Software programs and applications have completely changed the way we do business, but they have also opened up new avenues for attack, espionage, and theft.
As a developer, you’ve spent many hours developing and debugging code. After all that effort, the last thing you want is for someone else to reuse and benefit from it, or worse, to hijack it for malicious purposes. It is important to protect your efforts and your application from competitors as well as dangerous and sophisticated hackers. A more secure application also safeguards your brand, your users and, ultimately, your business.
The Importance of Code Obfuscation for Stronger App Defense
One of the most effective ways to protect your application from reverse engineering or tampering is to strengthen its defensive capabilities. Strengthening the defense of an application makes it harder to penetrate and, in turn, forces the hacker to move to another target.
Application Code Obfuscation is a defensive method that works by modifying the code to make it very difficult to understand and decipher. An integral part of application shielding, it stops hackers who attempt to reverse engineer your application from being able to understand its function or structure. It hardens the code through multiple layers of obfuscation, which helps protect intellectual property and keep away attackers with malicious intent.
How Does Obfuscation Work?
Obfuscation may involve encrypting some or all of the code, stripping out potentially revealing metadata, or renaming useful class and variable names. It generally employs several different techniques that build on top of each other, helping to render the code unintelligible.
Obfuscation techniques used in application shielding include:
- Rename Obfuscation – The modification of the variable and method names to make the code difficult to understand. However, it still maintains the program’s original behavior.
- String Encryption – While renaming obfuscation alters the variable and method names, string encryption uses a randomly generated algorithm to encrypt all strings that are clearly readable.
- Control Flow Flattening – This technique obfuscates the program flow by flattening it. To achieve this, the transformation splits the source code’s basic blocks such as function body and conditional branches and puts them all inside a single infinite loop with a switch statement that controls the program flow. This makes the program flow significantly more difficult to follow because the natural conditional constructs that made the code easy to read are eliminated.
Executing Application Code Obfuscation
You can find many free and enterprise-grade obfuscators with varying degrees of effectiveness. There are several things to keep in mind when evaluating and comparing obfuscation tools. In general, a good obfuscation tool or security solution should provide the following:
- Narrows down what methods or code segments to obfuscate
- Tunes the degree of obfuscation to balance performance impact
- Withstands de-obfuscation from tools like IDA Pro and Hopper
- Obfuscates string tables as well as methods
Application code obfuscation makes it difficult and time-consuming to read and reverse engineer a program. This discourages attackers from making a move on your product as it requires a much greater effort to achieve their goals. It also helps protect your intellectual property and application from theft and malicious intent.
Code obfuscation is one of the first steps towards achieving stronger security for your applications. Compliment this with capabilities like tamper resistance, jailbreak detection, and anti-debugging to further strengthen your app’s protection.
Intertrust’s whiteCryption solutions protect secret keys and shield applications from tampering and reverse-engineering. Request a demo to learn how you can easily integrate these capabilities into your applications.
About Paul Butterworth
Paul Butterworth is an experienced payment and security professional, having spent almost 30 years in the card, payments and IT security industries. Paul is responsible for global product marketing for the Intertrust Secure Systems’ market leading application shielding and device identity solutions.