Techniques to obfuscate source code
The amount and variety of approaches and dangerous programs hackers use to gain unauthorized access to apps, devices and personal data is increasing every day. Often the entry point of an attack is the software code itself. By 2020, scanning and exploiting code vulnerabilities will account for 35% of all breaches, making it the most common first infection channel, ahead of phishing. Fortunately, the security professionals responsible for protecting the Internet have their own tools to fight back.
Source code obfuscation is one of the most powerful tools accessible to developers and security teams fighting against application piracy, device intrusion, code injection, and other malicious behaviors. But what exactly is source code obfuscation and what does it mean in the context of software development? Now let’s take a closer look.
What is source code obfuscation and how does it work?
Source code obfuscation without changing the execution of the program changes the application source code, making it difficult to understand and time consuming. Source code obfuscation tools use a variety of approaches to make code unbreakable, so hackers can’t identify vulnerabilities, steal keys, data or IP, or find other ways to get into apps. Decompilers and attackers who want to reverse engineer programs can be mitigated using a defined approach to how to obfuscate code using redundancy techniques.
According to OWASP, reverse engineering is a high concern for application security as it serves as a launchpad for most forms of attack.
Here are some of the most popular obfuscation security techniques used by developers around the world to give you a better picture of how obfuscation works in programming.
There are 7 common approaches to obfuscate source code.
1. Data transformation
Transforming the data processed by the program into another format is a key part of source code obfuscation. This has a slight impact on the performance of your code, but makes it difficult for hackers to disassemble or reverse engineer your code.
Using numbers in binary form to make your source code more complex, change the format in which data is stored, or replace values with expressions are examples of how to obfuscate code in this way.
2. Obfuscation of code flow
The direction of the code is changed by modifying the control flow in the code. This means that the end effect is the same, but it takes much longer to understand why or where your code is going in a particular way.
Changing the order of program execution statements, changing the control graph by introducing arbitrary jump instructions, and converting tree-like conditional structures into flat switch statements can all be used to obfuscate control flow in programming (below See diagram).
Some source code obfuscation security solutions use this technique to change the address of program data and code, making it unpredictable and more difficult to hack. Obfuscation techniques randomize the absolute location of some code and data in memory and the relative distances between individual data items as the application is constructed. This not only reduces the likelihood of a successful attack, but also means that even if a hacker succeeds in one application or device, it cannot be recreated in another, limiting the value of reverse engineering a program.
4. Regularly update obfuscated code
This strategy prevents hackers from attempting to compromise your system by proactively blocking attacks by regularly distributing obfuscated software updates. Attackers must periodically replace their existing software with newer, disguised instances, forcing them to abandon their traditional analysis. Finally, the effort required to break through obfuscation security outweighs the benefits gained.
5. Obfuscation of metadata and message calls in Objective-C
Obfuscation techniques for Objective-C code, such as Intertrust’s application shielding solution, work in two ways. To start, it obscures the plain text message calls in the source code, making them difficult to read and change. Second, it encrypts some Objective-C metadata to protect sensitive information from static analysis tools such as category names, classes, methods, protocols, class properties and instance variables, method arguments, and types. When an obfuscated application is loaded, the encrypted data is only decrypted at runtime.
6. Instructions in assembly code obfuscated
As assembly code is deformed and changed, reverse engineering becomes more difficult. One such approach is to use overlapping assembly instructions (sometimes referred to as the “middle move” method) to hide code within other code and force the disassembler to produce erroneous output. By including unnecessary control statements and garbage code in your assembly code, you can increase your resistance to penetration.
7. Obfuscate debug information
By decompiling and recompiling the program’s code, you can leverage debug information to reverse engineer it and find the source code. As a result, it is important to prevent unwanted access and debugging. Debug data is completely changed or removed by source code obfuscation techniques that change the line numbers and filenames of the debug data.
In programming, obfuscation of source code helps prevent hacking.
Attacks on software, applications, and even home IoT devices are all too common. As our personal lives and sensitive data and information move online, attacks are becoming more common. Knowing how to disguise your code is an important part of protecting against hackers and other malicious actors. Effective source code obfuscation and tools that apply source code obfuscation and other embedded application protections are one of the most powerful weapons in an enterprise’s arsenal of protecting intellectual property and customer data.