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What is Malware Analysis?

Malware Analysis Definition

Malware analysis is the study of the unique features, objectives, sources, and potential effects of harmful software and code, such as spyware, viruses, malvertising, and ransomware. It analyzes malware code to understand how it varies from other kinds. 

Below is a malware analysis guide to help you better understand this unique cybersecurity methodology.

Benefits of Malware Analysis

Malware analysis provides several significant benefits. For example, it enables organizations to perform the following malware analysis steps:

  1. Figure out how much damage an intrusion caused
  2. Identify who may have installed malware inside the system
  3. Determine the attack's level of sophistication
  4. Pinpoint the exact vulnerability the malware exploited to access your system

Types of Malware Analysis

There are several types of malware analysis. You can use one or a combination before or after an attack, depending on the situation your organization faces.

Static Malware Analysis

Static malware analysis looks for files that may harm your system without actively running the malware code, making it a safe tool for exposing malicious libraries or packaged files. Static malware analysis can uncover clues regarding the nature of the malware, such as filenames, hashes, IP addresses, domains, and file header data. The malware can be observed using a variety of tools, such as network analyzers.

Dynamic Malware Analysis

Dynamic malware analysis uses a sandbox, which is a secure, isolated, virtual environment where you can run suspected dangerous code. Security professionals can closely monitor the malware in the sandbox without worrying about infecting the rest of the system or network, allowing them to gather more information about the malware.

Hybrid Malware Analysis

Hybrid malware analysis combines both static and dynamic techniques. For example, if malicious code makes changes to a computer’s memory, dynamic analysis can detect that activity. Then, static analysis can determine exactly what changes were made.

4 Stages of Malware Analysis

You can break down the malware analysis process into four stages:

Static Properties Analysis

Static properties refer to strings of code embedded inside the malware file, hashes, header details, and metadata. Static properties analysis provides a quick and easy way to gather helpful information about malware because the malware does not have to be executed for you to study it.

Interactive Behavior Analysis

Interactive behavior analysis involves a security analyst interacting with malware running in a lab, making observations regarding its behavior. In this way, you can better understand how malware uses different elements of a computer system, such as its memory.

Fully Automated Analysis

Fully automated analysis scans suspected malware files using automated tools, focusing on what the malware can do once inside your system. After the analysis, you get a report outlining the potential damage to assets connected to your network.

Manual Code Reversing

Manual code reversing breaks down the code used to build the malware to learn how it works and what it is capable of doing. This is a time-consuming process that requires significant skill. However, when used correctly, manual code reversing can reveal valuable information about the malware.

What are the four stages of malware analysis?

Malware Analysis Use Cases

Malware analysis can be used in a variety of cybersecurity situations, such as:

Incident Response

For remediation and recovery to be successful, incident response teams must move quickly, and this is where malware analysis is especially useful. By giving incident responders applicable information for ongoing and upcoming incidents, malware analysis enables them to contain and prevent attacks.

Malware Research and Detection

To best safeguard your organization, identifying malicious code and understanding how it differs from benevolent code is extremely important. For example, by knowing which sites transmit malicious code, you can blacklist websites that propagate threats.

Indicator of Compromise (IOC) Extraction

With malware analysis, you can extract indicators of compromise (IOCs) to better understand how malware can attack your system. An IOC is data indicating that a system breach or attack has occurred. You can use this data to understand how your system reacts to attacks, making it easier to detect attacks in the future.

Threat Hunting

Threat hunters use malware analysis to identify previously unknown cyberthreats. For example, if you set up a honey trap, which is designed to attract malware and confine it to a homeless area of your network, you can study how the malware behaves and potentially discover a new threat. Using malware analysis in this way may reveal threats that can get past your defenses.

Threat Alerts and Triage

Malware analysis enables IT teams to better understand how threats work and then use this information to react faster. The right malware analysis tool can send you alerts, prioritizing them according to severity. This way, instead of wasting time tracking down false positives, your security team can focus their energies on the threats that really matter.

Forecast for Malware Analysis Opportunity and Trends for the Next Five Years

The malware analysis market size is expected to grow at a rate of 31% over the next few years in several major markets, including North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America. Multiple factors drive this growth:

  1. Increased number of cyberattacks: The growing frequency of cyber assaults on organizations has created a sense of urgency that will significantly impact the malware analysis market. Because so many threats need to be detected, studied, and stopped, malware analysis will become a very important tool in the battle against attackers.
  2. Too many false positives from threat detection systems: Although threat detection systems are valuable tools, they can also produce false positives that waste IT teams' time. With malware analysis, you can identify the threats that pose great danger to your organization by studying their behavior, then focusing your energies on addressing these.

Tools for Malware Analysis

Several malware analysis tools are available on the market, and here are some of the most well-known:

Process Hacker

Process Hacker enables analysts to understand the processes that are running on any given device on the network. This can be very useful as you allow malware to execute because you can watch the processes it impacts. With this information, you can determine how different computers react when malware is introduced to your system.


Fiddler can observe and study malicious traffic because it serves as a proxy, accepting and managing network traffic. Running Fiddler enables malware analysts to study the code and locate the hardcoded malicious sites that will be used to download the malware. 


Limon is a controlled sandbox environment for studying malware that attacks Linux systems, enabling IT teams to monitor how the malware behaves and determine what it was designed to do.


PeStudio identifies potentially suspicious files by analyzing what is happening on your system. After it identifies malicious files, it quarantines them and assigns each a hash. You can then use each hash to access the malware and run it in a safe environment to learn how it behaves.


Ghidra disassembles malware instead of merely identifying it. It then takes whatever it finds in the malware code and translates it into something a human can read. In this way, it shows you what the malware designer might have been thinking while writing the malicious code.

Cuckoo Sandbox

Cuckoo Sandbox studies malware in a safe sandbox environment, recording its activity and then generating a report. This provides IT teams with data outlining how the malware attempts to impact your system.

CrowdStrike Falcon Insight

CrowdStrike Falcon automatically analyzes malware by combining CrowdStrike’s threat intelligence with a sandbox environment. By comparing the malware’s behavior in the sandbox to information from CrowdStrike’s threat intelligence, Falcon Insight can determine whether the malware already exists or is new to the threat landscape.

How Fortinet Can Help

With the FortiGuard Inline Sandbox Service, you get a safe environment for testing malware and analyzing how it behaves. It only allows files that have been analyzed and deemed safe to move through your network, shielding your operations and sensitive data from attack.


How can malware be analyzed?

Malware can be analyzed using three different methods: static malware analysis, dynamic malware analysis, and hybrid malware analysis

What are the four steps of malware analysis?

The four steps of malware analysis are:

1.         Static properties analysis

2.         Interactive behavior analysis

3.         Fully automated analysis

4.         Manual code reversing

What is the goal of malware analysis?

The goal of malware analysis is to better understand how malware operates so you can use that information to detect and stop threats.

Why is malware analysis important?

Malware analysis provides several significant benefits. For example, it enables organizations to: 

  1. Figure out how much damage an intrusion caused
  2. Identify who may have installed malware inside the system
  3. Determine the attack's level of sophistication
  4. Pinpoint the exact vulnerability the malware exploited to access your system