Mariano Ceccato, Paolo Tonella, Cataldo Basile, Bart Coppens, Bjorn De Sutter, Paolo Falcarin, Marco Torchiano

How professional hackers understand protected code while performing attack tasks


Code protections aim at blocking (or at least delaying) reverse engineering and tampering attacks to critical assets within programs. Knowing the way hackers understand protected code and perform attacks is important to achieve a stronger protection of the software assets, based on realistic assumptions about the hackers' behaviour. However, building such knowledge is difficult because hackers can hardly be involved in controlled experiments and empirical studies.

The FP7 European project Aspire has given the authors of this paper the unique opportunity to have access to the professional penetration testers employed by the three industrial partners. In particular, we have been able to perform a qualitative analysis of three reports of professional penetration test performed on protected industrial code.

Our qualitative analysis of the reports consists of open coding, carried out by 7 annotators and resulting in 459 annotations, followed by concept extraction and model inference. We identified the main activities: understanding, building attack, choosing and customizing tools, and working around or defeating protections. We built a model of how such activities take place. We used such models to identify a set of research directions for the creation of stronger code protections.

PDF version of the paper.

Valid XHTML 1.0!

Maintainer: ceccato at fbk dot eu