Malware analyst is a significant and rapidly rising position within the cybersecurity hierarchy. This critical feature, which is part security engineer, part digital forensics specialist, and part programmer, provides in-depth intelligence following a cybersecurity case. It’s important to do a comprehensive review and assessment of the incident after the initial cyberattack has been detected and contained. This will inevitably entail a thorough examination of the adversary’s techniques and methods.

New protections can be implemented or refined as needed by analysing the malicious software used in an attack. In a defensive strategy, the ability to reverse engineer malicious code is critical, and this is where the malware analyst adds value to the cybersecurity team.

For several highly skilled and curious tech types, this is an appealing choice because it is a cross between a highly skilled programmer and a cyber detective.

Five steps to becoming a malware analyst

  1. Education is quite important. A bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or computer science is a necessary component of any cybersecurity profession. Since staying one step ahead of the highly skilled cyber bad-actor is at the core of becoming a good malware researcher, a bachelor’s degree in one of these disciplines should be regarded as an important entry point into the sector. Additional programming and reverse engineering skills can be built on top of this basis.
  2. Choosing a career path. A typical route for this cybersecurity specialisation is to work as a programmer or developer for many years. These abilities provide the applicant with the foundation needed to comprehend how malicious software is made. Only those with advanced programming skills and a thorough understanding of security concepts are likely to progress through the security department.
  3. Certifications for professionals. Although no industry-wide technical credential is needed to work as a malware researcher, two certifications stand out as desirable qualifications. The Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) credential validates an applicant’s knowledge of security architecture, engineering, and management. The Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) also shows a thorough understanding of cyberattacks and countermeasures.Plan on obtaining a top-secret with access to confidential compartmentalised information (TS/SCI) clearance for work in the government or government contractor sectors, as it will almost certainly be needed.
  4. Experimentation. Since the knowledge base necessary to be a good malware analyst is cross-functional in several ways, it is a job ideally suited for a seasoned computer scientist or security expert. Even if an applicant graduated from college with one of the above-mentioned bachelor’s degrees, he or she is unlikely to have the necessary experience in both security and programming. Experience in the field will allow you to combine your programming skills with a strong understanding of security standards and practises, or vice versa.
  5. Continued education. Demonstrating a desire and willingness to keep up with cutting-edge attack tactics and methods is a crucial qualification move toward being a malware analyst. The ability to detect, contain, deconstruct, and mitigate zero-day malware is the pinnacle of desirable abilities.

Cyberattacks are often effective because they have an unintended or unanticipated factor in the cyber kill chain. A malware analyst’s work entails being able to analyse past incidents and correctly predict how the next attack will unfold.

What is the role of a malware analyst?

More than anything else a malware researcher is a cyber-sleuth, but one with finely honed programming skills. They use their programming skills to figure out how an attack was launched, why it succeeded or failed, and, most importantly, how it can be countered. They have the expertise to deconstruct the exploit and pinpoint the target vulnerability. They make a significant contribution to preventing and minimising cyber threats through collaborating with other cybersecurity experts.

This position is unique within the security industry because it necessitates an understanding of both offensive and defensive security strategies and concepts. It necessitates assembly language programming skills as well as a Columbo personality.

Malware analyst skills and experience

The ability to analyse and reverse engineer suspicious code allows a malware researcher to secure digital assets by predicting the code’s expected effects and creating a signature that can be used to detect its existence.

While most malware is written in middle-level languages like C or C++, the code must be disassembled before it can be interpreted. This necessitates a malware analyst’s ability to read, comprehend, and programme in the far more difficult low-level assembly language.

It’s crucial to be able to interact with a variety of high-level programming languages. It will be necessary to employ advanced and sophisticated digital resources.

What do malware analysts do?

A malware analyst’s main job is to recognise, investigate, and comprehend different types of malware and their distribution methods. Adware, bots, bugs, rootkits, spyware, ransomware, Trojan horses, viruses, and worms are all examples of malicious software.

Following the detection and containment of an intrusion by the organization’s incident response team, a malware researcher may be called upon to disassemble, deconstruct, and reverse engineer the malicious code in order to help the security team better defend against potential attacks of the same or similar sources and capabilities. It’s all about putting puzzles together and linking seemingly unrelated dots.

Malware analysts are often called upon during the early stages of an attack to add clarity to the type of attack and the tactics used by the perpetrators, despite not being considered part of the incident response team or first line of defence. When the attack vector has been detected and the payload contained, it is normal for the malware analyst to play a key role in mitigation and recovery efforts.

The analyst will be called upon on a regular basis to review suspicious code and decide whether it is, in fact, part of a malware attack. When dealing with advanced persistent threats (APT), the malicious code can be implanted gradually before being enabled. While this makes detecting and recognising malicious code more difficult, it also allows the malware researcher to investigate and defend against the attack before it causes harm.

Job description for a malware researcher

When contemplating the addition of a malware researcher, it should be anticipated that each company would look for a specific set of skills. Their unique requirements will be shaped by the size and structure of their security team, as well as the strengths and limitations of current personnel. In general, an ideal candidate would possess one or more of the following abilities:

    • Immunity Debugger, IDA Pro, WinDbg, OllyDbg
    • C/C++, Windows API, and Windows OS internals are all skills you’ll need.
    • Reconstruct unknown data structures and file formats
    • Reconstruct TCP/IP protocols that you don’t know about.
    • Unpacking, deobfuscation, and anti-debugging methods are all techniques you should be aware of.
    • Scripting in Python, Perl, and Ruby
    • Professional report writing capacity

Commonly job responsibilities will include:

    • Make a list of malware threats and the devices that are vulnerable to them so that you can stop them.
    • Analyze systems and applications for risks using detection software.
    • Sort malware into categories based on its risks and characteristics.
    • Keep up with the new malware and keep your apps up to date to protect yourself.
    • To keep the security team updated, create alerts.
    • Assist in the development of security policy documentation.
    • Learn how to use software to spot zero-day cyber threats.

Outlook for malware analysts

The demand for trained malware analysts is growing in tandem with the much-publicized global cybersecurity staffing shortage. Opportunities for security professionals wishing to progress and even cross-over from programming roles are expected to increase as new recruits fill entry-level positions in the industry.

There is no reason to believe that the pace at which malicious code is distributed across the world would slow down in the near future. Every month, however, new and more dangerous types of malware are discovered. Although this is true, the demand for malware analysts is expected to grow.

How much do malware analysts make?

Malware analysts have a leg up on many other cybersecurity positions because they need advanced programming and language skills, as well as a thorough understanding of sophisticated tools. Most people consider it an experienced-level position rather than an entry-level position, and it comes with a commensurate salary.

While some studies suggest an average annual salary of about $100,000, recently discovered that the average malware analyst salary in the United States is $165,000 a year. Starting salaries for entry-level jobs are $78,000 per year, with seasoned employees earning up to $234,000 per year.