How to Hide a Sandbox: The Art of Outfoxing Advanced Cyber Threats

Malware often incorporates advanced techniques to evade analysis and discovery by firewalls and sandboxes. When malware sees evidence that dynamic analysis is occurring, it can invoke different techniques to evade analysis, such as mimicking the behavior of harmless files that are typically ignored by threat detection systems.

Traditional sandboxing approaches that signal their own presence — for example, by instrumenting underlying virtual machines (VM) to intercept malicious function calls — make the analysis environment visible. This can trigger an action by malware to conceal itself.

Because of the increased focus by malware authors on developing evasion tactics, it is important to apply a multi-disciplinary approach to analyzing suspicious code, especially for detecting and analyzing ransomware and malware that attempt credential theft.

SonicWall’s award-winning Capture Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) multi-engine sandbox platform efficiently discovers what code wants to do from the application, to the OS, to the software that resides on the hardware. In fact, SonicWall formed a partnership with VMRay to leverage their agentless hypervisor-level analysis technology as one of the three powerful Capture ATP engines. The VMRay technology executes suspicious code, analyzes changes within the memory of a system to detect malicious activity, while resisting evasion tactics and maximizing zero-day threat detection.

How VMRay enhances Capture ATP

VMRay brings an agentless hypervisor-based approach to dynamic malware analysis. The hypervisor is the underlying computing platform that creates, runs and manages virtual machines on the underlying hardware. Most sandboxing solutions use a hypervisor as a launch pad for either the emulators or virtual machines that are hooked and monitored.

Figure 1 VMRay runs as part of the hypervisor on top of the host OS

VMRay takes a different approach to sandbox analysis by monitoring the activity of the target machine, entirely from the outside, using Virtual Machine Introspection (VMI). VMRay combines CPU hardware virtualization extensions with an innovative monitoring concept called Intermodular Transition Monitoring (ITM) to deliver agentless monitoring of VMs running a native OS without emulation or hooking (to avoid being detected by advanced malware). VMRay runs as part of the hypervisor on top of the host OS, which, in turn, is running on bare metal.

Because VMs in the sandbox aren’t instrumented, threats execute as they would in the wild, and the analysis is invisible — even to the most evasive strains of malware.

VMRay’s agentless hypervisor-based approach provides four key benefits to the SonicWall Capture ATP cloud service:

  • Resistance to evasive malware
  • Detailed analysis results
  • Extraction of IOCs
  • Real-time, high-volume detection

To learn more about these benefits in greater detail, read the Solution Brief: Five Best Practices for Advanced Threat Protection.

Brook Chelmo on Twitter
Brook Chelmo
Sr Product Marketing Manager | SonicWall
Brook handles all product marketing responsibilities for SonicWall security services and serves as SonicWall’s ransomware tsar. Fascinated in the growth of consumer internet, Brook dabbled in grey-hat hacking in the mid to late 90’s while also working and volunteering in many non-profit organizations. After spending the better part of a decade adventuring and supporting organizations around the globe, he ventured into the evolving world of storage and security. He serves humanity by teaching security best practices, promoting and developing technology.
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