Piracy in .NET Code – Part 2 – Even when the code is obfuscated
Continuing with my previous post, one of the biggest security holes I have noticed in certain application is using unsecure Network I/O communication, especially when activating license. I have seen software where they have used the best tool to obfuscate the code, it is extremely hard to disassemble this. But lose out by invoking a web service with plaintext xml for registration and communication. Like I mentioned in my previous post, I am not going to be discussing on how to solve this problem.
I have seen applications which would have a trial period after which the application pops-up a dialog box for activating license. Only if license text matches the format criteria (like xxx-xx-xxxx-xx) the send button enables. To circumvent the disabled button, some of the smart developers could enable the button within the debugger (windbg /cdb) or using a something like HawkEye . This is the first line of defense for the application.
The next thing is launching something like Fiddler and checking out the web service request /response for the activation request. I am sure most of us have dealt with fiddler, and if you are not aware, fiddler gives an option to have a break-point on response from the server. So it is easy to do a Man-in-the-middle attack by injecting your own response or someone could even hack the lmhost file to act as a server.
And just because it is plain text, I have usually seen a bool variable in the response being activated or not. And it is not hard for someone to update the response text and pass it as a response back from the server.
The updated xml might not comply with the response expected by the application, it might throw an exception like this
Exception object: 045b4314
Exception type: System.Xml.XmlException
Message: Unexpected end of file while parsing Test has occurred. Line 13, position 81.
Because it is xml, usually these applications end up using XmlTextReader to parse it and from the exception someone could figure out what element is expected and build the xml out of this. FYI the XmlTextReader library is usually never obfuscated.
The idea behind this post is to let the dev’s understand the security risks and someone with little advanced knowledge can exploit the holes. This is not just applicable for software piracy, but in general, especially with the RIA growing rapidly we would want to consider the security aspect also.