One of the most noticeable recent trends in web development is the single-page application, or SPA for short. This concept swept like a hurricane through an industry longing for new and exciting ways to make user experiences slicker.

Software industry is actively growing for many years with new technology startups appearing each day. Besides major changes it brings to the world economy and traditional industries, this rapid and constant growth affects software engineering environment itself and in particular, labor market.

Project management outsourcing, especially on the Information Technology (IT) side, has been a burgeoning industry for some time. External vendors leverage a range of expertise, and for the client having capable engineers and development personnel when creating a new software application or maintaining an existing one is literally worth its weight in gold.

Despite the fact that technology itself was available for a while, cloud services and related SaaS platform development only relatively recently entered our business and daily lives. Cloud boom a couple of years ago saw many companies moving their whole IT infrastructures to the cloud. At the same time, consumer cloud products, such as cloud storages, became very popular. Nowadays, using cloud computing technology is a pre-requisite for many developers who wish to create applications that will stay competitive in the modern market, while at the same time a huge number of IT companies, including some of the largest in the world, make resources of their own datacenters available to the consumer via cloud technology. It also triggers a rapid growth of the market of SaaS development services.

Cloud computing and virtualization are two main terms that people encounter when looking to optimize and modernize IT infrastructure of their organization. Both terms are often used in conjunction with one another and sometimes, erroneously, even interchangeably. In reality both virtualization and cloud computing are two very different concepts each with their own set of advantages and drawbacks, designed to tackle different challenges, although one is often used as a part of the other.

As the 2016 year begins, we can read a series of traditionally published recent trend analysis and predictions made by industry experts after watching the IT sector, analyzing statistics, and conducting surveys. Global IT outsourcing trend analysis is represented by CIO magazine, KPMG Shared Service & Outsourcing Institute, Gartner and others. Let’s try to analyze what said findings mean for the software R&D service providers and what specific software development outsourcing trends we can mark out.

The wide popularity of agile methodology in current software development is hard to overestimate. Advent of agile techniques allowed to save costs and greatly shortened time to market for many companies. However, one of the basic principle of agile methodology is importance of face-to-face communications, which doesn’t jell well with teams where members are geographically dispersed. Management of agile distributed teams is always a struggle, but reality of the situation is that most companies employ a distributed team in one form or the other, either through the use of outsourcing, or simply by the virtue of some people working from home or from different city.

The white paper describes the technology of code protection for Linux applications, which is based on the so-called “Nanomite” approach applied previously for Windows systems.

It is one of the modern antidebugging methods that can be also effectively applied for the process antidumping.

Apriorit Code Protection for Linux is provided as commercial SDK with various types of licensing.


Project Description

The project was written for Linux OS 32-bit applications. But the principles can easily be implemented for other operating systems, so further development is planned.

First, we will take a look at creating a custom debugger for Linux. After that, we will move on to the implementation of nanomites. Binutils and Perl are used for the compilation of the project.

We apply the combination of two techniques: Nanomites and Debug Blocker.

Nanomites are code segments, containing some key application logic, marked with specific markers in source files. Protector cuts such segments out from the protected program for packing. When unpacking, they are obfuscated, written to the allocated memory, and jumps replace them in the original code. The table of conditional and unconditional jumps is built, and it contains not only nanomite jumps abut also some non-existent "trash" ones. Such "completness" is a serious obstruction to recover this table.

Debug Blocker implements parent process protection. Protected program is started as a child process, and protector - parent process - attaches to it for debug. Thus, for a third party, it is possible to debug only parent process. Combined with nanomite technology, Debug Blocker creates reliable protection for an application, making its debugging and reversing very complicated and time-consuming.

Read more about Nanomite Technology in our white paper Nanomite and Debug Blocker Technologies: Scheme, Pros, and Cons

Both techniques were successfully used in commercial Windows protectors. Apriorit Code Protection is the first product to implement them for Linux application protection.

General Idea

Apriorit Code Protection Scheme

Apriorit Code Protection includes 2 main components:

  1. Nanomites: a static library that contains the debugger process logic.
  2. Nanomites Debugger: a debugger executable file, it is compiled with the Nanomites library.

Also we provide Nanomites Demo: a demo application protected by nanomites.

There’s also a script collection for adding the nanomites to an application and for creating nanomites tables.

Protected Application Creation Sequence

An application with an –S key for creating an assembler listing is created;

The assembler listing is analyzed with Perl script. All jump and call instructions (e.g., jmp, jz, jne, call, etc.) are processed and replaced with instructionOffsetLabel(N): int 3;

After that, the user application, which consists of modified assembler listings, is compiled.

With the help of a Perl script, a compiled application is parsed and the table of nanomites is built.

Debugger Library Description

Our debugger is based on the ptrace (process trace) system call, which exists in some Unix-like systems (including Linux, FreeBSD, Mac OS X). It allows tracing or debugging the selected process. We can say that ptrace provides the full control over a process: we may change the application execution flow, display and change values in memory or registry states. It should be mentioned that it provides us no additional permissions: possible actions are limited by the permissions of a started process. Moreover, when a program with setuid bit is traced, this bit doesn’t work as the privileges are not escalated.

After the demo application is processed with scripts, it is not independent anymore, and if it is started without a debugger, the «segmentation fault» appears at once. The debugger starts the demo application from now on. For this purpose, a child process is created in the debugger, and then parent process attaches to it. All debugging events from the child process are processed in a cycle. It includes all jump events; parent process analyzes nanomite table and flag table to perform correct action.

The Advantages of Apriorit Solution Compared to Armadillo

Armadillo (also known as SoftwarePassport) is a commercial protector developed for Windows application protection. It introduced nanomite approach, and also uses Debug Blocker technology (protection by parent process).

In Armadillo, the binary code is modified. That’s why when a 2-5 bytes long jump instruction is replaced with a shorter 1 byte long int 3 (0xcc) instruction, some free space remains. Correspondingly, we need to write the original jump instruction over int 3 to restore a nanomite.

We change the code on the sources level in our approach. That’s why the nanomite will be 1 byte long. Correspondingly, we won’t be able to restore the nanomite by writing the original instruction over it. And we cannot extend the code in the place of the nanomite as all relative jumps would be broken. But there is a way to restore our nanomites, for example the following.

A Way to Recover Apriorit Nanomites

A hacker can create an additional section in the executable file, then find the nanomite and obtain its jump instruction and jump address.

Then the restoration goes as follows:

Nanomite Recover

Such solution is complex in implementation. Firstly, a disassembler engine is required for automation, secondly, the moved instructions may contain jump instructions with relative jumps, which will require corrections.

Learn more about Linux Anti-debugging SDK!

In this white paper, we will examine one of the modern antidebugging methods that is based on software nanomites technology. It’s also an effecient method of the process antidumping.

This approach was first introduced in the Armadillo protector for Windows applications.

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