Unpacking binaries

Identifying packed binaries

  • lack of strings: It's common to find that packed binaries doesn't have almost any string

  • A lot of unused strings: Also, when a malware is using some kind of commercial packer it's common to find a lot of strings without cross-references. Even if these strings exist that doesn't mean that the binary isn't packed.

  • You can also use some tools to try to find which packer was used to pack a binary:

Basic Recommendations

  • Start analysing the packed binary from the bottom in IDA and move up. Unpackers exit once the unpacked code exit so it's unlikely that the unpacker passes execution to the unpacked code at the start.

  • Search for JMP's or CALLs to registers or regions of memory. Also search for functions pushing arguments and an address direction and then calling retn, because the return of the function in that case may call the address just pushed to the stack before calling it.

  • Put a breakpoint on VirtualAlloc as this allocates space in memory where the program can write unpacked code. The "run to user code" or use F8 to get to value inside EAX after executing the function and "follow that address in dump". You never know if that is the region where the unpacked code is going to be saved.

    • VirtualAlloc with the value "40" as an argument means Read+Write+Execute (some code that needs execution is going to be copied here).

  • While unpacking code it's normal to find several calls to arithmetic operations and functions like memcopy or VirtualAlloc. If you find yourself in a function that apparently only perform arithmetic operations and maybe some memcopy , the recommendation is to try to find the end of the function (maybe a JMP or call to some register) or at least the call to the last function and run to then as the code isn't interesting.

  • While unpacking code note whenever you change memory region as a memory region change may indicate the starting of the unpacking code. You can easily dump a memory region using Process Hacker (process --> properties --> memory).

  • While trying to unpack code a good way to know if you are already working with the unpacked code (so you can just dump it) is to check the strings of the binary. If at some point you perform a jump (maybe changing the memory region) and you notice that a lot more strings where added, then you can know you are working with the unpacked code. However, if the packer already contains a lot of strings you can see how many strings contains the word "http" and see if this number increases.

  • When you dump an executable from a region of memory you can fix some headers using PE-bear.

Last updated