I’m grateful to Github for many things, but especially for making source control usage “normal” behavior. Perhaps Github’s popularity correlated with, rather than caused this trend, but I’m going to give them this one. Since Github’s advent, I’ve not needed to remind clients and new hires to put code into source control–it has become second nature. As a result, I have not had to patch a binary for quite some time now.
There was once a time when the phrase, “I’ll send you the source code,” found me in a cold sweat, hitting “check mail” in Outlook until the promised zip arrived. I’d be crushed to discover that the zip contained my worst fear: a binary executable, and nothing more. Invariably, I’d receive the, “oh, that’s all I have,” response to my grasping follow-up–hoping they might scrape together some crusty scraps of actual source out of old emails or off of that forgotten shared folder.
After several of these experiences, I decided that it might be worth trying (or at least fun to try) to treat the binary as the source code that everyone seemed to think it was. I invested in a personal license of IDA Pro, honed up on assembly, and dove into the wonderful, crazy world of binary reverse-engineering and patching. It was dull, slow, and painful at first, but as I practiced, I discovered that I could see patterns that sped up my work. Before long, I could actually make useful modifications to binary executables–changing behaviors and adding small features. I also found myself developing a much deeper and intuitive sense for memory maps, pointer math, and data structures that translated to the work I did in C. Seeing how my machines work at a low-level was helping me instruct them at a higher level.
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