February 16, 2023 By Jennifer Gregory 3 min read

Malware breaches begin in many ways. Recently, multiple fake antivirus apps in the Google Play Store were infected with malware. Earlier this year, malware deployed through satellites shut down modems in Ukraine. Destructive malware attacks have an average lifecycle of 324 days (233 days to identify and 91 days to contain), compared to the global lifecycle average of 277 days for all cyberattacks.

Malware is also costly. According to the 2022 IBM Cost of a Data Breach report, destructive malware attacks cost $5.12 million per occurrence, compared to $4.35 million per occurrence for all cybersecurity attacks. Additionally, 17% of all breaches resulted from destructive malware attacks, with ransomware causing 11% of these incidents.

Every day that malware remains on a system undetected means more damage and breached credentials. However, malware is exceptionally challenging to detect because cyber criminals design it to mimic secure code. To more quickly detect and deactivate malware, organizations are now hiring malware analysts to identify malware on their systems.

What role does a malware analyst play?

Malware analysts, sometimes called reverse engineers, are hired by companies in the cybersecurity industry that need to ensure their products detect malware. Non-cybersecurity companies may also hire malware analysts to help reduce the risk of malware attacks.

Because of the increase in the number and cost of attacks, the demand for malware analysts is rising. While malware analyst is a relatively new position, companies increasingly realize the value of having someone focused on the latest trends and techniques of malware creators. Many malware analysts start on the cybersecurity team and move into the role as they become more specialized in malware.

Some companies rely on on-demand services to help analyze malware. However, a dedicated malware analyst who knows code and infrastructure can be more successful at detecting anomalies.

Companies concerned about the costs of hiring a malware analyst should compare the annual salary for a malware analyst to the $5.12 million average cost of a malware breach. The cost savings can pay the salary of an analyst who prevents even a single breach many times over. Cybersecurity or technology professionals looking to move into a malware analyst role at their current company can show the value by highlighting the average cost of a malware attack and potential attacks.

Responsibilities of a malware analyst

A malware analyst must be both proactive and reactive. By staying up to date on all anti-malware technology and malware strains, an analyst can determine the best way for the organization to protect itself against current malware threats. Knowledge of recent attacks and strains helps the analyst change processes and technology.

The analyst also monitors systems and codes, usually by using artificial intelligence (AI) technology, to detect malicious code. When suspected malware is discovered, the analyst assesses whether the malware is harmful or benign by monitoring how the program interacts with the environment. If the malware is malicious, the analyst works to remove the code and help repair any damage. Malware analysts also write documentation about specific malware and processes for preventing future attacks.

Pursuing a career as a malware analyst

While there are no specific degrees for malware analysts, many companies want professionals with a strong cybersecurity background. Some companies may require a bachelor’s degree. Others look for candidates with digital badges or certifications. Malware analysts need strong technical skills, especially familiarity with AI tools and expertise in zero trust. Additionally, analysts need good written communication skills for documentation and collaboration skills to work with employees on malware attack resolution.

A malware analyst’s most important asset is staying up to date on the latest developments in malware. Analysts can best protect their organization by studying current attack strategies and strains. Because of the rapidly changing nature of malware, analysts constantly learn on the job and hone their skills based on cyber criminals’ latest techniques. In addition to technical skills, malware analysts should be curious and interested in continually learning.

While specializing in malware may initially seem to be limiting, professionals considering a malware analyst career path will have many opportunities for employment in the near and distant future. Malware analysts are in high demand because of the high level of expertise needed. Many of the skills learned as a malware analyst are transferable to other roles in the high-technology and cybersecurity industries. For as long as malware continues to plague modern organizations, there will still be work for malware analysts.

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