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Malware Ecologies: Exploring the Geographies of Cybersecurity

Andrew Dwyer


The WannaCry and (Not)Petya attacks have generated concern over the speed and impact of the dissemination of state hacking-tools into the public domain. Yet, their public release means these attacks did not utilise 0-day exploits – with the vulnerabilities patched for the most common operating systems. Due to environments, or ecologies, impacts are emergent, cascading and complex according to the spatial complexities of cyberspace.  Previous academic study concerning malware has extensively considered the ‘virtual’ or ‘cyber’ weapon, or focused on cybercriminals. This talk wishes to broaden this horizon – through complicating and complementing current theorisation, to include what a geography of malware tells us. Drawing on (auto)ethnographic work of a malware analysis laboratory, this talk considers the use of ecology to explore the implications of moving away from pathology (that of signatures and static renderings of code) through to limited attempts to consider broader context in machine learning. The inspiration for ecology (or ecosophy) draws on the philosophical work of the French philosopher, Félix Guattari, in which he draws together the triad of: social relations; environment; and human subjectivity. Using this thinking lets us explore how (malicious) software becomes operable, performs its existence, and how conventional distinctions between different, apparently separate elements are threaded together that lead to malware being ‘successful’.  Working in this way provides an extensive analysis of how geography and IR can inform one another to explore the contours of what can thus be considered malicious.

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