Tutorial :Why do you obfuscate your code?



Question:

Have you ever obfuscated your code before? Are there ever legitimate reasons to do so?


Solution:1

I have obfuscated my JavaScript. It made it smaller, thus reducing download times. In addition, since the code is handed to the client, my company didn't want them to be able to read it.


Solution:2

Yes, to make it harder to reverse engineer.


Solution:3

To ensure a job for life, of course (kidding).

This is pretty hilarious and educational: How to Write Unmaintanable Code.


Solution:4

It's called "Job Security". This is also the reason to use Perl -- no need to do obfuscation as separate task, hence higher productivity, without loss of job security.

Call it "security through obsfuscability" if you will.


Solution:5

I don't believe making reverse engineering harder is a valid reason.

A good reason to obfuscate your code is to reduce the compiled footprint. For instance, J2ME appliactions need to be as small as possible. If you run you app through an obfuscator (and optimiser) then you can reduce the jar from a couple of Mb to a few hundred Kb.

The other point, nestled above, is that most obfuscators are also optimisers which can improve your application's performance.


Solution:6

Isn't this also used as security through obscurity? When your source code is publically available (javascript etc) you might want to at least it somewhat harder to understand what is actually occuring on the client side.

Security is always full of compromises. but i think that security by obscurity is one of the least effective methods.


Solution:7

I believe all TV cable boxes will have the java code obfuscated. This does make things harder to hack, and since the cable boxes will be in your home, they are theoretically hackable.

I'm not sure how much it will matter since the cable card will still control signal encryption and gets its authorization straight from the video source rather than the java code guide or java apps, but they are pretty dedicated to the concept.

By the way, it is not easy to trace exceptions thrown from an obfuscated stack! I actually memorized at one point that aH meant "Null Pointer Exception" for a particular build.


Solution:8

I remember creating a Windows Service for Online Backup application that was built in .NET. I could easily use either Visual Studio or tools like .NET Reflector to see the classes and the source code inside it.

I created a new Visual Studio Test application and added the Windows Service reference to it. Double clicked on the reference and I can see all the classes, namespaces everything (not the source code though). Anybody can figure out the internal working of your modules by looking at the class names. In my case, one such class was FTPHandler that clearly tells where the backups are going.

.NET Reflector goes beyond that by showing the actual code. It even has an option to Export the whole project so you get a VS project with all the classes and source code similar to what the developer had.

I think it makes sense to obfuscate, to make it atleast harder if not impossible for someone to disassemble. Also I think it makes sense for products involving large customer base where you do not want your competitors to know much about your products.


Solution:9

Looking at some of the code I wrote for my disk driver project makes me question what it means to be obfuscated.

    ((int8_t (*)( int32_t, void * )) hdd->_ctrl)( DISK_CMD_REQUEST, (void *) dr );  

Or is that just system programming in C? Or should that line be written differently? Questions...


Solution:10

Yes and no, I haven't delivered apps with a tool that was easy decompilable.

I did run something like obfuscators for old Basic and UCSD Pascal interpreters, but that was for a different reason, optimizing run time.


Solution:11

If I am delivering Java Swing apps to clients, I always obfuscate the class files before distribution.

You can never be too careful - I once pointed a decent Java decompiler (I used the JD Java Decompiler - http://www.djjavadecompiler.com/ ) at my class files and was rewarded with an almost perfect reproduction of the original code. That was rather unnerving, so I started obfuscating my production code ever since. I use Klassmaster myself (http://www.zelix.com/klassmaster/)


Solution:12

It's most commonly done when you need to provide something in source (usually due to the environment it's being built in, such as systems without shared libraries, especially if you as the seller don't have the exact system being build for), but you don't want the person you're giving it to to be able to modify or extend it significantly (or at all).

This used to be far more common than today. It also led to the (defunct?) Obfuscated C Contest.

A legal (though arguably not "legitimate") use might be to release "source" for an app you're linking with GPL code in obfuscated fashion. It's source, it can be modified, it's just very hard. That would be a more extreme version of releasing it without comments, or releasing with all whitespace trimmed, or (and this would be pushing the legal grounds probably) releasing assembler source generated from C (and perhaps hand-tweaked so you can say it's not just intermediate code).


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