Malware classification, specifically the task of grouping malware samples into families according to their behaviour, is vital in order to understand the threat they pose and how to protect against them. Recognizing whether one program shares behaviors with another is a task that requires semantic reasoning, meaning that it needs to consider what a program actually does. This is a famously uncomputable problem, due to Rice’s theorem. As there is no one-size-fits-all solution, determining program similarity in the context of malware classification requires different tools and methods depending on what is available to the malware defender. When the malware source code is readily available (or at least, easy to retrieve), most approaches employ semantic “abstractions”, which are computable approximations of the semantics of the program. We consider this the first scenario for this thesis: malware classification using semantic abstractions extracted from the source code in an open system. Structural features, such as the control flow graphs of programs, can be used to classify malware reasonably well. To demonstrate this, we build a tool for malware analysis, R.E.H.A. which targets the Android system and leverages its openness to extract a structural feature from the source code of malware samples. This tool is first successfully evaluated against a state of the art malware dataset and then on a newly collected dataset. We show that R.E.H.A. is able to classify the new samples into their respective families, often outperforming commercial antivirus software. However, abstractions have limitations by virtue of being approximations. We show that by increasing the granularity of the abstractions used to produce more fine-grained features, we can improve the accuracy of the results as in our second tool, StranDroid, which generates fewer false positives on the same datasets. The source code of malware samples is not often available or easily retrievable. For this reason, we introduce a second scenario in which the classification must be carried out with only the compiled binaries of malware samples on hand. Program similarity in this context cannot be done using semantic abstractions as before, since it is difficult to create meaningful abstractions from zeros and ones. Instead, by treating the compiled programs as raw data, we transform them into images and build upon common image classification algorithms using machine learning. This led us to develop novel deep learning models, a convolutional neural network and a long short-term memory, to classify the samples into their respective families. To overcome the usual obstacle of deep learning of lacking sufficiently large and balanced datasets, we utilize obfuscations as a data augmentation tool to generate semantically equivalent variants of existing samples and expand the dataset as needed. Finally, to lower the computational cost of the training process, we use transfer learning and show that a model trained on one dataset can be used to successfully classify samples in different malware datasets. The third scenario explored in this thesis assumes that even the binary itself cannot be accessed for analysis, but it can be executed, and the execution traces can then be used to extract semantic properties. However, dynamic analysis lacks the formal tools and frameworks that exist in static analysis to allow proving the effectiveness of obfuscations. For this reason, the focus shifts to building a novel formal framework that is able to assess the potency of obfuscations against dynamic analysis. We validate the new framework by using it to encode known analyses and obfuscations, and show how these obfuscations actually hinder the dynamic analysis process.

Program Similarity Analysis for Malware Classification and its Pitfalls

Niccolò Marastoni
2021

Abstract

Malware classification, specifically the task of grouping malware samples into families according to their behaviour, is vital in order to understand the threat they pose and how to protect against them. Recognizing whether one program shares behaviors with another is a task that requires semantic reasoning, meaning that it needs to consider what a program actually does. This is a famously uncomputable problem, due to Rice’s theorem. As there is no one-size-fits-all solution, determining program similarity in the context of malware classification requires different tools and methods depending on what is available to the malware defender. When the malware source code is readily available (or at least, easy to retrieve), most approaches employ semantic “abstractions”, which are computable approximations of the semantics of the program. We consider this the first scenario for this thesis: malware classification using semantic abstractions extracted from the source code in an open system. Structural features, such as the control flow graphs of programs, can be used to classify malware reasonably well. To demonstrate this, we build a tool for malware analysis, R.E.H.A. which targets the Android system and leverages its openness to extract a structural feature from the source code of malware samples. This tool is first successfully evaluated against a state of the art malware dataset and then on a newly collected dataset. We show that R.E.H.A. is able to classify the new samples into their respective families, often outperforming commercial antivirus software. However, abstractions have limitations by virtue of being approximations. We show that by increasing the granularity of the abstractions used to produce more fine-grained features, we can improve the accuracy of the results as in our second tool, StranDroid, which generates fewer false positives on the same datasets. The source code of malware samples is not often available or easily retrievable. For this reason, we introduce a second scenario in which the classification must be carried out with only the compiled binaries of malware samples on hand. Program similarity in this context cannot be done using semantic abstractions as before, since it is difficult to create meaningful abstractions from zeros and ones. Instead, by treating the compiled programs as raw data, we transform them into images and build upon common image classification algorithms using machine learning. This led us to develop novel deep learning models, a convolutional neural network and a long short-term memory, to classify the samples into their respective families. To overcome the usual obstacle of deep learning of lacking sufficiently large and balanced datasets, we utilize obfuscations as a data augmentation tool to generate semantically equivalent variants of existing samples and expand the dataset as needed. Finally, to lower the computational cost of the training process, we use transfer learning and show that a model trained on one dataset can be used to successfully classify samples in different malware datasets. The third scenario explored in this thesis assumes that even the binary itself cannot be accessed for analysis, but it can be executed, and the execution traces can then be used to extract semantic properties. However, dynamic analysis lacks the formal tools and frameworks that exist in static analysis to allow proving the effectiveness of obfuscations. For this reason, the focus shifts to building a novel formal framework that is able to assess the potency of obfuscations against dynamic analysis. We validate the new framework by using it to encode known analyses and obfuscations, and show how these obfuscations actually hinder the dynamic analysis process.
File in questo prodotto:
File Dimensione Formato  
Thesis__mila_.pdf

embargo fino al 16/10/2021

Tipologia: Tesi di dottorato
Licenza: Dominio pubblico
Dimensione 5.95 MB
Formato Adobe PDF
5.95 MB Adobe PDF Visualizza/Apri

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11562/1047778
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? ND
social impact