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Classification of Computer Viruses Using the Theory of Affordances

Matt Webster, Grant Malcolm

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We present a novel classification of computer viruses based on a formalised notion of reproductive models that use Gibson's theory of affordances. A computer virus reproduction model consists of a labelled transition system to represent the states and actions involved in that virus's reproduction; a notion of entities that are active in the reproductive process, and are present in certain states; a sequence of actions corresponding to the means of reproduction of the virus; and a formalisation of the affordances that apply. Informally, an affordance is an action that one entity allows another to perform. For example, an operating system might afford a computer virus the ability to read data from the disk. We show how computer viruses can be classified according to whether any of their reproductive actions are afforded by other entities, or not. We show how we can further sub-classify based on whether abstract reproductive actions such as the self-description, reproductive mechanism or payload are afforded by other entities. We give examples of three computer virus reproduction models constructed by hand, and discuss how this method could be adapted for automated classification, and how this might be used to increase the efficiency of detection of computer viruses. To demonstrate this we give two examples of automated classification and show how the classifications can be tailored for different types of anti-virus software. Finally, we compare our approach with similar work, and give directions for future research.

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