What Is Polymorphism?

Polymorphism is a generic term that means ‘many shapes’. A popular example of this is Odo from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He was a Changeling, a creature who could change his shape anytime as needed for any circumstance to survive. ShapeShifter protects a website by changing its HTML, Javascript or CSS code, so rather than static, fixed elements for attackers to program an attack against, they face a “moving target, constantly rewriting itself.” Legitimate users continue to see the unchanged user interface.

In the field of Internet security, polymorphism is a standard means of executing malware. It is known for making it easy for unwanted and infected files and tools blind to anti-virus software and apps. The malicious concoctions are

In the area of object-oriented programming, polymorphism is where a subclass overrides a method of a base class. The method of a class can show different behaviors in subclasses. Think of this way. A programmer sets up a class “Poetry.” The “poetry” can use a method called “song,” and the subclasses “slam” and “ghazal” can enable the method “song” to make different sounds from one moment to the next. This feature is sometimes used for something like hacking or computer games.

Polymorphism can be used by the good guys and the bad guys, and of course, the definition of “bad” and “good” depends upon the mind of the beholder. Polymorphism is a malware. Malware is malicious software that, one, is used to disrupt the operation of one more devices on a network. They aim to, two, steal sensitive information or, three, score illegal access to private device systems. Malware uses active content (content that is interactive or dynamic like multiple choice quizzes and Internet polls), code, and scripts to do those three things.

Malware that automatically mutates is polymorphic. Because of Star Trek’s Odo’s ability to change his appearance anytime, he was often used as a detective to root out illegal activity. He was the perfect fit for the job just as polymorphism in malware makes it extremely difficult for a company’s IT team to find and destroy. In other words, just as in our physical lives, our virtual lives face things that are not as they seem.

Like John W. Campbell’s “The Thing,” malware that is polymorphic, that can “shapeshift,” can practically absorb the memories of any creature (or device) it takes over. Because the malware can change appearance anytime, it is difficult to track, but it can also gather more “knowledge” about its targets. Note that in “The Sword and the Stone,” Merlin transformed Arthur into various animals in The Sword in the Stone, for educational purposes, too. It can hang around longer since it cannot so easily be detected but also move on via infected URLs, SMSs and other network transport tools. It is not static but dynamic.

Polymorphism is a tool for both malware and worldwide gangs and mafias as well as the anti-malware or DDoS defense representatives to participate in what might be called a “magical chase” like that of the popular fairy tales Two Magicians or Farmer Weathersky. The pursued perpetually changes forms to lose the pursuer. The pursuer in the story and the pursuer hunting the shapeshifting malware… have the potential to both shapeshift. In 2014, since many universities and poly technical institutes have research programs searching for more effective methods of insuring Internet security, polymorphism will be a hot topic in 2014.