FlagCapper FlagCapper - 5 months ago 12
Linux Question

Disassembling, modifying and then reassembling a Linux executable

Is there anyway this can be done? I've used objdump but that doesn't produce assembly output that will be accepted by any assembler that I know of. I'd like to be able to change instructions within an executable and then test it afterwards.

Answer

I don't think there is any reliable way to do this. Machine code formats are very complicated, more complicated than assembly files. It isn't really possible to take a compiled binary (say, in ELF format) and produce a source assembly program which will compile to the same (or similar-enough) binary. To gain an understanding of the differences, compare the output of GCC compiling direct to assembler (gcc -S) versus the output of objdump on the executable (objdump -D).

There are two major complications I can think of. Firstly, the machine code itself is not a 1-to-1 correspondence with assembly code, because of things like pointer offsets.

For example, consider the C code to Hello world:

int main()
{
    printf("Hello, world!\n");
    return 0;
}

This compiles to the x86 assembly code:

.LC0:
    .string "hello"
    .text
<snip>
    movl    $.LC0, %eax
    movl    %eax, (%esp)
    call    printf

Where .LCO is a named constant, and printf is a symbol in a shared library symbol table. Compare to the output of objdump:

80483cd:       b8 b0 84 04 08          mov    $0x80484b0,%eax
80483d2:       89 04 24                mov    %eax,(%esp)
80483d5:       e8 1a ff ff ff          call   80482f4 <printf@plt>

Firstly, the constant .LC0 is now just some random offset in memory somewhere -- it would be difficult to create an assembly source file which contains this constant in the correct place, since the assembler and linker are free to choose locations for these constants.

Secondly, I'm not entirely sure about this (and it depends on things like position independent code), but I believe the reference to printf is not actually encoded at the pointer address in that code there at all, but the ELF headers contain a lookup table which dynamically replaces its address at runtime. Therefore, the disassembled code doesn't quite correspond to the source assembly code.

In summary, source assembly has symbols while compiled machine code has addresses which are difficult to reverse.

The second major complication is that an assembly source file can't contain all of the information that was present in the original ELF file headers, like which libraries to dynamically link against, and other metadata placed there by the original compiler. It would be difficult to reconstruct this.

Like I said, it's possible that a special tool can manipulate all of this information, but it is unlikely that one can simply produce assembly code which can be reassembled back to the executable.

If you are interested in modifying just a small section of the executable, I recommend a much more subtle approach than recompiling the whole application. Use objdump to get the assembly code for the function(s) you are interested in. Convert it to "source assembly syntax" by hand (and here, I wish there was a tool that actually produced disassembly in the same syntax as the input), and modify it as you wish. When you are done, recompile just those function(s) and use objdump to figure out the machine code for your modified program. Then, use a hex editor to manually paste the new machine code over the top of the corresponding part of the original program, taking care that your new code is precisely the same number of bytes as the old code (or all the offsets would be wrong). If the new code is shorter, you can pad it out using NOP instructions. If it is longer, you may be in trouble, and might have to create new functions and call them instead.

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