What is Malware Packers? How To Analyse With ANY.RUN Sandbox – SOC/DIFR Guide

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Antiviruses can quickly detect malicious executable files, but attackers can bypass this by using packers to compress and obfuscate the code, making it difficult for antivirus software to analyze.

Packers are similar to compression tools like ZIP and RAR, but some packers, like UPX, specifically target executables. 

Packers, including legitimate ones (VMprotect, ASpack) and custom-made ones by attackers like ZIP, SFX, and UPX, deliver malware through compressed archives. 

ZIP archives compress files and can be used to hide malicious programs within legitimate files or password-protected archives.

In contrast, SFX archives are self-extracting and contain an unpacking module that triggers installation upon execution, bypassing separate extraction tools. 

UPX packers compress and encrypt executable code, making it challenging to analyze and potentially preventing unpacking altogether.

These techniques compress malware payloads, potentially bypass email security measures, and can disguise malicious installation processes. 

Hackers can tamper with UPX-packed archives to hinder analysis, and there are two main methods: using an unreleased version of UPX to pack the archive or modifying the l_info and p_info structures within the archive itself. 

Use the command line to interact with UPX 

Both techniques achieve the same outcome: the packed archive becomes undetectable by standard UPX unpackers and signature-based security systems. 

It can be problematic for researchers who rely on unpacking tools to analyze the archive’s contents and for security software that uses signatures to identify malicious code


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Essentially, tampering with the archive’s internal structure renders it unreadable by standard UPX tools while the packed malicious payload remains fully functional. 

The file with a .bat extension is the malicious payload 

To identify the type of archive you’re dealing with, especially for less common formats like SFX and UPX, use file identification tools like the “file” command on Unix. At the same time, TrID is a utility for both Windows and Linux that provides detailed file information. 

Hex editors such as xxd and hexdump allow manual inspection by viewing the file’s magic bytes. 

Identifying an SFX archive and UPX file in ANY.RUN 

ANY.RUN can be used to identify packing methods for malware samples, and the Static Discovery window displays file information. In the case of SFX archives, the description will indicate the compression type (e.g., “Win32 Cabinet Self-Extractor”). 

“Win32 Cabinet Self-Extractor” suggests the file uses SPX compression 

UPX packed files can be identified by examining the Hex Editor tab within Static Discovery. ANY.RUN converts hex data to text, which allows to search for strings like “UPX0”, “UPX1”, or “UPX!” at the beginning of the file to confirm UPX packing. 

Identify UPX files by looking for the ASCII character “UPX!” in the header. 

ZIP and SFX archives bundle malicious executables with innocuous files, evading email security., whereas UPX encrypts the executable and decrypts it in memory during execution. Examining file headers (aside from ZIP) for packer signatures can reveal packed malware.

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