VMProtect, Part 1: Bytecode and IR

Originally posted on August 6th, 2008 on OpenRCE

This is part #1 of a four-part series on VMProtect. The other parts can be found here:

The approach I took with ReWolf's x86 Virtualizer is also applicable here, although a more sophisticated compiler is required.  What follows is some preliminary notes on the design and implementation of such a component.  These are not complete details on breaking the protection; I confess to having only looked at a few samples, and I am not sure which protection options were enabled.

As before, we begin by constructing a disassembler for the interpreter.  This is immediately problematic, since the bytecode language is polymorphic.  I have created an IDA plugin that automatically constructs OCaml source code for a bytecode disassembler.  In a production-quality implementation, this should be implemented as a standalone component that returns a closure.

The generated disassembler, then, looks like this:

let disassemble bytearray index =
match (bytearray.(index) land 0xff) with
| 0x0-> (VM__Handler0__PopIntoRegister(0),[index+1])
| 0x1-> (VM__Handler1__PushDwordFromRegister(0),[index+1])
| 0x2-> (VM__Handler2__AddWords,[index+1])
| 0x3-> (VM__Handler3__StoreByteIntoRegister(bytearray.(index+1)),[index+2])
| 0x4-> (VM__Handler0__PopIntoRegister(4),[index+1])
| 0x5-> (VM__Handler1__PushDwordFromRegister(4),[index+1])
| 0x6-> (VM__Handler4__ShrDword,[index+1])
| 0x7-> (VM__Handler5__ReadDword__FromStackSegment,[index+1])
| ...-> ...

Were we to work with the instructions individually in their natural granularity, depicted above, the bookkeeping on the semantics of each would likely prove tedious.  For illustration, compare and contrast handlers #02 and #04.  Both have the same basic pattern:  pop two values (words vs. dwords), perform a binary operation (add vs. shr), push the result, then push the flags.  The current representation of instructions does not express these, or any, similarities.

Handler #02:           Handler #04:
mov ax, [ebp+0]        mov eax, [ebp+0]
sub ebp, 2             mov cl, [ebp+4]
add [ebp+4], ax        sub ebp, 2
pushf                  shr eax, cl
pop dword ptr [ebp+0]  mov [ebp+4], eax
pop dword ptr [ebp+0]

Therefore, we pull a standard compiler-writer's trick and translate the VMProtect instructions into a simpler, "intermediate" language (hereinafter "IR") which resembles the pseudocode snippets atop the handlers in part zero.  Below is a fragment of that language's abstract syntax.

type size = B | W | D | Q
type temp = int * size
type seg= Scratch | SS | FS | Regular
type irbinop= Add | And | Shl | Shr | MakeQword
type irunop= Neg | MakeByte | TakeHighDword | Flags
type irexpr = 
| Reg of register 
| Temp of int 
| Const of const 
| Deref of seg * irexpr * size 
| Binop of irexpr * irbinop * irexpr 
| Unop of irexpr * irunop

type ir = 
DeclareTemps of temp list
| Assign of irexpr * irexpr
| Push of irexpr
| Pop of irexpr
| Return

A portion of the VMProtect -> IR translator follows; compare the translation for handlers #02 and #04.

let make_microcode = function
VM__Handler0__PopIntoRegister(b) -> [Pop(Deref(Scratch, Const(Dword(zero_extend_byte_dword(b land 0x3C))), D))]
| VM__Handler2__AddWords -> [DeclareTemps([(0, W);(1, W);(2, W)]);
 Assign(Temp(2), Binop(Temp(0), Add, Temp(1)));
 Push(Unop(Temp(2), Flags))]
| VM__Handler4__ShrDword -> [DeclareTemps([(0, D);(1, W);(2, D)]);
 Assign(Temp(2), Binop(Temp(0), Shr, Temp(1)));
 Push(Unop(Temp(2), Flags))]
| VM__Handler7__PushESP-> [Push(Reg(Esp))]
| VM__Handler23__WriteDwordIntoFSSegment -> [DeclareTemps([(0, D);(1, D)]);
 Assign(Deref(FS, Temp(0), D), Temp(1))]
| (*...*) -> (*...*)

To summarize the process, below is a listing of VMProtect instructions, followed by the assembly code that is executed for each, and to the right is the IR translation.

VM__Handler1__PushDwordFromRegister 32

; Push (Deref (Scratch, Const (Dword 32l), D));

and al, 3Ch ; al = 32
mov edx, [edi+eax]
sub ebp, 4
mov [ebp+0], edx

; Push (Reg Esp);
mov eax, ebp
sub ebp, 4
mov [ebp+0], eax

VM__Handler0__PopIntoRegister 40
; Pop (Deref (Scratch, Const (Dword 40l), D));
and al, 3Ch
mov edx, [ebp+0]
add ebp, 4
mov [edi+eax], edx

VM__Handler19__PushSignedByteAsDword (-1l)
; Push (Const (Dword (-1l))); 
movzx eax, byte ptr [esi] ; *esi = -1
sub esi, 0FFFFFFFFh
sub ebp, 4
mov [ebp+0], eax

VM__Handler9__PushDword 4525664l
; Push (Const (Dword 4525664l));
mov eax, [esi] ; *esi = 4525664l
add esi, 4
sub ebp, 4
mov [ebp+0], eax

VM__Handler9__PushDword 4362952l};
; Push (Const (Dword 4362952l));
mov eax, [esi] ; *esi = 4362952l
add esi, 4
sub ebp, 4
mov [ebp+0], eax

VM__Handler19__PushSignedByteAsDword 0l};
; Push (Const (Dword (0l))); 
movzx eax, byte ptr [esi] ; *esi = 0
sub esi, 0FFFFFFFFh
sub ebp, 4
mov [ebp+0], eax

;Pop (Temp 0);
;Push (Deref (FS, Temp 0, D));
mov eax, [ebp+0]DeclareTemps([(0,D)])
mov eax, fs:[eax]
mov [ebp+0], eax