An overview of code obfuscation

Code obfuscation is one of the popular application security techniques to safeguard against hacking. In fact, it is one of the recommended initiatives of Appsec by security professionals worldwide as it takes care of the bare security requirements of your application. The technique serves as a primary bet against hackers and prevents common attacks like injection, reverse engineering, etc. It can even tamper with the personal information of the customers or the application users.

Code obfuscation

The method of code obfuscation is a modification of the executable code that is not available for interpretation, execution, or interpretation. Here the source code is itself obfuscated, which makes it literally impossible for a third party to understand it. It is not going to have an impact on the application interface that is meant for the third party or the intended output of the code. This happens to be a precautionary measure where the code becomes unusable for a potential hacker who could lay their hands on the executable code of an application.

It is normally required for open-ended applications, which poses a major disadvantage when it comes to hacking for potential gains. The moment it makes an application difficult to reengineer, developers ensure that the intellectual property of the product is protected against security threats. The cost, time, or resource factors tilt the balance towards abandoning the code when it is subject to obfuscation, as the decompiled code is of no use.

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Does obfuscation have an impact on the performance of the code?

Code obfuscation is expected to bring about major changes in the source code. It is bound to bring about major changes in the application of the code as well. But renaming obfuscation hardly has an impact on its performance since the methods or variables are only renamed. The control flow obfuscation will have an impact on the code performance. If you add meaningless code, this makes the code hard to follow and, on to the existing codebase, unnecessary overheads accrue. This is an essential feature to implement, but a degree of caution is to be implemented.

A golden rule to follow for code obfuscation is to increase the number of techniques that are applicable to the original code. A lot of time would be wasted in DE obfuscation. It would be dependent upon the conceptualization and techniques. The code performance would vary to the tune of 10% to 80%. Therefore, resilience and potency become the guiding forces in code obfuscation as it could be an opportunity lost.

Most of the techniques of obfuscation do not pay a premium when it comes to code performance. The onus lies with the security professionals to decide which technique is suited for their application.

It has to be said that most of the methods of code obfuscation does have an impact on code performance, but it is at a minimal level. It is dependent upon the code obfuscated, along with the complexity of algorithms that are obfuscated, it may involve a significant portion to de- obfuscate as well.

Understanding the quality of the obfuscation method

How successful the method of obfuscation is dependent on various factors which determine the quality of code transformation. The quality of an obfuscation method is determined by the following factors:

  • Resilience and strength: an obfuscated code is just as good as the weakest link. So a better way to check out the quality is shown by an obfuscated code when the method of de-obfuscation is carried out. The obfuscation method would reduce the amount of time and effort that is necessary to break down the code.
  • Potency and differentiation: It would reveal to what extent the obfuscated code is different from the original one. The nesting levels, control flows, and inheritance levels are put to use in enhancing the complexity of the source code. The method of code obfuscation enhances the complexity levels.
  • Stealth: The code that is obfuscated needs to be indistinguishable from the original source code, so that an attacker is confused about an obfuscated section. It would make it really difficult for an attacker to reverse engineer. Once again, this context would depend on one attack on another attack and turns out to be a critical aspect if you are looking to automate reverse engineering attacks.
  • Cost-the resources and the time are expanded. That is necessary to obfuscate code when you compare it to the non-obfuscated code. When planning to implement obfuscated code, certain performance considerations must be taken into account. the obfuscated code is intelligent, it is bound to confuse an attacker without increasing the cost unnecessarily.

Do you think it would be worthwhile to opt for code obfuscation?

By evaluating the pros and cons of code obfuscation the question that emerges is should you opt for this technique or not. Yes should be your answer on all counts at the least would transform a program into a piece of code that would be difficult to understand but keeps the functional aspects intact. The difficulties that it poses for the hackers and cyber – criminals should be sufficient enough to obfuscate the code.

To sum up things code obfuscation in isolation will not be sufficient to handle complex security threats. It would be difficult to de- obfuscate the code, the expertise of the hacker and automated tools would make it impossible to revers engineer.

For all your application security needs Code Obfuscation is a one stop solution. It all depends upon the security needs, performance benchmark along with the nature of application it is necessary for the development team to consider a plethora of code obfuscation methods so as to be protecting the code in a unsecure environment. This has to be done after you take into consideration the pro along with cons of each method. Even this strategy needs to complement other form of app sec initiatives, like RASP, or data retention policies etc. The moment you are using it along with RASP tools it serves as a viable tool against security threats.

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