By Eleanor Bennett


5 min read

Malware is a surefire knife that hackers and malicious cyber criminals use to attack organizations and corporations. Unfortunately, malware analysis in the current cybersecurity space is lengthy. It might take more than ten years to understand the size and complexity of recurring malware. Besides, detecting and eliminating malware artifacts in the current evolving period isn't enough.

Security analysts also need to understand how the malware operates, the motivation, and the goals of the breach. This means that security researchers and malware analysts may dedicate several months to understand a single malware. These challenges underscore the need for automating malware analysis using Cuckoo Sandbox.

What is Cuckoo Sandbox?

Cuckoo Sandbox is essentially an open-source or free software that automates malware analysis on Windows, Linux, macOS, and Android devices. The software helps security operation centers launch malware securely in an isolated environment. The idea behind Cuckoo Sandbox is that it tricks the malware or malicious files into perceiving that it is exploring the vulnerabilities of genuine files.

The Cuckoo Sandbox then records and keeps track of malware activity and generates a report of the malware's actions in the secure environment. This helps security teams and malware analysts gather IOCs to be used as baseline data during a cybersecurity incidence.

Unlike other commercial malware sandboxes, such as Artemis, Cuckoo Sandbox is an open-source tool that can be downloaded for free. Cuckoo Sandbox retrieves the following;

  • It analyzes multiple malicious files, such as office documents, executables, emails, PDF files, and malicious websites under macOS, Linux, Windows, and Android environments.
  • It traces API calls and the behavior of files spawned by malware
  • It dumps and analyzes network traffic
  • Conducts advanced memory analysis of infected virtualized systems

As mentioned, Cuckoo Sandbox is an open-source platform with an advanced modular design. Therefore, users can customize various aspects of the virtualized analysis environment, results processing, and reporting.

The Basic Structure of Cuckoo Sandbox

A typical Cuckoo Sandbox features two primary devices. It has a Linux Ubuntu host, which contains a Windows 7 machine. The Ubuntu host stocks the main Python-based Cuckoo Sandbox package. It also packs several dependencies configured to ease usage of Cuckoo Sandbox modular features.

A virtual box is then installed on the Ubuntu host, a Windows 7 guest built, and a Cuckoo Sandbox agent installed to facilitate communications between the two machines. A piece of malware is then fed to the guest machine using Cuckoo web-based GUI or Linux command line. The guest Windows machine will detonate the malware as it runs, capture its activity, and analyze it. Analysis data is then fed to the Ubuntu host, which then generates a detailed report.

Most developers prefer using VirtualBox to build their Windows guests. However, you can use other Cuckoo-compatible platforms, such as VMware Workstation, XenServer, and KVM. The backend of Cuckoo Sandbox runs using the Linux command line.

Why Should You Use Cuckoo Sandbox?

Cuckoo Sandbox provides an easy way to triage potential malware in your systems. Those working in security centers and dealing with malware incidents should use Cuckoo Sandbox to identify and eliminate IOCs for incident management. This tool highly benefits organizations that lack experienced cybersecurity experts or malware analysts or doesn't have advanced tools and techniques to analyze malware.

If you are a cybersecurity expert, you understand the importance of gathering evidence to identify compromised systems and hosts quickly. Cuckoo Sandbox is a great tool to include in the blue team arsenal. Those making their first steps in analyzing malware also benefit from this tool. Cuckoo makes it easy to identify malicious files while improving your knowledge of various malware.

Malware researchers also significantly benefit from Cuckoo Sandbox.

Cuckoo Sandbox Use Cases

Cuckoo Sandbox can work as a standalone application or be integrated into large frameworks due to its modular design. Malware analysts can use it to analyze;

  • DLL files
  • Generic Windows executables
  • Microsoft Office documents
  • PDF documents
  • Visual basic scripts
  • Java JAR
  • Python files
  • PHP scripts
  • URLs and HTML files
  • CPL files

The modular design coupled with powerful scripting abilities makes Cuckoo Sandbox widely applicable.

Cuckoo Sandbox Analysis Report

As mentioned, Cuckoo Sandbox provides comprehensive reports on potential malware files. Below are some sections of reports and information included in Cuckoo reports.

The Summary Page

The summary page contains details that would otherwise be gathered from conducting static malware analysis. It highlights the file sizes, hashes, and more. The right side of the summary page shows a score that is assigned to the file based on how the tool deems it malicious. The score is graded from zero, which means the document/file is benign or harmless, to ten, for overly malicious files.

Cuckoo Sandbox also highlights specific details of the analysis, such as when the file was analyzed, time taken, and type of routing used. The summary page also shows interesting malware signatures in the further details section. File signatures have blue, red, and yellow color codes. Blue signature shows that the file is benign, yellow-coded files have medium risks, while signatures marked red mean that Cuckoo Sandbox has identified malicious activities, such as keylogging activity or leaking IP address. Cuckoo Sandbox has screenshots from the Guest device at the end of the summary page, which had the infected malware. These screenshots are useful in analyzing Ransomware since most ransom messages are displayed.

Behavioral Analysis

As the name suggests, the behavioral analysis shows all the malware's actions in the Guest machine. For instance, the malware may create a series of files or other means of unpacking itself, also known as process injection.

Network Analysis

The network analysis page has multiple tabs that filter reports based on specific network traffic protocols. Malware analysts can filter network analysis reports to TCP, DNS, ICMP, IRC, UDP, and HTTP traffic generated by malware. The platform also allows analysts to download PCAP from the page.

The Bottom Line

Unlike before, modern malware can either be simple, which download programs from rogue servers, or complicated with many modules and encrypted files that extend its functionality. While the time spent analyzing malware samples depends on the complexity, the process still takes years. Unfortunately, malware analysts and cybersecurity researchers don't have years dedicated to one malware sample. Fortunately, Cuckoo Sandbox is there to speed up the process and reduce workload.

That said, students with an interest in cybersecurity can join this Java camp to gain better skills on how to use this and other tools.

If you enjoyed this article, then why not continue reading our other articles such as our guide to Componentdidupdate or what is SecOps?

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