Malware Detection: What Is Heuristic Analysis?

Malware Detection - What Is Heuristic Analysis
Malware Detection - What Is Heuristic Analysis

Heuristic analysis is a method for malware detection that uses software to analyze the behavior of an application and compare it against known behaviors of malicious applications. It’s one way for antivirus products to identify new threats but can also be used as part of a defense-in-depth strategy by adding heuristic scanning to your current antivirus solution.

How Does Heuristic Analysis Work??

Heuristic analysis uses software to capture an application’s behavior and compare it against a database of known malicious behaviors. This is used as another way for antivirus companies to detect new malware or apply additional scrutiny on unknown files before letting them through the network perimeter. It can also be used by organizations with limited resources who are looking at how they can better protect their network but don’t have the resources for a full-time security team.

How Is Heuristic Analysis Used?

When an unknown application is detected by heuristics, it’s tagged and not allowed to run. The antivirus software will then analyze the behavior of the application in a sandbox, or isolated environment, to see if it exhibits any malicious behaviors. If it does, the file is added to the database of known malware and can be blocked from running in the future.

If you’re looking for another layer of security for your organization, heuristic analysis is an option to consider. Heuristics aren’t perfect, but they do provide another layer of security at a relatively low cost compared to other options like advanced malware protection and next-generation antivirus products.

A heuristic scan can be run when you install your antivirus product or after the fact if it’s part of your current solution. There are heuristic scanning options available through the console for antivirus products from all of the major security companies, including Sophos and McAfee.

Does It Work?

Heuristic analysis is a fairly new method for malware detection, and it does have its shortcomings. It’s ineffective at catching unknown threats compared to more advanced techniques, such as behavioral analysis or malicious code signatures.

It will also give false positives when used on legitimate programs because they look like something else that has been blacklisted by the antivirus company. False positives can be a problem when employees need to use business-critical applications, but the antivirus software blocks them because it thinks they’re malware.

Heuristic analysis is another layer of security that should always be used in conjunction with other measures like whitelisting and network activity monitoring. If you have users who can download files from the internet, you need to have some form of malware protection in place.

You can always set up heuristic analysis technology and systems yourself, or you can contact a security company, like a cyber security Sydney company, who can do it for you and can ensure it’s properly set up.


If you’re looking for another layer of security and don’t have the resources for a full-time security team, heuristic analysis might be right for you. It’s not as effective at catching unknown threats as more advanced techniques, but it does provide another layer of security that should be used in conjunction with other measures that can bring your security up to the standard you need it to be.

Jennifer Thomas
Jennifer Thomas is the Co-founder and Chief Business Development Officer at Cybers Guards. Prior to that, She was responsible for leading its Cyber Security Practice and Cyber Security Operations Center, which provided managed security services.