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15.3. Dedicated Virus Analysis on VMWARE

VMWARE lets you carry a mobile virus research system with you wherever you go. Since I got my first computer more than 20 years ago (a C64), I always carry machines with me. This is likely the reason why I have five notebooks; I could never really get used to traditional workstations.

The cool part of VMWARE is that it can run Linux flavors, as well as server versions of operating systems in networked mode. Back in 2000, Ian Whalley introduced VMWARE to me during one of my visits to IBM's Watson Research Labs. Ian conducted research for the Digital Immune System, and he found that VMWARE was an excellent foundation for automated analysis of malicious code6. I was hooked immediately!

Figure 15.1 shows a loaded Redhat guest operating system with several parallel guests, such as MS-DOS, Windows XP, and Windows 95.

Figure 15.1. VMWARE with a loaded Redhat guest on a Windows XP host OS.


Typically, I run VMWARE in host-only mode, so the guest operating system can "see" only my dedicated virus analysis system. You need to be careful because VMWARE can access shares on the host operating system, which is one way malicious code can jump out of the box of the virtual system. A safer option is to connect VMWARE images only to a virtual network or turn off network support completely.

VMWARE allows you to spare some machines for other uses, and you can even implement networking among the guest operating systems via a bridged connection on a local network, as shown in Figure 15.2. This makes it possible to run a single system to analyze a computer worm easily. Do not forget that the correct set of images is only the beginning of your analysis.

Figure 15.2. A set of virtual machines on a virtual network.


In advance configurations, you might want to consider using Honeyd (http://www.honeyd.org), as well as a DNS server that forwards traffic to a Honeyd system. For example, you can simply configure Honeyd to emulate the "personality" of a Windows XP system running an SMTP server service. Such a configuration allows you to test-replicate an SMTP worm, even if the worm uses a list of hard-coded IP addresses. This is because the worm connection attempts will be successfully resolved. In fact, Honeyd emulates the personality of systems so well that even advanced network discovery tools, such as NMAP7, will believe they have found a real target.

Although simulated network services are great for dealing with the majority of simple computer worms, complete testing of worms often requires vulnerable installations. However, Honeyd can be configured to use real system services instead of emulated services only. In the case of worms such as CodeRed, natural infections can be achieved more quickly with this method. On the other hand, worms such as Linux/Slapper are extremely sensitive to such manipulations because the heap layout of the vulnerable target process might be destabilized by the extra traffic caused by too many IP addresses forwarded to the same server. In such cases, reconfiguration of the network interface is the only easy option, as I explained earlier.

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