Attacking Copy Protection Technologies in .NET

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which, coupled with NGSCB-enabled hardware, will allow future versions of Windows to support the Nexus execution mode. Under the Nexus mode the system will support protected memory, which is a special area in physical memory that can only be accessed by a specific process. It is too early to tell at this point how difficult it will be to crack protection technologies on trusted computing platforms. Assuming good designs and solid implementations of those platforms, it won t be possible to defeat copy protection schemes using the software-based approaches described in this book. That s because reversing is not going to be possible before a decrypted copy of the software is obtained, and decrypting the software is not going to be possible without some level of hardware modifications. However, it is probably not going to be possible to create a trusted platform that will be able to withstand a hardware-level attack undertaken by a skilled cracker.
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Attacking Copy Protection Technologies
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At this point, it is obvious that all current protection technologies are inherently flawed. How is it possible to control the flow of copyrighted material when there is no way to control the user s access to data on the system If a user is able to read all data that flows through the system, how will it be possible to protect a program s binary executable or a music recording file Practically all protection technologies nowadays rely on cryptography, but cryptography doesn t work when the attacker has access to the original plaintext! The specific attack techniques for defeating copy protection mechanisms depend on the specific technology and on the asset being protected. The general idea (assuming the protection technology relies on cryptography) is to either locate the decryption key, which is usually hidden somewhere in the program, or to simply rip the decrypted contents from memory as soon as they are decrypted. It is virtually impossible to prevent such attacks on current PC platforms, but trusted computing platforms are likely to make such attacks far more difficult to undertake. 11 discusses and demonstrates specific cracking techniques in detail.
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Conclusion
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This concludes our introduction to the world of piracy and copy protection. If there is one message I have tried to convey here it is that software is a flexible thing, and that there is a level playing field between developers of protection technologies and crackers: trying to prevent piracy by placing software-based barriers is a limited approach. Any software-based barrier can be lifted by somehow modifying the software. The only open parameter that remains is
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Piracy and Copy Protection
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just how long it is going to take crackers before they manage to lift that barrier. A more effective solution is to employ hardware-level solutions, but these can often create a significant negative impact on legitimate users, such as increased product costs, and reduced performance or reliability. The next chapters demonstrate the actual techniques that are commonly used for preventing reverse engineering and for creating tamper-proof software that can t be easily modified. I will then proceed to demonstrate how crackers typically attack copy protection technologies.
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Antireversing Techniques
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There are many cases where it is beneficial to create software that is immune to reversing. This chapter presents the most powerful and common reversing approaches from the perspectives of both a software developer interested in developing a software program and from the perspective of an attacker attempting to overcome the antireversing measures and reverse the program. Before I begin an in-depth discussion on the various antireversing techniques and try to measure their performance, let s get one thing out of the way: It is never possible to entirely prevent reversing. What is possible is to hinder and obstruct reversers by wearing them out and making the process so slow and painful that they just give up. Whether some reversers will eventually succeed depends on several factors such as how capable they are and how motivated they are. Finally, the effectiveness of antireversing techniques will also depend on what price are you willing to pay for them. Every antireversing approach has some cost associated with it. Sometimes it s CPU usage, sometimes it s in code size, and sometimes it s reliability and robustness that s affected.
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