What Is Reverse Engineering In Cybersecurity?

Many individuals ask this question: What is reverse engineering in cybersecurity? Broadly speaking, it is engineering the software in reverse or understanding how the program works from the outside in.

Third-party vendors in cybersecurity often have no original or source code. They need to protect the system from viruses, malware, system vulnerabilities, restore the complex software core algorithms in case of thefts, and more. Software developers in cybersecurity typically use reverse engineering to understand how the software can be hacked and find better ways of protecting the software. Thus, the reverse engineering tool is a potent aid and tool that cybersecurity professionals can deploy to understand modern-day security threats.

Modern Cybersecurity Threats:

With more and more individuals and businesses migrating to secure cloud-based storage for its logistical and security advantages, the need to keep reverse engineering updated is real. Hackers use the same reverse engineering tools of the security algorithms to expose and steal information from even iOS services and iCloud through Zero-day exploits that are a nightmare to beat or produce plugins for before D-day. However, not all about reverse-engineering is a threat. There are several legal and ethical uses of it too. Take a look at some ethical uses and examples below.

Reverse-engineering examples:

Reverse-engineering common examples are:

Malware software uses reverse engineering to expose and obfuscate the threat actor’s malicious code and viruses. This is of great use to create malware cyber weapons—for example, the Ghidra software from the National Security Agency, which reverse-engineers malware like WannaCry.

Disassemble software is used to adapt a program to the latest microprocessor, lost code reconstruction, fixing errors and bugs, program performance testing, etc. A good example is the US software company Phoenix that used the BIOS output/input software system to get an IBM-compatible proprietary software version.

Network Security Companies use reverse-engineering working in 2 teams. One that simulates attacks, and the other, that monitors and reverse engineers the attacks in a bid to strengthen the network.

Reverse engineering of computer parts is often used by processor manufacturers checking out the competitor’s parts and processors while creating enhanced security, especially for legacy equipment. Example Project Zero by Google was used to find microprocessor vulnerabilities using reverse engineering.

Creating inexpensive software from the likes of the expensive Apple’s Logic Pro software used by musicians to record, compose, edit, arrange, or mix music. Though only Mac devices only had Logic Pro, the security experts used reverse engineering to create an inexpensive version that was interoperable with Windows.

CAD software used for 3D images uses computer-aided design and reverse-engineered CAD software tools to generate and measure the parts onto a 3D wireframe, which is displayed on the computer monitor.

How reverse engineering works?

Typically the process has three significant steps though the process is object-specific in its performance.

  • Extraction of information:The object in this process is reverse-engineered, the design and source code studied, and the most secure model evolved through research. Tools like disassemblers are used to expose the program’s parts effectively.
  • Modeling:The information collected is abstracted into a structured and conceptual model, using overall and component structure charts, data flow diagrams, etc.
  • Testing and Review:The model is subjected to research, review, and extensive testing to get a near actual abstract for the realistic system, model, and object testing before implementation with the original object.

Tools used in Reverse engineering:

The system tools used in the reverse engineering process usually include the following:

  • Specific disassembler componentswork on the binary codes, primarily dissecting them into smaller assembly codes used in the extraction specific processes of using libraries, exported/imported functions, string extraction, etc. The machine language conversion algorithms use these to make the program format into a user-friendly format.
  • Debuggerssupport and contribute to functionality expansion of the disassemblers when complex processes like stack viewing, CPU register support systems, program hex dumps, etc., are used. Cybersecurity programmers use these debuggers in run time to set up points to edit assembly codes and as breakpoints when analyzing the program binaries allowing the code to run just one line at a time to check the test results, research the code, etc.
  • Hex Editorsare programmer tools that permit the binaries to be edited depending on the software requirements. Thus, they are used to manipulate the computer file’s fundamental binary data. Hence, they are also known as binary file editors or binary editors.
  • Resource and PE Vieweris used to edit and view the EXE file’s embedded resources. Using these, programmers can edit menus, change icons, dialogs, version information, etc. The PE Explorer resource also translates applications with no source codes, resizing and replacing the forms, buttons, text resources, and more with a translated version.

Ethical and legal challenges in reverse-engineering:

Certain laws cause legal and ethical challenges to the reverse-engineering process even when not breaking contractual agreements or obtaining the original version legally. Copywriting the version and patent violations are some notable examples that can lead to court cases. Also, some versions prohibit reverse engineering in their licensing terms. The TPM or technological protection measures are control measures like encryption, passwords, device-access control measures, etc., which are also prohibited from being reverse-engineered. Reverse engineering specialists should also stay clear of the laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Trade Secret Law, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, etc.

The Bottom Line:

Product evaluation teams and service development specialists use reverse engineering to fortify through ethical walls, encryption, data storage techniques, and more, cloud or platform data protection by finding the vulnerabilities and bugs before the data-stealing hackers do so. Since no one-stop solution exists, there is bound to be competition and large areas of scope with technological developments. Thus the fields and specialization areas of cybersecurity prove quite lucrative and satisfying as careers. One of the best ways to improve your knowledge and develop your career is to stay ahead by doing the online Stanford Cyber Security Course offered by Great Learning in collaboration with Stanford. Why not take the plunge today?


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