Reverse engineering, the process of taking a software program’s binary code and recreating it so as to trace it back to the original source code, is being widely used in computer hardware and software to enhance product features or fix certain bugs. For example, the programmer writes the code in a high-level language such as C, C++ etc. (you can learn basic C programming with this beginners course); as computers do not speak these languages, the code written in these programming languages needs to be assembled in a format that is machine specific. In short, the code written in high level language needs to be interpreted into low level or machine language.
The process of converting the code written in high level language into a low level language without changing the original program is known as reverse engineering. It’s similar to disassembling the parts of a vehicle to understand the basic functioning of the machine and internal parts etc. and thereafter making appropriate adjustments to give rise to a better performing or superior vehicle.
If we have a look at the subject of reverse engineering in the context of software engineering, we will find that it is the practice of analyzing the software system to extract the actual design and implementation information. A typical reverse engineering scenario would comprise of a software module that has been worked on for years and carries the line of business in its code; but the original source code might be lost, leaving the developers only with the binary code. In such a case, reverse engineering skills would be used by software engineers to detect probable virus and malware to eventually protect the intellectual property of the company. Learn more protecting Intellectual Property in this course.
At the turn of the century, when the software world was hit by the technology crisis Y2K, programmers weren’t equipped with reverse engineering skills. Since then, research has been carried out to analyse what kind of development activities can be brought under the category of reverse engineering so that they can be taught to the programmers. Researchers have revealed that reverse engineering basically comes under two categories-software development and software testing. A number of reverse engineering exercises have been developed since then in this regard to provide baseline education in reversing the machine code.
Reverse engineering can be applied to several aspects of the software and hardware development activities to convey different meanings. In general, it is defined as the process of creating representations of systems at a higher level of abstraction and understanding the basic working principle and structure of the systems under study. With the help of reverse engineering, the software system that is under consideration can be examined thoroughly. There are two types of reverse engineering; in the first type, the source code is available, but high-level aspects of the program are no longer available. The efforts that are made to discover the source code for the software that is being developed is known as reverse engineering. In the second case, the source code for the software is no longer available; here, the process of discovering the possible source code is known as reverse engineering. To avoid copyright infringement, reverse engineering makes use of a technique called clean room design.
In the world of reverse engineering, we often hear about black box testing. Even though the tester has an API, their ultimate goal is to find the bugs by hitting the product hard from outside. Learn more about different software testing techniques in this course.
Apart from this, the main purpose of reverse engineering is to audit the security, remove the copy protection, customize the embedded systems, and include additional features without spending much and other similar activities.
Where is Reverse Engineering Used?
Reverse engineering is used in a variety of fields such as software design, software testing, programming etc.
- In software design, reverse engineering enables the developer or programmer to add new features to the existing software with or without knowing the source code. Different techniques are used to incorporate new features into the existing software.
- Reverse engineering is also very beneficial in software testing, as most of the virus programmers don’t leave behind instructions on how they wrote the code, what they have set out to accomplish etc. Reverse engineering helps the testers to study the virus and other malware code. The field of software testing, while very extensive, is also interesting and requires vast experience to study and analyze virus code. Learn more about software test design in this course.
- The third category where reverse engineering is widely used is in software security. Reverse engineering techniques are used to make sure that the system does not have any major vulnerabilities and security flaws. The main purpose of reverse engineering is to make the system robust so as to protect it from spywares and hackers. Infact, this can be taken a step forward to Ethical hacking, whereby you try to hack your own system to identify vulnerabilities. You can learn more about Ethical hacking with this course.
While one needs a vast amount of knowledge to become a successful reverse engineer, he or she can definitely have a lucrative career in this field by starting off with the basics. It is highly suggested that you first become familiar with assembly level language and gain significant amount of practical knowledge in the field of software designing and testing to become a successful software engineer. Learn how to kick-start your career in this interesting field by visiting our online course agile testing for reverse engineering applications.
Reverse Engineering Tools
As mentioned above, reverse engineering is the process of analyzing the software to determine its components and their relationships. The process of reverse engineering is accomplished by making use of some tools that are categorized into debuggers or disassemblers, hex editors, monitoring and decompile tools:
- Disassemblers – A disassembler is used to convert binary code into assembly code and also used to extract strings, imported and exported functions, libraries etc. The disassemblers convert the machine language into a user-friendly format. There are different dissemblers that specialize in certain things.
- Debuggers – This tool expands the functionality of a disassembler by supporting the CPU registers, the hex duping of the program, view of stack etc. Using debuggers, the programmers can set breakpoints and edit the assembly code at run time. Debuggers analyse the binary in a similar way as the disassemblers and allow the reverser to step through the code by running one line at a time to investigate the results.
- Hex Editors – These editors allow the binary to be viewed in the editor and change it as per the requirements of the software. There are different types of hex editors available that are used for different functions.
- PE and Resource Viewer – The binary code is designed to run on a windows based machine and has a very specific data which tells how to set up and initialize a program. All the programs that run on windows should have a portable executable that supports the DLLs the program needs to borrow from.
Reverse engineering has developed significantly and taken a positive approach to creating descriptive data set of the original object. Today, there are numerous legitimate applications of reverse engineering. Due to the development of numerous digitizing devices, reverse engineering software enables programmers to manipulate the data into a useful form. The kind of applications in which reverse engineering is used ranges from mechanical to digital, each with its own advantages and applications. Reverse engineering is also beneficial for business owners as they can incorporate advanced features into their software to meet the demands of the growing markets.