12.3. Obfuscating Code

Problem

Most C programs use common programming idioms based on C statements, default data types, and function invocation/return conventions based on the C standard library. Those familiar with C and how it is compiled to assembly language can easily identify these idioms in compiled binary code.

Solution

Obfuscating compiled code requires understanding how the code will look at an assembly-language level. The purpose of obfuscating C code is to create maintainable source code that will run at close to the speed of the original, but that is difficult to understand when represented in assembly language. This difficulty may arise from an increase in the complexity of the algorithm, from an apparent increase in complexity, or from a misrepresentation of the constants, data types, and conditional expressions used in an algorithm.

The examples presented in the discussion for this recipe represent only a handful of ways in which code can be obfuscated. More involved transformations include blurring the boundaries between functions by interleaving the code of two or more functions into a multipurpose function, using custom virtual machines or emulators to execute a byte-code representation of a function, and spawning new threads or processes to perform trivial or irrelevant tasks.

Discussion

Tip

Increased code obfuscation comes at the price of code maintainability. In general, it is preferable to combine several simple techniques along with data obfuscation than to dedicate ...

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