Paul Royal, principal researcher at Damballa, has developed a new tool called Azure, which takes advantage of the virtualization extensions in Intel‘s chips to evade the virtual machine and sandbox checks malware authors often include in their ‘work’. Because the extensions exist at the hardware level, below the level of the host OS, the malware doesn’t have the ability to detect Azure, allowing researchers to analyze its behavior unimpeded.
“The whole point is to get out of the guest OS so the malware can’t detect you and attack,” said Royal. “Intel VT doesn’t have the weakness of in-guest approaches because it’s completely external. Others use system emulators, but to get everything exactly right in terms of emulation can be tricky.”
Royal plans to release the source code for Azure at the upcoming Black Hat conference in Las Vegas and will make the tool available for download, as well. Royal said he is still working on features that he plans to add to a future version of Azure, including a precision automated unpacker and a system call tracer.
Intel’s virtualization technology (VT) is a set of extensions added to some of the company’s chipsets that help implement virtualization on the hardware, rather than the software level. VT is designed to help enterprises make better use of their hardware resources and save energy.