Antivirus software is designed to protect a system against viruses and web threats, but did you know how they do that? Threats are constantly evolving, becoming more sophisticated, they have to be prevented at any cost.
And hence, the heuristic analysis method was implemented in antiviruses to deal with sophisticated threats. It is found mostly in the premium and well-known antiviruses such as, Kaspersky Total Security which is similar to signature detecting but looks for suspicious commands or instructions on a program.
As you go through this post, you will learn about Heuristic Analysis method of antiviruses in a detailed way, how it works, what are its advantages and disadvantages.
Heuristic Analysis explained in a simple way
Heuristic was derived from the ancient Greek word meaning “to discover”. This analysis approach first discovers, learn and solves the issues using the set of assigned rules. Also, to find the best solution, it estimates and performs educated guesses.
Though the problem-solving process is not perfect, when it comes to quick answer and timely alerts, this process is highly successful.
Why was Heuristic Analysis developed in antiviruses?
The signature detection method, a traditional virus detection method was becoming ineffective towards new and evolving threats. In this process, the antivirus identifies the threat by comparing its code to the database of already encountered virus types.
This method was useful until the rapid development of more sophisticated and new threats. New threats were rising and started emerging, and this method was becoming less effective.
In order to counter the new threats, the heuristic analysis method was designed. It detects the suspicious characteristics of new threats, that was continuously evolving and blocks them from executing.
The heuristic analysis could easily detect new and modified versions of existing malware and prevented them from infecting the system.
How does Heuristic Analysis work
There are multiple techniques implement by Heuristic Analysis. One of the methods known as static heuristic analysis involves decompiling and examining a suspicious program’s source code.
After decompiling, the code is examined, compared to the heuristic database of the known viruses. Even if 1% of the code is similar to a heuristic database, the program is considered as a threat.
There is another method, known as dynamic heuristic where a suspicious program is isolated in a specialized virtual environment. After that, it gives a chance to the isolated program to test out its effects.
Lastly, the suspicious program is examined for any suspicious behaviours like any actions a virus would execute. If the programmed has suspicious behaviour, it is immediately removed from the virtual environment and the system.
Some of the Heuristic Analysis tools
Antivirus using Heuristic analysis uses numerous scanning techniques, some of which are discussed below.
- File Emulation. It is also known as sandbox testing, where a suspicious file is tested on a virtual environment to examine its behaviour. If the files are suspected to be a virus, it’s then removed from the system.
- File Analysis. It deeply scans a program to know what is its purpose, intention and the destination. If any suspicious behaviour is found, the program is considered a virus, and later removed.
- Genetic Signature Detection. This technique is designed to detect the multiple variations of a particular virus. It even uses already detect virus definitions of the same version, to locate the suspicious programs.
Heuristic Analysis’s Benefits and Drawbacks
This detection method may not be completely perfect when it comes to preventing viruses but it’s definitely effective in terms of virus scanning and taking forward the traditional signature scanning method.
Due to Heuristic Analysis, antiviruses now have become more efficient and effective at protection and is less resource-intensive. If you’re an organization who needs complete protection against old and new threats, antiviruses using this method is worth the investment.
Though this method is good at identifying new threats, it can sometimes show inaccurate and false-positive results. These mistakes can contribute to loss of more information.
If there will a very innovative and sophisticated threats, the heuristic analysis might not be to prevent it all alone. And this is the reason, heuristic analysis is partnered with other virus detection methods to deal with sophisticated viruses.
Heuristic Analysis was a useful implementation in an antivirus program. As threats are evolving new detection methods like AI and ML are coming into play, to enhance the detection capabilities of an antivirus.
Whenever you’re going for an antivirus program, make sure that it combines both heuristic and advanced signature detection methods into one solution.