Adversarial EXEmples: A Survey and Experimental Evaluation of Practical Attacks on Machine Learning for Windows Malware Detection

08/17/2020 ∙ by Luca Demetrio, et al. ∙ 0

Recent work has shown that adversarial Windows malware samples - also referred to as adversarial EXEmples in this paper - can bypass machine learning-based detection relying on static code analysis by perturbing relatively few input bytes. To preserve malicious functionality, previous attacks either add bytes to existing non-functional areas of the file, potentially limiting their effectiveness, or require running computationally-demanding validation steps to discard malware variants that do not correctly execute in sandbox environments. In this work, we overcome these limitations by developing a unifying framework that not only encompasses and generalizes previous attacks against machine-learning models, but also includes two novel attacks based on practical, functionality-preserving manipulations to the Windows Portable Executable (PE) file format, based on injecting the adversarial payload by respectively extending the DOS header and shifting the content of the first section. Our experimental results show that these attacks outperform existing ones in both white-box and black-box attack scenarios by achieving a better trade-off in terms of evasion rate and size of the injected payload, as well as enabling evasion of models that were shown to be robust to previous attacks. To facilitate reproducibility and future work, we open source our framework and all the corresponding attack implementations. We conclude by discussing the limitations of current machine learning-based malware detectors, along with potential mitigation strategies based on embedding domain knowledge coming from subject-matter experts naturally into the learning process.



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