Hardware Reverse Engineering
At the most basic level, hardware reverse engineering is the act of taking apart a device to see how it works. GHB Intellect maintains the sought-after ability to investigate densely integrated circuits (analog, digital, mixed signal). This is done in order to extract and analyze the embedded circuitry. This involves decapping, cross-sectioning and high resolution SEM/TEM photography of the chip and then extracting the circuits in all layers. All of the connections between the layers (vias) must be accounted for in order to build an accurate layout. The result of this work is compiled into a detailed circuit diagram.
After completion of the circuit diagram, our experts review the extracted circuits for quality assurance. All corrections and revisions are then made as necessary. We have decades of experience determining how to approach specific problems. This enhances our ability to keep the cost of such reverse engineering to a minimum while continuing to provide the utmost reliability to our clients. Our experts then analyze the circuit and provide the required output in the context of the project at hand (IP infringement detection, design recovery, second sourcing, etc.)
GHB Intellect also has the ability to produce 3-D X-ray of manufactured parts or integrated circuit components. In these cases, we utilize a coordinate measuring machine (CMM) to measure the part. This produces a 3-D wire frame image that can be dimensioned for further inspection of intellectual property use.
Most countries have IP regulations that make hardware reverse engineering for recreating the product illegal. This, of course, is not the case when doing so to identify intellectual property concerns during a case. In most cases, hardware reverse engineering requires an incredible amount of expertise and therefore must be performed by experts who have experience in efficiently performing the analyses. Otherwise, it can be quite expensive, depending upon the scenario.
Reverse Engineering Software & Firmware
Software and firmware source code extraction is another area of reverse engineering in which GHB Intellect maintains industry-leading standards and specialization. Nearly every embedded system includes some type of firmware code that is responsible for its control. Our capabilities include accessing the software code at any layer, disassembling it, and then analyzing it as needed. This allows GHB Intellect to quickly and successfully detect any usage of specified intellectual property.
Intellectual property infringement is the most common reason for GHB Intellect to reverse engineer software. However, there are several other common reasons, as Margaret Rouse explains, to perform software reverse engineering:
- To recover lost source code.
- To better understand how a program executes certain operations.
- To improve the performance of a program.
- To correct an error in the program.
- To identify malicious content in a program.
- To adapt a program written for one microprocessor for use with another.
Most software licenses specifically prohibit reverse engineering for the purpose of duplicating programs. These legal details are important in determining if undertaking the reverse engineering process would be worthwhile. This potential for value is something that GHB Intellect can help to identify quickly.
To disassemble a program, a software reverse engineer must choose the right tools for the desired outcome. The hexadecimal dumper is commonly used to display the embedded firmware in hexadecimal format. The disassembler is another tool that reads the binary code and presents the instructions in text form. However, a debugger is usually needed to compliment the disassembler because of its inability to separate instructions from data.
Reverse Engineering Systems, Networks & Protocols
Reverse Engineers Should Have Overlapping Skill-sets
As mentioned above, there are many reasons to reverse engineer a product and many ways to do so as well. Reverse engineering is an increasingly valuable area of expertise due to the intellectual property infringement evidence that can be obtained in the process.
In a time of increasing capabilities and affordability, design engineers are able to create new products more quickly than ever before. It is important for reverse engineers to understand the complexities surrounding design engineering as well as reverse engineering.
Reverse engineering expertise in both software and hardware domains is especially necessary when the intellectual property of interest overlaps both areas, as is often the case with high-tech patent claims. Having highly experienced experts in both areas allows us to tackle such cases proficiently. Moreover, the project manager for the case makes sure that the various experts (and potentially, third party vendors) working on a project are well-coordinated and the final results and reports meet our stringent quality and consistency requirements.