What Is Heuristic Analysis In Antivirus Software? How It Works?
In Heuristic based detection, an antivirus software scans files for malware-related patterns. The software quarantines or deletes matched files.
A Heuristic analysis is a method that is utilized by antivirus software in order to detect and prevent the execution of unknown malicious programs. In heuristic detection, the focus is on observable patterns of behaviour that are characteristic of well-known malicious software. Antivirus program will mark a file as potentially dangerous if it displays behavior that is comparable to that of known malicious software. This behavior must be exhibited by the file in question.
In this article we will explore everything about Heuristic analysis based virus detection.
What is Heuristic Analysis in antivirus
Heuristic analysis is a technique for locating viruses that involves inspecting code for characteristics that are unusual. The term “heuristic” comes from an Ancient Greek word that meant “to discover,” and it was named after that word. Despite the fact that this method of problem-solving might not be flawless, it has a great deal of potential for success when applied to computer systems that demand an instant response or timely alert based on intuitive judgement.
Signature detection refers to the process of identifying malware by comparing the code in a program to the code of known virus types that have already been encountered, analysed, and recorded in a database. This is the traditional method for detecting viruses, and it is also known as virus comparison.
The signature detection method is still utilized, despite the fact that it has become less effective as a result of the proliferation of new dangers that began around the turn of the century and continue to appear on a regular basis. Despite its usefulness, the method has also become more constrained.
In order to find a solution to this issue, a heuristic model was developed with the particular purpose of identifying potentially malicious traits that may be present in unknown, newly discovered viruses, as well as modified versions of previously identified threats and known malware samples.
Heuristic data analysis is one of the only methods used to deal with the overwhelming number of new threats that are discovered every day. Cybercriminals are constantly developing new threats, and heuristic analysis is one of the only methods that can keep up.
Additionally, heuristic analysis is one of the few ways that is able to resist polymorphic viruses. Polymorphic viruses are a type of malicious code that continually changes and adapts, and this is the term used to describe them. There is no requirement for a particular signature when using heuristic analysis, which is incorporated into advanced security solutions provided by some antivirus software developer companies. This allows for the detection of new threats prior to them causing any damage.
How Heuristic Analysis works?
The term “heuristic analysis” refers to the practise of employing a variety of methods. Decompiling a suspicious software in order to inspect its source code is an example of a heuristic technique. This technique is also known as static heuristic analysis. After that, this code is compared to viruses that have already been discovered and are contained within the heuristic database. The source code will be marked as potentially malicious if a certain portion of it matches anything in the heuristic database.
A different approach is called dynamic heuristics, and it is. When researchers want to investigate something questionable but don’t want to put people in danger, they place the drug in a location where it can’t escape, such as a locked laboratory, and then run experiments on it. The method is the same for heuristic analysis, but it is performed in a digital environment.
Then the antivirus with heuristic capabilities provided with the opportunity to test the code and simulate what would take place if the suspicious file was allowed to run. This is accomplished by placing the possibly malicious program or section of code in an isolated environment within a specialised virtual machine, also known as a sandbox. It analyses each command as it is executed and searches for any questionable behaviors, such as self-replication, overwriting files, and other activities that are typically carried out by viruses.
Antivirus Heuristic Detection
The bulk of commercial antivirus products available on the market today use heuristic analysis into their processes. Heuristic analysis operates in a manner that is analogous to that of signature scanning, which identifies potential dangers by looking for particular strings; however, instead of looking for strings, it searches for specific commands or instructions that are not generally present in a program.
These potentially harmful commands, when left to their own devices, have the potential to carry out operations including the following:
- The payload of a trojan
- The replication mechanics of a virus
- The distribution pattern of a worm
The majority of heuristic antiviral procedures make use of either a rule-based or a weight-based system in order to estimate the level of risk that a software functionality may present. When the number of violations of these regulations reaches a certain point, an alert is generated, and preventative measures are implemented. This warning may just send a notification to the server administrator, or it may automatically store a file in the quarantine folder, depending on the settings of the antivirus program.
The following are some of the methods that are used to carry out heuristic analysis:
1. Heuristic analysis of static data
Examining the source code of a program and comparing it to the source code of known viruses that have already been logged in a database is what is involved in the process of static heuristic analysis. The code is only marked as potentially dangerous if a sufficient amount of it matches what is already stored in the database.
2. A Dynamic Approach Using Heuristics
The process of dynamic heuristic analysis makes use of a virtual machine, which can be thought of as a testing ground. The execution of a program can take place in a protected and segregated setting known as a sandbox, which prevents the program from affecting other parts of the system or the network. You can see what the file would do if it were to run in a sensitive environment by using dynamic heuristic analysis in a sandbox environment, which allows the file to be executed.
During a dynamic heuristic analysis, for instance, the program that is being observed might try to self-replicate, attempt to stay within resident memory after being executed, overwrite files, or perform any number of other behaviours that are typically programed into viruses.
Heuristic Based Antivirus Analysis Tools
Antivirus businesses and online criminals have been engaged in a long-running game of cat and mouse for several decades. Antivirus heuristic analysis enables software vendors and their customers to maintain a competitive advantage by identifying viruses that were not previously known and providing protection against new forms of malware that have not yet been included in virus definition files.
Antivirus programs that are based on heuristic analysis make use of a variety of scanning methods, including the following:
Analysis of the files — This step of the process involves the scanning program conducting a detailed examination of a file to ascertain its goal, destination, and intention. For instance, if the objective of a file is to remove a certain set of files, then that file might be considered a virus.
File emulation — Emulating a file in a sandbox or controlled virtual environment is what file emulation is all about. File emulation is also known as dynamic scanning or testing in a controlled environment. If the file acts in a manner consistent with a virus, then it most likely is a virus!
Genetic signature detection — Genetic signature detection is a method that makes use of previously established virus definitions in order to identify new viruses that belong to the same family as those that have already been identified.
These methods can be utilised to identify viruses while they are residing on file storage or while they are in transit between two endpoints. For instance, the Anti-Spam Agent that is included in Forcepoint Email Security can be configured to examine both the header and the body of an email in order to identify the degree to which the contents of the email are similar to spam. Heuristic analysis has been known to produce false positives on occasion; however, this issue can be remedied by configuring custom filters and rules that put the false positives in question to a whitelist.
Potential Issues With Heuristic Analysis
The use of heuristic analysis is ideal for the detection of new threats; however, in order for heuristics to be effective, they need to be meticulously tuned to provide the best possible detection of new threats while simultaneously avoiding the generation of false positives on code that is completely innocent.
Because of this, heuristic tools are often simply one weapon among several in a sophisticated antivirus’s armoury. They are frequently implemented in conjunction with many other techniques for the detection of viruses, such as signature analysis and various proactive technologies.
Is It Worth It to Use Heuristic Analysis?
This technique of proactive virus scanning can be a very useful approach to augment traditional signature scanning solutions, despite the fact that heuristic analysis and detection methods may not be 100% faultless and may occasionally produce false positives. The heuristic analysis antivirus software that is continually being enhanced ensures that programs operate more effectively and make greater use of the resources available on the computer. Heuristic antivirus analysis is unquestionably an investment that will more than pay for itself for businesses that seek the best possible security against known and new forms of malware and viruses.
The approach that Forcepoint takes to cybersecurity is informed by decades of industry experience. Our solutions are developed to give the highest possible level of protection while still being able to scale with your company. It would be our pleasure to provide you with additional information regarding the advantages of heuristic antivirus analysis as well as the ways in which we may modify our services to meet the requirements of your company. Get in touch with a member of our staff right away to set up a no-cost demonstration.