Reverse Engineering

At the heart of GHB Intellect’s core competencies in the area of intellectual property is reverse engineering. We have the capability to reverse engineer circuitry, software/firmware code, systems, networks, and protocols. Read GHB Intellect’s blog post on “What Goes Into Hardware Reverse Engineering” for more details about what is included in a hardware reverse engineering project.

According to Margaret Rouse of TechTarget, “Reverse engineering is taking apart an object to see how it works in order to duplicate or enhance the object. The practice, taken from older industries, is now frequently used on computer hardware and software.”

Reverse Engineering Firmware

GHB Intellect uses highly specialized laboratories (Electronics, RF/Antenna, Electron Microscopy, Emulation, etc.) as well as state-of-the-art test equipment for reverse engineering purposes. Whether a chip-level circuit extraction, software/firmware extraction, or an air-interface protocol test is required, we have the tools and the know-how to pursue any required reverse engineering task.

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

Reverse Engineering software

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:

  1. To recover lost source code.
  2. To better understand how a program executes certain operations.
  3. To improve the performance of a program.
  4. To correct an error in the program.
  5. To identify malicious content in a program.
  6. 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

Other areas of expertise for GHB Intellect are at the system, network, and protocol level of reverse engineering. We are particularly adept at investigating embedded systems, which can be found inside a mobile phone, laptop, or other consumer electronics devices. We frequently perform investigations for the following:

Reverse Engineering code
  1. Wireless networks such as wireless local area networks (WLAN, Wi-Fi), mobile networks (LTE, WCDMA, GSM), and Bluetooth.
  2. Wired networks such as Ethernet, Internet Protocol (IP), and Voice over IP (VoIP).
  3. Optical networks such as fiber optic cables, wavelength division multiplexers (WDM), and specialty optical fibers.
  4. Handsets, smartphones, tablets
  5. base station equipment such as antennas, remote radio heads (RRH), baseband units (BBU), fronthaul, backhaul
  6. consumer electronics such as laptops, game consoles, televisions, set top boxes, etc.
  7. Cloud services

When inspecting mobile networks, drive testing the network may also be necessary. GHB Intellect has the ability to perform detailed analyses by using the most current drive testing and data collection tools. We have the ability to dig deep into the Physical Layer (PHY), the MAC sub-layer (MAC), and the Network Layer (layers L1 through L3).

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.