Before hunting malware, every researcher needs to find a system where to analyze it. There are several ways to do it: build your own environment or use third-party solutions. Today we will walk through all the steps of creating a custom malware sandbox where you can perform a proper analysis without infecting your computer. And then compare it with a ready-made service.

Why do you need a malware sandbox?

A sandbox allows detecting cyber threats and analyzing them safely. All information remains secure, and a suspicious file can't access the system. You can monitor malware processes, identify their patterns and investigate behavior.

Before setting up a sandbox, you should have a clear goal of what you want to achieve through the lab.

There are two ways how to organize your working space for analysis:

  • Custom sandbox. Made from scratch by an analyst on their own, specifically for their needs.
  • A turnkey solution. A versatile service with a range of configurations to meet your demands.

How to build your own malware sandbox?

How to make your own malware sandbox

Let's walk through all steps that you need to set up the simple environment for malware research:

1 — Install a virtual machine

Running malware should happen in a properly isolated environment to avoid infection of a host operating system. It's better to have an isolated computer, but you can set up a virtual machine or rather a few of them with different versions of OSs. There are a bunch of VMs presented in the market: VMWare, VirtualBox, KVM, Oracle VM VirtualBox, Microsoft Hyper-V, Parallels, or Xen.

2 — Check artifacts

Modern malware is smart – it understands whether it's run on the virtual machine or not. That is why it's essential to get rid of artifacts. Check code, remove detection, and others.

3 — Use a different network

Another precaution is to use a different network system. Preventing any infection of other computers on your network is important. Get a VPN service and set it up correctly. You can't let the traffic leak happen from a real IP address.

4 — Assign a realistic amount of resources

Our goal is to make a system look as authentic as possible to trick any malicious program into executing. Make sure that you assign a realistic amount of resources: more than 4 Gb of RAM, a minimum of 4 cores, and disk space of 100 Gb and more. That is a basic requirement to pretend as a legit system. And still, keep in mind that malware checks the configuration of equipment. If there is a virtual machine's name somewhere, a malicious object identifies it and stops working.

5 — Install commonly used software

If you install Windows and leave it as is, a malicious object will get that it is analyzed.

Install a few applications, like Word, browsers, and other programs that all users usually have.

6 — Open several files

Here we need to show that it is a real computer that belongs to someone. Open a few documents to accumulate logs and a few temp files. Several types of viruses check this. You can use Regshot or Process monitor to make logs of registry and file system changes. Note that these programs can be detected by malware when it is running.

7 — Imitate a network connection

Some kinds of malware check if it can connect to websites like Google. How to trick a malicious program into thinking that it's online? Utilities like INetSim and the FakeNet tool imitate a real Internet connection and allow us to intercept the requests that malware is making. Try to check network protocols between a malicious object and its host server. But beforehand, find out what the analyzed sample is connecting with using WireShark. And it takes some effort not to give up this tool to the malware, be careful.

8 — Install analysis tools

Prepare the tools you'll use for analysis and ensure that you know how to use them. You can go with Flare VM tools or make use of these programs:

  • Debuggers: x64dbg investigates malicious code by executing it.
  • Disassemblers: Ghidra makes reverse engineering easier, with access to the decompiler's output. It also can be used as a debugger.
  • Traffic analyzers: Wireshark checks network communication that malware requests.
  • File analyzers: Process Monitor, ProcDOT aim to monitor and understand how processes deal with files.
  • Process monitors: Process Explorer, Process Hacker help to watch malware behavior.
9 — Update your system to the latest version

Your system should be up-to-date as well as all software. Filter out the regular Windows changes that are happening quite often. However, your experiment may require a different version, such as how malware exploits some OS errors. In this scenario, choose and get the necessary version set up.

10 — Turn off Windows Defender and Windows firewall.

Disable things like Windows defender. If you are working with malware, it can trip the antivirus.

11 — Get ready the files for analysis

Create a shared folder, select a directory you need.

Set up a snapshot to roll back to the later state of the VM in case of an error.

If you complete all these steps, you're good to go and start the analysis.

Is there a more efficient option to analyze malware?

All these steps take a lot of time and preparation. And still, there is a chance that your sandbox will not be secure enough, invisible for malware, and provide the necessary information. So, what is a better solution? Here comes the second option – use a ready-made solution. Let's take a look at ANY.RUN.

ANY.RUN is an online malware sandbox that you can use for detection, monitoring, and analyzing threats. The best part of it is time and convenience:

  1. It takes only a few minutes to complete an analysis of a malicious sample.
  2. Most of the tools are ready for you, just choose what you need and start the task.
  3. Your files, system, and network are completely safe.
  4. The interface is simple enough even for junior analysts.

It's still can be customizable – select an operating system, software set, localization, and other details for your purposes. But the perk is that you don't need to install anything! Take your computer, and you are all set.

Custom Malware

Two minutes is usually enough to crack even an advanced malware, and most modern anti-evasion tricks don't work here. ANY.RUN hunts them all.

Enjoy a faster solution

The best experience is your own, that is why we offer you to try the sandbox by yourself and check the features of ANY.RUN. And here is a special offer for our readers – you can try the service for free:

Write the "HACKERNEWS" promo code in the email subject at and get 14 days of ANY.RUN premium subscription for free!

Of course, it's up to you how to perform malware analysis. You can spend some time building your own virtual environment or perform analysis in several minutes using a convenient sandbox like ANY.RUN. The choice is yours. The most important thing is what you will do with these services and how to achieve your goals there. But that's another story. Successful hunting!

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