Techniques for obfuscating source code
Hackers are constantly finding new ways to gain unauthorized access to personal data, apps, and devices. The software code is often the first point of entry for hackers. It will be the number one infection channel after phishing, accounting for 35% of all breaches by 2020. Security professionals who are responsible for protecting the internet have their own arsenal of tools to help them.
Source code obsolescence is one the most powerful tools available to security personnel and developers in fighting against code injection, device infiltration, application piracy and other malicious behavior. What is source code obfuscation and how does it relate to software development? Let’s take a closer look now.
What is source-code obfuscation?
Source code obfuscation does not alter the program’s execution. It alters the source code of an application to make it more difficult to read and time-consuming. Source code obfuscation tools can make it difficult for hackers to identify vulnerabilities, steal keys and IP, or infiltrate other apps. They use many methods to make code unreadable to them.
A defined strategy for how to obscure code using multiple techniques can help to prevent decompilations and attackers trying to reverse engineer programs.
OWASP says that reverse engineering is a major concern for application security because it can be used as a launchpad to many forms of attack.
These are the most common obfuscation security methods used by developers around the globe to help you understand how programming works.
There’s seven ways to obscure source code.
1. Data transformation
Source code obfuscation involves the transformation of program data into another format. Although this has a minimal impact on code performance, it makes it harder for hackers to reverse engineer or break down the code.
To make source code more complicated, you can use the binary form of numbers, change the format in which data is stored or substitute a value for an expression. These are just a few examples of ways to obscure code.
2. Obfuscation code flow
Modifying the flow of code can alter the orientation of the code. The end results are identical, but understanding the reasons for the code’s behavior or direction takes much longer.
You can change the order of program execution statements, modify the control graph by inserting arbitrary jump instructions, or convert tree-like conditional constructs into flat switch statement to obscure control flow in programming.
3. Deal with obfuscation
Source code obfuscation security products use this technique to alter the addresses of program code and data to make it harder to hack. When an application is built, the obfuscation method randomly places code and data in memory. It also determines the relative distances between data items.
This reduces the chance of successful attacks and also means that even if hackers succeed on one device or application, they won’t be able recreate it on other devices. This limits the value of reverse engineering programs.
4. Regular code renewals that are opaque
This strategy prevents hackers from trying to hack the system by routinely disseminating updates of obfuscated code. An attacker will be forced to abandon their analysis and replace the software they have with newer, more disguised instances. The effort involved in breaking through the obfuscation security is more costly than the benefits.
5. Obfuscation in Objective-C of message call and metadata
Two ways to use Obfuscation technology for Objective-C codes, such as Intertrust’s application shielding solution. They obscure plain text messages calls in the source codes, making them difficult to alter and read.
They encrypt Objective-C metadata in order to protect sensitive information from static analytical tools. This includes the names of classes, methods, protocols and class properties as well as instance variables and method arguments and types. The encrypted data can only be decrypted when the opaque application is loaded.
6. Instructions in assembly code are obfuscated
When assembly code is altered or transformed, reverse-engineering becomes harder. One way to do this is to use overlapping assembly instructions, also known as the “jump in-the-middle method”, to hide code within another code. This can lead to a disassembler producing false output. It can be made less vulnerable to intrusion by including unneeded control statements and garbage codes in the assembly code.
7. Obfuscating debug information
Debug information can be used to reverse engineer a program’s source code by decompiling it and recompiling it. It is important to protect your program’s code and prevent unwelcome access. Source code obfuscation methods, which alter line numbers and file names, can change or remove debug data. Programming aids that prevent hacking are obfuscated with source code.
Attacks on software, applications, and home IoT devices are increasing in frequency. Protecting ourselves against hackers and other malicious actors is important.
Companies that can use source code obfuscation effectively and embed embedded protection tools are some of the most powerful weapons they have in their arsenal to protect their intellectual property and customers’ data.