Assessment of Source Code Obfuscation Techniques

Alessio Viticchié, Leonardo Regano, Marco Torchiano, Cataldo Basile, Mariano Ceccato, Paolo Tonella, Roberto Tiella

Obfuscation techniques are a general category of software protections widely adopted to prevent malicious tampering of the code by making applications more difficult to understand and thus harder to modify. Obfuscation techniques are divided in code and data obfuscation, depending on the protected asset. While preliminary empirical studies have been conducted to determine the impact of code obfuscation, our work aims at assessing the effectiveness and efficiency in preventing attacks of a specific data obfuscation technique - VarMerge. We conducted an experiment with student participants performing two attack tasks on clear and obfuscated versions of two applications written in C. The experiment showed a significant effect of data obfuscation on both the time required to complete and the successful attack efficiency. An application with VarMerge reduces by six times the number of successful attacks per unit of time. This outcome provides a practical clue that can be used when applying software protections based on data obfuscation.

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