Guest lecture: Architectural Diversity

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At zynamics we believe that good education is something we have to support. Therefore Sebastian and I decided to support Professor Felix Freiling and his two assistants Carsten Willems and Ralf Hund in their class called Software Reverse Engineering at the University of Mannheim, Germany. Sebastian held a lecture about Windows debugger internals and their use in reverse engineering which you can read about here. This week it was my turn to share some knowledge about architectural diversity in reverse engineering.

While architecture diversity is nothing new, still most people think that only x86 and x64 are interesting to look at because of their desktop computer market share. In my lecture I wanted to show that the range of interesting targets is far broader than generally believed. I started the lecture with a cherry picked set of architectures which are quite common in different usage scenarios. These architectures have some interesting differences between them to motivate a need for a more general reverse engineering approach. Even though a variety of general reverse engineering approaches exist I focused on our own approach, the REIL meta language. I gave a short introduction to the features of REIL and a language definition with an emphasis on its simplicity. After presenting small translation examples which show how REIL translation works I started with REIL use case examples. Prior to presenting and demoing register tracking as a simple use case, a very informal description about the underlying MonoREIL framework was presented. MonoREIL is an abstract interpretation framework which ships with BinNavi to assist an analyst in writing algorithms to answer questions about program states using a formally described method. Demoing register tracking and explaining how it works on top of MonoREIL rounded up the lecture.

I was asked to hold an exercise covering all topics of the lecture after presenting which worked out pretty well. I enjoyed being invited to give a lecture in Mannheim and I greatly admire the work which has been put into the lecture in general. If more Universities offered a reverse engineering class it would be a great plus for a lot of students.

The slides which I used for lecturing are in German and available here:

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