visualizing malware

Pretty and dangerous…when computer viruses become aesthetics, or, computer viruses as Pharmakon

Malwarez is a series of visualization of worms, viruses, trojans and spyware code. For each piece of disassembled code, API calls, memory addresses and subroutines are tracked and analyzed. Their frequency, density and grouping are mapped to the inputs of an algorithm that grows a virtual 3D entity. Therefore the patterns and rhythms found in the data drive the configuration of the artificial organism.

There is so much to be said about this project: while we all know that computer viruses are no biological entities, this attempt at visualizing the dynamic data generated by one seems to suggest the opposite.

Technically speaking, computer and biological viruses are affiliated to two unbridgeable and well-separated spheres, one prevalently pertaining to the domain of information and the other to the one of carbon-based life. Their material formation contributes to such divergence: while computer viruses are normally fabricated by and partially depending on human agency, biological viruses are mostly understood as naturally occurring. Worms, Trojan horses and computer malware are often described as if they were digital version of the natural ecosystem. However, a real intertwining and merging with such system is still confined to the domain of science fiction. The two realms do not speak to each other. But despite the factual and easily discernible discrepancies between computer and biological viruses, the first are affiliated with the latter, to the extent that, in most cases, their existences appear intimately entangled. One element seems to confirm this kinship: their invisibility.

mydoom, a malware visualization by Alex Draculescu

With their submicroscopic size, biological viruses constitute some of the smallest biological agents known. This makes them inscrutable to the human eye. Strolling the Internet and hiding in the most recondite folds of our computers, computer viruses are mainly made of code. The user needs a considerable amount of technical skills to detect them. Once disassembled, they provide nothing to the user’s sight.

Draculescu’s work shows not only the reliance on the visual imaginary of the biological as necessary operation to ensure the deciphering of this image (that is, the almost instinctive association of this image with the biological antecedent of malware) , but also the tendency to make this visual product appealing and terrifying at the same time. Ultimately, this image shows how the biological and the informational are, indeed inseparable. the layers of software applications  needed to reach this result function for us as filters that transform the “object” of study and turn the objects themselves into keens and converging entities 

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