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How To Become a Malware Analyst: Career Overview in 2022

how to become a malware analyst complete guide

Do you tremble when you hear the word “malware”? If that’s the case, you aren’t alone. Malware, which has been around for at least three decades now and is any malicious software that is created to exploit, corrupt or harm any programmable device, service or network, is defined by a computer security company, McAfee.

Hackers utilize malware on a daily basis to steal sensitive information that they may use against unsuspecting individuals for monetary gain.

Malware is stealthy, and it can quickly spread via email attachments, fraudulent advertisements on websites, tainted USB drivers, false software installation tricks, phishing emails, text messages, and malware-infected applications.

There are several malware types and variants it is emerging from the fast-developing computer technology world, including viruses, ransomware, scareware, worms, Trojans and adware.

Ransomware is a new type of malicious software that has been infecting networks of big organizations and prevents the administrators from accessing their IT networks by encrypting all critical information.

A malware analyst is a significant and rapidly developing position in the cybersecurity hierarchy.

This crucial function, which includes elements of a security engineer, a digital forensics expert, and a software developer, combines all of these skills to offer deep knowledge following a cybersecurity incident.

Following the detection and containment of an initial cyberattack, a thorough study and evaluation of the incident must be undertaken. This will almost certainly include a thorough examination of the adversary’s tools and methods.

New defenses may be deployed or refined as necessary by studying the malicious software employed in an assault.

The capacity to reverse-engineer harmful code is critical in a defensive strategy, and this is where the malware analyst contributes to the cybersecurity team.

This position appeals to many highly trained and interested technology professionals since it combines the talents of a highly qualified coder with those of a cyber investigator.

What is the Definition of a Malware Analyst?

A malware analyst is a cyber-sleuth with highly developed programming abilities and a seasoned cyber-sleuth.

They use their programming skills to learn about how an assault was carried out, why it failed or succeeded, and most importantly how it might be defended against.

They have the skills necessary to deconstruct the exploit and identify the target vulnerability.

They work with other cybersecurity experts to provide an essential contribution in the areas of protection against and mitigation of cyber threats.

Because of this, it is quite rare for a company to hire both a defensive and an offensive security expert.

This role is one of a kind among security organizations since it necessitates an understanding of both offensive as well as defensive methods and security principles.

It’s a detective mystery board game for 2-6 players. It requires assembly language programming abilities as well as a Columbo attitude.

To become a Malware Analyst, follow these five steps-

Thorough Knowledge, A bachelor’s degree in either cybersecurity or computer science, is a required starting point for every cybersecurity profession.

Since being a successful malware analyst requires staying one step ahead of the highly educated cybercriminal, a bachelor’s degree in one of these areas should be seen as an important stepping-stone into the industry.

In order to write suitable code for the application at hand, additional technical skills and knowledge are required. This skill set can help with the different programming and reverse engineering requirements.

Career path This area of study could lead to a career in cybersecurity, particularly if you’ve already earned a master’s or doctorate degree. A number of years as a programmer or developer is typical for this field.

The applicant will learn how to identify, prevent, and remove malicious software with these capabilities.

A route that leads to the security department is only available for individuals with strong programming abilities and a comprehensive understanding of security concepts.

Professional certifications Two certifications have emerged as desirable qualifications for a malware analyst profession, despite the fact that there is no industry-wide formal professional certification required in this line of work.

GIAC Reverse Engineering Malware (GREM)

FOR610: Reverse-Engineering Malware: Malware Analysis Tools and Techniques

The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential verifies that a candidate has a good knowledge of security architecture, engineering, and management.

Certification in the Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) domain demonstrates a solid understanding of cyber warfare and mitigation strategies.

For employment in the government or government contractor industries, anticipate obtaining top-secret access to sensitive compartmentalized information (TS/SCI) clearance. It will almost certainly be necessary.

Gaining Experience Because the skills necessary to be a good malware investigator are, in many cases, broad across divisions, it’s best suited for an experienced computer scientist or security specialist.

Even if a candidate comes out of school with either of the bachelor’s degrees mentioned above, it is unlikely that they would have sufficient security and programming expertise.

On top of programming skills or vice versa, experience in the field will provide a good understanding of security principles and methods.

Profound learning Demonstrating a desire and ability to keep up with cutting-edge attack approaches and methods is a necessary, but not sufficient, preparation for becoming a malware analyst.

The ability to find, contain, disassemble, and neutralize zero-day malware is regarded as the holy grail of cyber security skills.

Cyberattacks are often successful because they include an unexpected or unforeseen element in the cyber kill chain. A malware analyst’s primary responsibility is to be able to analyze previous events and accurately predict the next assault.

Courses & Certifications: How To Get Started

1)     Begin with the most basic elements.

Being a malware analyst may take you to many different jobs throughout your career, and you could end up analyzing malware of all sorts, from basic application malware to exploits hidden in PDF files or malware discovered on mobile phones.

Where should you begin if you’re looking for a place to start when it comes to your training? Before attempting anything too advanced, I recommend that you master a few fundamentals.

2)     Learn Assembly Language

At the top of the programming language food chain, you’ll find scripting languages like PERL or Python, high- and medium-level languages such as C++ and C, then assembly language.

Assembly language follows, followed by machine code and finally binary code that is interpreted by the hardware.

MALWARE is written in a Middle-Level language and, after completion, is compiled all the way down to be readable by the hardware and/or operating system.

At this level, the code is not “Human Readable” and is therefore difficult to understand by a human being. To be able to read malware code, a Malware Analyst will need to disassemble it.

Assembly, the most high-level language formed from binary code, is the last human-readable code level. As a result, it is critical for anybody interested in becoming a Malware Analyst to learn how to read and write Assembly code.

The assembler is a low-level language that, as the name implies, consists of many more instructions than higher-level languages.

In contrast, in a low-level language like C or Assembly, writing anything to the screen takes many more lines of code and characters. A one-liner in Assembly might require anywhere from 5 to 20 lines of code.

It is simple to pick up Assembly if you have previously studied a more complicated language.

Consider what must happen when a single function call is made, and that’s what you’ll find in Assembly. If you want to locate something quickly, learn how to read Assembly effectively.

3)     Learn how to utilize the resources

A malware analyst must be able to work with a variety of specialized and powerful tools in the same way that a construction worker would need to know how to use a hammer and a mechanic must understand how to utilize a wrench.

Some tools are simple to use, while others are not. Some have obvious outputs but dump you with a lot of data that you must be able to parse. The skills of a malware analyst are crucial and one of the first things learned in this profession.

You’ll need the following tools: -> Here’s a list of the different types of equipment needed, as well as some sample instances:

  1. Disassembler – IDA Pro
  2. Debugger – OllyDbg, WinDbg
  3. System Monitor – Process Monitor, RegShot. Process Explorer
  4. Network Monitor – TCP View, Wireshark
  5. Packer Identifier – PEID
  6. Unpacking Tools – Qunpack. GUNPacker
  7. Binary Analysis Tools – PE Explorer, Malcode Analysts Pack
  8. Code Analysis Tools – LordPE, ImpRec

Once you’ve learned how the tools operate and what you can accomplish with them, malware analysis will be a lot easier for you.

Keep in mind that while you may have originally learned how to utilize a collection of tools, new tools are continuously introduced that might be more useful in terms of design and function.

4)     Learn about malware infections

When you’re learning about malware, it may appear to be a bit of redundancy; nevertheless, it is an essential aspect of your education as a Malware Analyst. Every year, malware evolves and changes;

It employs new strategies to infect as well as operate, and it may even reintroduce previously utilized tactics if the situation arises.

If you’re writing a program for Tic-Tac-Toe, you might simply write it from the ground up or check out what other individuals have done before and figure out what you need to do.

A side note, malware analysis is very similar; reading white papers and analysis reports about various types of malware will give you an idea of what you may encounter while reversing it.

To implement this technique, malware must pass through a list of procedures in order to execute it, and it is critical that you be able to identify it by looking at the code based on your previous expertise and understanding of how malware works.

Being able to assess new malware effectively is based on research, practice, knowledge, and experience.

5)     Links to Other Sites and Information Sources

There are many various methods to learn what it takes to be a malware analyst; some people take online or classroom courses that may cost hundreds of dollars.

Others prefer to learn on the go, obtaining information where they can and drawing from their own experience.

Both are excellent methods to learn about malware analysis, but the cheapest and most simple method is to conduct internet research and read many books. Here are some of my favorite resources for learning more about malware analysis:

Online Sources:

  • Tuts4You.com Tutorials
  • Sans.org and anything by Lenny Zeltser

Books:

  • The IDA Pro Book
  • Malware Analyst’s Cookbook
  • Practical Malware Analysis
  • Rootkits: Subverting the Windows Kernel

Reversing: Secrets of Reverse Engineering

Expertise in Malware Analysis and Experience

The ability to deconstruct and analyze suspicious code gives a malware analyst the power to defend digital assets by predicting the code’s intended outcomes and defining a signature that may be used to detect its presence.

The majority of malware is written in middle-level languages like C or C++, and the code must be disassembled to be readable. It’s time-consuming to reverse engineer complex malware, not to mention document the process.

As a result, many of today’s antimalware products employ modules that run in kernel mode rather than user mode and can’t be inspected without knowledge of the underlying code in C++ or assembly language.

This implies that a malware analyst must be able to read, comprehend, and write in much more difficult low-level assembly language.

It’s essential to be able to work with a variety of high-level programming languages. Complex analyses will be required, and specialist and sophisticated digital technologies are a must.

What do Malware Experts Accomplish?

A malware analyst’s primary responsibility is to identify, analyze, and comprehend various sorts of malware and their distribution methods.

All of these different types of adware, bots, bugs, rootkits, spyware, ransomware, Trojan horses, viruses (including Rabbit), and worms are included in this malicious program.

The malware analyst will be called upon to disassemble, deconstruct, and reverse engineer the malicious code in order to allow the security team to better defend against a future attack of the same or similar origins and capabilities after the organization’s incident response team has discovered and contained an assault.

It’s all about putting together jigsaws and connecting seemingly unrelated dots.

While not always included in the incident response team or first line of defense, malware analysts may be called in at the start of an assault to provide clarity on the kind of assault and the methods being employed by the attackers.

Once a threat has been identified and the payload has been stopped, the malware analyst may play an important part in mitigation and recovery operations.

The security analyst will frequently be required to review suspicious code and determine whether it is, in fact, a component of a malware attack.

When it comes to dealing with sophisticated persistent threats (APT), the malevolent code could potentially be planted little by little before being detonated.

The fact that the attack may be complex to identify and neutralize, however, offers malware analysts a chance to examine and defend against the assault before it succeeds.

Job Description of a Malware Analyst

When considering the employment of a malware analyst, it should be anticipated that each business will look for a distinct set of abilities.

The size and makeup of their security force and the strengths and shortcomings of existing personnel will determine their precise demands. However, in general, a good candidate will have one or more of the following abilities:

  • To write technical reports
  • IDA Pro, WinDbg, OllyDbg, Immunity Debugger
  • Strong knowledge of C/C++, Windows API, and Windows OS internals
  • Reconstruction of unknown file formats & data structures
  • Reconstruction of unknown TCP/IP protocols
  • Understand unpacking, deobfuscation, and anti-debugging techniques
  • Command on Python, Perl, Ruby scripting

Responsibilities of a Malware Analyst

  • Look for malware infections and identify systems to avoid.
  • Examine applications and software for potential vulnerabilities using analysis tools.
  • Analyze malware based on potential and distinctiveness.
  • Stay up to date on the most recent malware and keep your software up to date to avoid them.
  • Alerts will be sent to the security team so that they are kept up-to-date.
  • Make sure you’ve created documentation for your security policies.
  • Understand the tools that can identify zero-day cyber threats.

Outlook for Malware Analysts

As the much-touted worldwide cyber security labor shortage grows, so does the demand for expert malware investigators.

Entry-level employment is predicted to increase as new professionals enter the sector and take on responsibilities in lower-level jobs.

Opportunities for security experts wanting to advance and even cross over from programming roles are anticipated to grow.

There are no indications that the number of harmful code injections across the world will decrease in the near future.

In fact, new more dangerous types of malware are discovered every month. While this is true, the requirement for malware analysts will continue to rise.

How much do Malware Analysts make? Salary in the US

As being an analyst necessitates special programming and language abilities as well as a thorough comprehension of advanced tools, malware analysts have a distinct edge over many other cybersecurity occupations.

The responsibilities of an engineer include managing a team of software engineers to develop and implement new features for products, services, and solutions. It is regarded as a seasoned role rather than an entry-level position with comparable pay.

According to a recent finding by Neuvoo.com, the typical malware analyst income in the United States is $165,500 per year, although some researchers report an annual pay of about $100,000.

The starting salary for entry-level jobs is around $78,550 per year, with top earners earning up to $234,060 each year.

Wrap Up

When you consider the many, many sorts of malevolent malware that exist in cyberspace, it’s easy to see why the job of a malware analyst is so crucial.

After a cyberattack has occurred, malware analysts work in digital forensics, security engineering, and programming to deconstruct intelligence.

Only through a thorough examination of malware can a malware analyst guarantee that such events don’t happen again.

Malware analysts will always be in demand. Every day, new malicious code is created and released on the internet.

Because such malware is being produced all around the world on a daily basis, employment opportunities for malware analysts are not expected to diminish anytime soon.

The BLS predicts that jobs inside the information security analyst field (including those for malware analysts) will increase by 31% over the next decade.

This anticipated development outpaces the overall average projected growth rate tracked by the BLS by a long shot.

If you like putting puzzles together, like a challenge and want to assist fight cybercrime, becoming a malware analyst may be an excellent career option for you!

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