them or majority of the organizations do this to identify Data Exfiltrations. But  can all those organizations say that they are safe against APT? The answer is a SAD NO. The reason being, Known (Policy or Signature of What is Bad) is a drop, Unknown (Where APT works) is an Ocean. The threat landscape has evolved to exploit the Unknown, but we have not evolved to detect and respond to it. What is the solution for this problem?
There are several solutions being proposed by several people in the industry.  In my opinion one of the most important solutions is to do behavior profiling and Anomaly Detection.
Now What is Behavior profiling?
Behavior Profiling – Every network, every segment of the network has a behavior profile that is deemed normal. Today how many of us know what our Network Segments look like in terms of Connections they accept, they deny, Traffic flowing within the segment, what are the most used protocols, what are not used, What size of packets flow, what outbound and inbound communications happen, Access in and out, Who is supposed to and Who is not etc etc.. I seriously doubt it. We are more concerned about getting the system up, providing the service it is deemed to provide. We seldom think about the Security Profile the segment has. Once we profile, we can identify several Anomalies.

Let us now take the same example of Data Exfiltration and see how Behavior profiling would help:

  1. We would have complete details about where sensitive data is residing, the VLAN, the Server, the Folder, The file, The DB tables etc.
  2. To the Sensitive Machine/Network/Data, We would know who has access to and Who does not?
  3. We would also track who has a copy of that data – what is the machine, where is it residing (desktop, laptop, mobile) etc.
  4. The data usage by which team, which individuals etc are also profiled and that would give us the subset of people handling that sensitive data
  5. Any theft of that data would be through one of the above actors/entities.
  6. Tracking each of their machines activity over time would give us a Normal behavior profile.
  7. Digital Markers on such sensitive data can also be placed by the corporations to track data use/flow
  8. We can also track periodicity of data access, time of access, track the data changes etc through Digital Markers
  9. Any deviations from Normal behavior is a potential Data Exfiltration action and needs to be investigated
  10. Behavior profiles thus created can be used in addition to Signature based detection

This requires intimate co-ordination with various teams and also requires great understanding of what your Network does, what it is supposed to do. This while being the most logical is the most challenging to implement and thus the most rewarding as well. Behavior profiling is being used in the Intelligence Community for a long time, but the Technology community is still to embrace this. Enterprise data is becoming critical and with threats like APT, our fundamentals are being questioned.

This approach can help after the fact but from preventing the occurrence a Long term solution is needed. From a long term perspective the only solution is building Networks and Applications (OS as well as Apps) from ground up to treat security as a embedded character and not an add on feature.

What are your thoughts on APT? How do you think we should change our Security thought process, technology and all to combat it? Sound on below!!!

SIEM Use Cases – What you need to know?

My previous post “Adopting SIEM – What you need to know” would give a better starting point if you are new to SIEM and want to implement it in your organization. If you already use/manage/implement a SIEM, then read on.
To start with, SIEM tools take a lot of effort to implement. Once implemented, they need to be taken care like babies. If care is not given, within a few months you would be staring at a million dollar museum artifact. Now there are two parts of care:

  1. Making sure that the systems are updated regularly, not only for patches and configurations but also the content put in them.
  2. Second and the most important part is making the SIEM relevant to the current Threat Landscape.

Anyone who has worked on SIEM for some time would agree with me, that Administration is generally easier compared to making the system relevant to the Threat Landscape. Before people hit me with “Administration is also a pain”, I would like to offer a defense saying that mostly, all SIEM products have documentation attached that give fair amount of information on how to install, update, upgrade and operate these systems. However, Translating Threat Landscapes to nuts and bolts for SIEM purposes is the biggest challenge and there are no guides that can help do that.

In this blog post, my attempt is to make this translation as easy as possible. In SIEM parlance, we call the translation as a Use Case. If there is well-defined Use Case, implementing them, responding to them and managing them would become easier. Such Use Cases would eventually become the cornerstone on which a SOC (Security Operations Center) is built. As usual, I would like to start with defining a Use Case, running through its stages and then finally wrapping it up with an example. So here we go.

Use Case Definition: A Use Case by definition is nothing but a Logical, Actionable and Reportable component of an Event Management system (SIEM). It can be either a Rule, Report, Alert or Dashboard which solves a set of needs or requirements.

A Use Case is actually “developed” and this development is a complete process and not just a simple task. Like a mini project it has several stages. The various Stages involved in Use Case Development are as follows:

  • First stage is the “Requirements”Definition. It can be any of the following high level requirements and is unique to every company:
    1. Business
    2. Compliance
    3. Regulatory
    4. Security
  • Once the requirements are finalized, the next stage would be to “Define the scope” of the requirement. This would typically mean the IT Infrastructure that needs to be protected and is a high priority for the specific requirement.
  • Once the scope is finalized, we can sit down and list the “Event Sources” that would be required to implement the Use Case. These would be Log Data, Configuration Data, Alert Data etc coming out of IT Systems under the above Requirements Scope.
  • The next stage would be to ensure that the Event Sources are going through “Validation Phase” before use. Many times, we would have an Event source but the required data to trigger an Event may not be available. This needs to be fixed before we proceed with the Use Case development.
  • Post validation, we need to “Define the Logic”. This is where we exactly define what and how much data is needed to alert along with the Attack Vector we would like to detect.
  • Use Case “Implementation and Testing” is the next stage. This is where we actually configure the SIEM to do what it does best – Correlation and Alerting. During Implementation the definition of the desired output can also be done. The output can be one of the following:
    1. Report
    2. Real Time Notification
    3. Historical Notification
  • Once implementation is done, we need to “Define Use Case Response” procedures. These procedures help you to make the Use Case Operational.
  • Finally, Use Case “Maintenance” is an ongoing process to keep the Use Case relevant by appropriate tuning.

Now that we have defined in detail the Use Case Development methodology, it is time to take an example and see how this actually looks in Real Life Implementation terms.

The Requirement: Outbound Spam Detection.
The Scope: Mail Infrastructure, End User Machine, Security Detection Infrastructure
The Event Source:
  • IDS/IPS at Network and Host – Signature Based Detection
  • Mail Hygiene or Mail Filtering Tools – Signature Based Detection
  • Events from Network Devices – Traffic Anomaly Based Detection
  • Events from End User Detection tools – Signature and Traffic Anomaly Based Detection

The Event Validation: The devices logging to SIEM should be normalized and parsed properly. Typically, SIEM products would allow Content development based on their native Field Mappings (Through Parsing). If the fields are not mapped, then the SIEM does a poor job of Event Triggering and Alerting. The required fields for the above Use Case would typically be Source IP, Source user ID, Email Addresses, Target IP, Host information of Source and Target, Event Names for SPAM detection, Port and Protocol for SMTP based traffic detection etc.

Use Case Logic Flow: The Logic definition is something unique to the environment and needs to be defined accordingly. The logic can be either Signature based or behavior based. You can have it restricted to certain subset of data (based on the Event Sources above) or expand it to be more generic. Some samples are given below:
  • One machine doing Port 25 Outbound connections at the rate of 10 in a minute
  • SPAM Signatures originating from the same source from IDS/IPS, Mail Filter etc having the same destination Public domain
  • SYN Scans on port 25 constantly from a single source etc

Implementation and Testing: Once the logic is defined, Configuration of SIEM and tuning the implementation to trigger more accurately is the next phase. After Implementation of the Use Case, we would need several iterations of Incident Analysis along with data collection to ensure that the Use Case is doing what it is intended to do. This is done at the SIEM level and may involve aggregation, threshold adjustments, logic tightening etc.

Use Case Response: After implementation, the Use Case need to be made as a valuable resource by Defining a Use Case Response. This is the stage where you would define “What action needs to be taken and how it needs to be taken”. You can look at Episode 4 of my Security Investigation series to get an idea of how to Investigate SPAM cases. Other Security Investigation Series Articles are located here – Security Investigation Series.

SIEM Use Cases are really the starting point for good Incident detection. If you want to run a SOC, having well-defined SIEM Use Cases would ease management and increase efficiency of Operations. This post is my humble attempt to simplify and regularize Use Case development for SIEM implementations.

As always, I would love to hear comments and thoughts on this topic.