Even the most innocent Internet user can fall victim to the stray hacking attack, and it’s all thanks to the manner in which malware reverse-engineers software. This process is how a hacker finds vulnerabilities in software. However, a new security concept might be able to protect software from the reverse-engineering method used by hackers.
Just like how malware is designed to reverse-engineer software to find flaws, antivirus and anti-malware software is designed to perform the same feat on viruses and malware. It looks for flaws in its code that can be exploited to remove it. Now, what would happen if you prevented malware from using this technique to find exploits in the first place? This is what security researcher, Jacob Torrey, is wondering. He presented his idea for a Hardened Anti-Reverse Engineering System (HARES) at the Singapore SyScan conference this March.
The idea behind HARES is that it encrypts the software’s code until the processor absolutely needs to execute it. This means that the software can’t be decoded until it’s being executed, which makes it vastly more difficult for hackers to reverse-engineer the software. According to WIRED magazine:
The result is a tough-to-crack protection from any hacker who would pirate the software, suss out security flaws that could compromise users, and even in some cases understand its basic functions.
Unfortunately, as most developers of new technology know, there are always ways to turn something that can benefit the online community into a dangerous tool. HARES isn’t meant to create unencryptable malware, but you can bet that hackers will still attempt to use it to their benefit somehow. This puts unsuspecting systems at risk of hacking attacks, and if the technique were to become mainstream in the hacking community, it could lead to even more chaos.
HARES obviously isn’t perfect, and it can be tricked through a number of different methods. When an application uses some type of encryption protocol, the decryption key needs to be installed in the computer’s CPU so the program is capable of encrypting it when necessary. A hacker that’s been around the block a time or two can potentially intercept this key while it’s in transit. This can let them decrypt the application and let them see the program’s commands, which allows them to counteract the protocol.
One other method that hackers might use is by taking advantage of debugging features found within some hardware. This lets cybercriminals investigate commands made between the chip and the motherboard. The tools required for this kind of procedure are ridiculously expensive, so the average hacker probably won’t be able to afford them; therefore, it’s more logical to assume that this will see use on a national level.
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