Visible to the public Spotless Sandboxes: Evading Malware Analysis Systems Using Wear-and-Tear Artifacts

TitleSpotless Sandboxes: Evading Malware Analysis Systems Using Wear-and-Tear Artifacts
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsMiramirkhani, N., Appini, M. P., Nikiforakis, N., Polychronakis, M.
Conference Name2017 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (SP)
KeywordsBare-metal Host, BIOS Security, Companies, Data analysis, Decision trees, dynamic analysis, Environment Aware Malware, Evasion, human factors, Instruments, invasive software, Malware, malware analysis, malware analysis systems, malware sandboxes, Metrics, pubcrawl, Resiliency, sandbox, sandbox evasion techniques, Scalability, security, spotless sandboxes, statistical analysis, statistical models, Tools, Virtual machining, virtualization, wear-and-tear artifacts

Malware sandboxes, widely used by antivirus companies, mobile application marketplaces, threat detection appliances, and security researchers, face the challenge of environment-aware malware that alters its behavior once it detects that it is being executed on an analysis environment. Recent efforts attempt to deal with this problem mostly by ensuring that well-known properties of analysis environments are replaced with realistic values, and that any instrumentation artifacts remain hidden. For sandboxes implemented using virtual machines, this can be achieved by scrubbing vendor-specific drivers, processes, BIOS versions, and other VM-revealing indicators, while more sophisticated sandboxes move away from emulation-based and virtualization-based systems towards bare-metal hosts. We observe that as the fidelity and transparency of dynamic malware analysis systems improves, malware authors can resort to other system characteristics that are indicative of artificial environments. We present a novel class of sandbox evasion techniques that exploit the "wear and tear" that inevitably occurs on real systems as a result of normal use. By moving beyond how realistic a system looks like, to how realistic its past use looks like, malware can effectively evade even sandboxes that do not expose any instrumentation indicators, including bare-metal systems. We investigate the feasibility of this evasion strategy by conducting a large-scale study of wear-and-tear artifacts collected from real user devices and publicly available malware analysis services. The results of our evaluation are alarming: using simple decision trees derived from the analyzed data, malware can determine that a system is an artificial environment and not a real user device with an accuracy of 92.86%. As a step towards defending against wear-and-tear malware evasion, we develop statistical models that capture a system's age and degree of use, which can be used to aid sandbox operators in creating system i- ages that exhibit a realistic wear-and-tear state.

Citation Keymiramirkhani_spotless_2017