Software reverse engineering, also known as reverse code engineering (RCE), is the art of dissecting closed-source binary applications. Unlike open source software, which theoretically can be more easily peer-reviewed for security, closed source software presents the user with a "black box." Historically, RCE has been performed on Windows platforms, but there is now a growing need for expert Linux reversers as well, as we will explain in Chapter 3.
RCE allows you to see inside the black box. By disassembling a binary application, you can observe the program execution at its lowest levels. Once the application is broken down to machine language, a skilled practitioner can trace the operation of any binary application, no matter how well the software writer tries to protect it.
As a security expert, why would you want to learn RCE? The most common reason is to reverse malware such as viruses or Trojans. The antivirus industry depends on the ability to dissect binaries in order to diagnose, disinfect, and prevent them. In addition, the proliferation of unethical commercial spyware and software antipiracy protections that "phone home" raises serious privacy concerns.
In this chapter, we work on desktop Windows operating systems. Since Windows is a closed source and often hostile platform, by Darwinian pressure Windows RCE has now matured to the pinnacle of its technology. In subsequent chapters, we touch upon the emerging science of RCE on other ...