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A disassembler is a computer program that translates machine language into assembly language the inverse operation to that of an assembler . A disassembler differs from a decompiler which targets a high-level language rather than an assembly language. The output of a disassembler is often formatted for human-readability rather than suitability for input to an assembler, making it principally a reverse-engineering tool.
Assembly language source code generally permits the use of constants and programmer comments . These are usually removed from the assembled machine code by the assembler . A disassembler operating on the machine code would produce disassembly lacking these constants and comments. The disassembled output becomes more difficult for a human to interpret than the original annotated source code. Some disassemblers make use of the symbolic debugging information present in object files such as ELF. The Interactive Disassemblerallow the human user to make up mnemonic symbols for values or regions of code in an interactive session: human insight applied to the disassembly process often parallels human creativity in the code writing process.
Disassembly is not an exact science: On CISC platforms with variable-width instructions, or in the presence of self-modifying code, it is possible for a single program to have two or more reasonable disassemblies. Determining which instructions would actually be encountered during a run of the program reduces to the proven-unsolvable halting problem.
Examples of disassemblers
Any interactive debugger will include some way of viewing the disassembly of the program being debugged. Often, the same disassembly tool will be packaged as a standalone disassembler distributed along with the debugger. For example, objdump, part of GNU Binutils, is related to the interactive debugger gdb . The some ofexample of dissembler are
ILDASM is a tool contained in the .NET Framework SDK. It can be used to disassemble PE files containing Common Intermediate Language code.
OllyDbg is a 32-bit assembler level analysing debugger
PVDasm is a Free, Interactive, Multi-CPU disassembler.
SIMON a test/ debugger/ animator with integrated dis-assembler for Assembler, COBOL and PL/1
Texe is a Free, 32bit disassembler and windows PE file analyzer.
unPIC is a disassembler for PIC microcontrollers
The Interactive Disassembler, more commonly known as simply IDA, is a disassembler used for reverse engineering. It supports a variety of executable formats for different processors and operating systems. It also can be used as a debugger for Windows PE, Mac OS XMach-O, and LinuxELF executables. A decompiler plugin for programs compiled with a C/C++compiler is available at extra cost. The latest full version of Ida Pro is commercial.IDA performs much automatic code analysis, using cross-references between code sections knowledge of parameters of API calls, and other information. However the nature of disassembly precludes total accuracy, and a great deal of human intervention is necessarily required. IDA has interactive functionality to aid in improving the disassembly. A typical IDA user will begin with an automatically generated disassembly listing and then convert sections from code to data and viceversa.
IDC scripts make it possible to extend the operation of the disassembler. Some helpful scripts are provided, which can serve as the basis for user written scripts. Most frequently scripts are used for extra modification of the generated code. For example, external symbol tables can be loaded thereby using the function names of the original source code. There are websites devoted to IDA scripts and offer assistance for frequently arising problems.
Users have created plugins that allow other common scripting languages to be used instead of, or in addition to, IDC. IdaRUB supports Ruby and IDAPython adds support for Python
x86 Windows console
x86 Linux console
x86 Mac OS X
ARM Windows CE
Executable file formats
ELF (Linux, most *BSD)
Mach-O (Mac OS X)
Dos/Watcom LE executable (without embedded dos extender)
raw binary, such as a ROM image
Intel 80×86 family
ARM, including thumb code
MOS Technology 6502
Analog Devices ADSP218x
Atmel AVR series
DEC series PDP11
Fujitsu FR 32-bit Family
Hitachi H8: h8300/h8300a/h8s300/h8500
Intel 196 series: 80196/80196NP
Intel 51 series: 8051/80251b/80251s/80930b/80930s
Intel i960 series
Intel Itanium (ia64) series
Java virtual machine
Microchip PIC: PIC12Cxx/PIC16Cxx/PIC18Cxx
Mitsubishi 7700 Family: m7700/m7750
Motorola DSP 5600x Family: dsp561xx/dsp5663xx/dsp566xx/dsp56k
Siemens C166 series
Compiler/libraries (for automatic library function recognition)
Borland C++ 5.x for DOS/Windows
Borland C++ 3.1
Borland C Builder v4 for DOS/Windows
GNU C++ for Cygwin
Microsoft Visual C++
Watcom C++ (16/32 bit) for DOS/OS2
ARM C v1.2
GNU C++ for Unix/common
SIMON (Batch Interactive test/debug)
SIMON (Batch interactive test/debug) was a proprietary test/debugging toolkit for interactively testing Batch programs designed to run on IBM’s System 360/370/390 architecture.
It operated in two modes, one of which was full instruction set simulator mode and provided Instruction step, conditional Program Breakpoint (“Pause”) and storage alteration features for Assembler, COBOL and PL/1 programs.
High level language (HLL) users were also able to see and modify variables directly at a breakpoint by their symbolic names and set conditional breakpoints by data content.
Many of the features were also available in “partial monitor mode” which relied on deliberately interrupting the program at pre-defined points or when a “program check” occurred.In this mode, processing was not significantly different from normal processing speed without monitoring.
It additionally provided features to prevent application program errors such as Program Check, “Wild branch” , and Program loop. It was possible to correct many errors and interactively alter the control flow of the executing application program. This permitted more errors to be detected for each compilation which, at the time, were often scheduled batch jobs with printed output, often requiring several hours “turnaround” before the next test run.
Simon could be executed on IBMMVS, MVS/XA, ESA or DOS/VSE operating systems and required IBM 3270 terminals for interaction with the application program.
lida is basically a disassembler and code analysis tool. It uses the bastards libdisasm for single opcode It allows interactive control over the generated deadlisting via commands and builtin tools.
It trace execution flow of binary
It work with symbolic names: interactive naming of functions, labels, commenting of code.
It scan for known anti-debugging, anti-disassembling techniques
It scan for user defined code sequences
It integrated patcher
It also integrated cryptoanalyzer
Many disassemblers out there use the output of objdump ââ‚¬” lida that tries a more serious approach. The several limitations of objdump are broken by using libdisasm and by tracing the execution flow of the program.
Further by having the control over the disassembly more features can be included. Everybody who has already worked on some deadlisting will immediate feel a need to work interactive with the code – and be able to change it.
Therefore lida will have an integrated patcher resolves symbolic names, provides the ability to comment the code, serves efficient browsing methods. The more exotic features of lida should be on the analysis side. The code can be scanned for custom sequences known antidebugging techniques known encryption algorithms also you will be able to directly work with the programs data and for example pass it to several customizable en-/decryption routines.
This of course only makes limited sense as it is not a debugger. Tough often I really missed this functionality.
Limitations of objdump based disassemblers
Usual programs one would like to disassemble are either coded directly in assembly, or use some tricks to avoid beeing disassembled. I will here give a short overview of the most objdump features
objdump relies on section headers
It is an ELF executable that contains correct section headers. Tough for the OS-loader to run an ELF binary, section headers are not necessary at all. The important thing to get a process loaded into memory are the program headers .
So the first common “anti disassembling trick” is to either drop or manipulate the ELF section headers By doing so, objdump refuses to perform the disassembly:
[email protected]> file tiny-crackme
tiny-crackme: ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, version 1, statically linked, corrupted section header size
[email protected]> objdump -D tiny-crackme
objdump: tiny-crackme: File format not recognized
The binary I took as example to verify is yanisto’s tiny-crackme
objdump does not trace the execution flow I
By not tracing the execution flow objdump can easily be fooled to just disassemble a few lines and stop there.
This means it does not recognize any functions, does not “see” the code which is stored in data sections.
objdump does not trace the execution flow
Additionally another common trick is to insert garbage opcodes and “overjump” them to disalign the disassembly from the execution flow.
Example: When an instruction jumps into the middle of the next instruction, objdump does not disassemble from this exact location. It will continue with the next instruction and consequently dissasemble garbage from here on.
As a result you will mainly see totally usesless instructions in the whole disassembly.
. Implementation Details
lida uses libdasm of the bastard for single opcode decoding. It does not use the whole environment including the typhoon database.
The main program is coded in perl/TK – which uses a C backend for the most timeconsuming parts (disassembly, analysis, scanning for strings). Generally lida is designed to be as fast as possible (the disassembly) – by trying not to waste all your RAM 🙂
lida is designed to be also efficient in usability. Therefore all important functions are accessible via single keystrokes, or short commands. This means no clicking around is necessary, you can enter your tasks directly into the “commandline”.
The disassembling engine
The disassembling is done in currently 4 (or 6) passes, default is all 6:
1st pass – is the main control flow disassembly
Here the disassembly is started from the executables entrypoint, and recursively
disassembles the binary by following each branch, and stepping into each sub-
This leads in also disassembling code blocks in data sections, if existent :),
so the disassembly is not limited to a .text section.
Also, if indirect jumps/calls are used, the final destination is looked up
in the binaries data of course
2nd pass – for glibc binaries:
A heuristic scan scans for the main() function and starts pass1 there (so also re-
3rd pass – all other code sections
This pass repeats pass1 for all found executable sections, and starts at section
start. If the binary does not contain section headers, the disassembly starts
at the first loaded executable address.
4th pass – functions
This pass scans for typical function prologues and starts pass1 at each found
address. This is for discovering code regions which are not explicitly called,
and where their entrypoints are evaluated at runtime.
5th pass – disassembling caves
All passes build up a map of the binary. If until now there are code regions
which were not yet disassembled, they can be now.
6th pass – remainders
If pass 5 was executed, and there are still caves, they are displayed as DB xx, …
Definitely for pass 4 and 5 there are enhancements to come, as well as for the recursive disassembly function itself.
Also to mention whenever a jump into the middle of a previous instruction is beeing found,
currently those addresses are beeing marked. To follow is a representation of “instructions within instructions” (compare 3.1), as of course by intelligent placing of opcodes both instructions can be valid and used during the execution flow.
Basically it is done by a “signature scanning”. I quote it because it is not a simple pattern matching.
For understanding that, one needs a little understanding of typical hash-encryption algorythms.
Let’s take for example a MD5 hash. How can we find the code that does an MD5 hash?
On a very high level generating a hash is usually done in 3 steps: the init function, the update function and the finalize function.
The init function usually sets up an array of some numeric values, which are then modified in a loop using the input data (plain data) during the algorythm, until the hash is calculated.
The finalize function creates the representation in a common format (easily spoken; it pads the digest and is appending the size).
Hoewever, it does not matter to know actually how the algorythm works to find it 🙂
Due to the common fact, that the initialization functions use fixed numeric initialization values, which are the same in every implementation, as they are part of the algorythm – these are the values we are searching for. For MD5 those are:
So to find an MD5 implementation, it is necessary to scan for those dword values, of course they can appear in any order (strange enough nearly always they are used in the listed order above). Now as those dwords can exist also in just any binary by accident (oltough seldom) some smarter scanning is done: the values need to appear in a limited size of a code block. The values can be in any order, and also some fuzzyness has been added to scan for “a little bit altered” init values.
Heuristic scanning is not yet implemented. It is intended to find custom crypto code.
Basically it is beeing looked for a sequence of suspicious opcode sequences, which “look like” an encryption routine.
OllyDbg is an x86debugger that emphasizes binary code analysis, which is useful when source code is not available. It traces registers, recognizes procedures, API calls, switches, tables, constants and strings, as well as locates routines from object files and libraries. According to the program’s help file, version 1.10 is the final 1.x release. Version 2.0 is in development and is being written from the ground up. The software is free of cost, but the shareware license requires users to register with the author. The current version of OllyDbg cannot disassemble binaries compiled for 64-bit processors.
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