DBI, debuggers, VM: gotta catch them all

How to escape or fool debuggers with internal architecture CPU flaws?


Many developers try to protect their creations (malware, video games, etc...) from different methods of analysis, first by detecting or avoiding them. To achieve this, they use a wide variety of techniques from exploiting flaws in analysis tools through code obfuscation (self-modifying code, for instance) to the use of documented API (IsDebuggerPresent). Most of the time these methods only work on one kind of tool and they fail to treat all of them at the same time. Countermeasures of the detection methods could consist in fixing the bug exploited in the analysis tool or directly modifying results returned by API calls or handling self-modifying code in a smart way. But all of these detection methods have countermeasures which leads to a never-ending war between detection and fooling detection. The aim of this paper is to propose a new technique of detection which is supposed to handle different types of analysis environment by exploiting uncovered properties from CPU.

In this paper, we will describe a new method to protect software from dynamic analysis. This method works by detecting anomalies in the execution flow of a given thread based on on the actualization of the CPU’s cache. As a direct consequence, we can detect debuggers, Dynamic Binary Instrumentation (DBI) framework as well as virtual machines (VM). Without using dedicated exploits or specific flaws, our method is generic enough to be the same for each analysis environment which is detected since it is based on properties from the hardware on which it is executed. In addition, it does need neither any admin rights nor ring 0 accesses. Implementation of our method fits in dozens of assembler instructions, following operational requirements for offensive shellcodes. Indeed, it exploits some uncovered properties of the CPU’s cache from AMD and Intel CPU vendors. After having precisely detailed the operation of the algorithm we use and what kind of events are detected in each case, we will present at limits and different ways to use it.

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Plumerault, F., David, B. DBI, debuggers, VM: gotta catch them all. J Comput Virol Hack Tech (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11416-020-00371-x

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  • Analysis environment
  • Detection
  • Exploit
  • Debugger
  • Hypervisor
  • DBI
  • CPU cache
  • Reverse engineering