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Ghidra, NSA's reverse-engineering tool (nsa.gov)
1283 points by twodayslate on March 5, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 405 comments

Why this is important (for those uninitiated):

- Ghidra is basically the first real competitor to IDA Pro, the extremely expensive and often pirated state-of-the-art software for reverse engineering. Nothing else has come close to IDA Pro.

- Ghidra is open-source, IDA Pro is not.

- Ghidra has a lot of really cool features that IDA Pro doesn't, such as decompiling binaries to pseudo-C code.

- It's also collaborative, which is interesting because multiple people can reverse engineer the same binary at the same time -- something IDA only got VERY recently.

Ghidra also appears to have a functioning Undo operation, which IDA seems to still not have. Being able to make changes without worrying about your IDB accidentally becoming unusable is huge.

Context: in IDA, certain changes you make can inadvertently wipe out a lot of work - for example, undefining a function (U) can erase all your annotations in a single keystroke; defining a return type incorrectly can completely mess up callers, sometimes to the point where they won't even decompile properly; making a typo to an array size argument can obliterate the stack and every variable annotation you made on it, etc. etc. Many of these require much more work to undo than simply reverting the change you made. So a functioning undo is a big deal

Some more comparisons:

- Ghidra's type system is nice, and in some ways nicer than IDA's. Semi-automatic struct inference rocks, and it comes with a big type library.

- Ghidra will decompile code from a dozen different architectures. IDA will only do x86, x64, ARM and AArch64 (and you pay for all of those separately). In theory it could decompile a custom architecture if you implement your disassembler backend thoroughly enough.

- Ghidra's UI is marginally worse than IDA because it's implemented in Java Swing (compared with IDA's Qt).

- Ghidra and IDA both use Python for scripting. However, Ghidra's Python is actually Jython, which gives it access to the entire state of the system (minus the decompiler, which is native code - but you can interact with all the code that drives the decompiler). This is really big - the API surface of the entirety of Ghidra is pretty massive so the scripting opportunities are similarly exciting.

- Ghidra has a (mostly functional) patching interface which understands assembly. IDA Pro, despite costing many thousands of dollars, gets confused when you try to assemble something as basic as "mov rdi, rdx" in 64-bit code. (There's an outstanding bug which breaks ELF files - but being open-source, I'm sure it will be fixed soon)

I don't think I've ever seen an application where a working undo function was added in a posteriori. You either design it in from the start or you don't get a working one or you have to rewrite most of the application.

Think BinaryNinja has been acting pretty effectively as a competitor to IDA Pro. Its much cheaper than IDA, has a good API and I have been a very happy customer.

And they didn't take my money, break my key in an update, and ghost me while I was still in the support period. So they've got that going for them.

Did they ever tell you why they did that?

I'd like to hear the rest of this story, I was considering buying IDA Pro (though these days I'm having a lot of fun adding M68k support to Avast's Retdec)

No, they never replied at all. Their self-service site broke and they completely and utterly ignored my emails to the associated service address and to a number of other addresses posted on their site.

I grew up using, ah, other methods of satisfying my need for an interactive debugger and those methods continued to be viable after giving hex-rays $1100 and getting flaked, so I wasn't materially impacted by the flakery, even though I "should" have been. Had I been materially impacted rather than merely angered and frustrated, I probably would have tried other escalation paths -- phone, twitter, maybe even snail mail -- and I suspect I eventually could have gotten through, and my expectation absent evidence to the contrary is that if I were to have gotten through they would have helped me out. My takeaway would be "their self-service site is rubbish and they force you to use a company email address (as opposed to your gmail) and then their support email servers sometimes silently drop messages from your company email address, or something," not "they're crooks." On a professional app sold at a professional price, though, that's still not a good thing, and it informed my software choices going forward.

It is not our habit to leave emails from customers unanswered. The only explanation I see is that your email ended up in the spam folder.

Since I can not find your nickname in our database, I can not say more.

This is really strange to hear. What self service site did you use? Our website chat goes right to a slack channel that multiple folks monitor and reply to at all hours of the day. Worst case if we're all sleeping and you leave an email we respond when we're awake.

Just searched for your username in our chat and our email and don't see anything so I assume you've got a different email?

My problems were with an IDA Pro license I purchased from hex-rays. I have no complaints about BinaryNinja. If you represent hex-rays I'd be happy to PM you my business email.

He's talking about IDA Pro.

I'm sorry you had a bad experience. This is the first I've heard about it! We normally get nothing but praise during any customer support interaction. Feel free to email me directly (jordan at vector35 com) with your email address so I can try to figure out what happened. Apologies it didn't go well.

I think parent was saying that Binary Ninja _didnt_ do those things (implying that IDA did).


Email privately and get noted for life. This is really annoying when some one complains publicly and they ask your to email in private. Why don't you go through the old emails and provide a solution.

Because it wasn't sufficiently clear to GPP that it was IDA Pro's support that was problematic. GPP incorrectly thought it was BinaryNinja support that was the problem, which isn't the case.

Oh also, just to clarify -- are you talking about Binary Ninja or something else? That would explain a lot of my confusion. :-P

I'm complaining about IDA. I have no complaints about BinaryNinja :-)

Yeah, sorry for being slow on the uptake there. The negative threw me off. :-P

Being open-sourced is a big advantage. I just fixed a bug in GHIDRA relating to trackpad scrolling which makes it MUCH more usable for me. I could never do the same with IDA or Binary Ninja.

I do so love the shell code compiler of Binary Ninja, though. It works very well and has definitely saved me a lot of time.

Awesome! Please don't forget to submit it as a pull request once the code's on GitHub.

Of course. In the meantime I posted patched binaries to the relevant issue: https://github.com/NationalSecurityAgency/ghidra/issues/2#is...

As soon as the code is up I hope to submit a PR, which will be pretty easy since I already have the diff.

Speak of the devil—I was just thinking about diving in to fix that issue. Thank you! :)

It's not Open Source.

If you have any pointers to a company / individual making a living building open source tools for developers please let me know. (Working for a large cloud / OS provider that is subsidizing tool development as part of a platform play does not count).

>subsidizing tool development as part of a platform play does not count

So you're excluding deploying/maintaining Open Source Software as a service. That basically excludes how Open Source is supposed to get monetized.

> So you're excluding deploying/maintaining Open Source Software as a service. That basically excludes how Open Source is supposed to get monetized.

Is it? This means that incentives would be wrong, because then developers would be incentivized to produce difficult to use (but useful!) software - with various poorly documented features, multiple ways to solve the same problems, poor and inconsistent UX... Oh wait... </s>

I am sorry Redis labs got the heat for their license change and I really hope some solution crops up. I appreciate opensource, but I am getting tired of poorly implemented systems, just because there is no incentive to do it differently.

I think the solution lies in "free-to-use (but not free-to-sell), source available" licenses. I haven't seen one that would convince me yet, but I am certain that with big-tech companies behaving like they do, more and more developers will think twice before giving away their work for free just so others can make billions off it (and take away income from the very companies providing bread and butter to FOSS developers - coughAWScough).

Not every niche is going to be covered by the benevolent interests of your local friendly cloud provider.

There are examples which other commenters have already given you, I see. What I'm curious about is why this matters; obviously we as users care about having open-source tooling (and we are in a thread discussing one such tool). Whether or not we can come up with examples of this off the cuff is completely immaterial to the constraint that proposed tools should be open-source.

The reason I asked the question was to find pointers to people to talk to about their experience making money off open source. I have been wanting to build tools in some domain and am struggling with how to monetize desktop based software tools in 2019.

Evan You (creator of VueJS) makes ~$16k a month on Patreon, plus an untold amount of fees for speaking at conferences. They also have an open collective which at the momement has a budget of just under $67k/year. It's hard to say what the money is actually used for, but at least some is used to pay for "VueJS maintenance" which probably goes towards paying Evan as well.

Thanks for this information, it helps. The issue for me is that the target audience is probably < 10k people globally. The tool would act as a serious productivity multiplier for those 10k people (and those people are very well paid). In Evans case his creation is not only awesome, it also has a large target audience.

Signal Messenger, LLC. https://signal.org/

Keybase, Inc. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keybase

KDE has full time developers.

Redis. Sidekiq.

Sidekiq charges for their Enterprise plan which starts at $179 per month, Redis offers paid Commercial Support.

The money always comes from somewhere...

Open source doesn't mean free.

Yeah, the question was about getting paid to develop open source software.

The answer is, sell support.

Wrong answer. Selling support means that the developer is incentivized to make product unnecessarily complex. Also, with recent developments it turns out that other entities might be better at providing support than original developers, taking away the option to monetize OSS. Why bother writing your own software, when you can just sell services and provide support for a different one?

Note that RedHat, often quoted as success story, is really a services company that just happens to write an occasional piece of software, and support them when their customers need it.

There's a lot more going on than just incentives to make a product "unnecessarily complex". It's certainly a concern but many companies make it work. I judge this an acceptable answer, not a wrong answer.

> It's certainly a concern but many companies make it work.

They do? Maybe. But they are walking a thin line between their short term (make it complex so we can, you know, sell support) and long term (make it simple enough that people don't jump ship) commercial interests. This is the reason I call it "unnecessarily" complex - it is in the interest of companies who sell support services that the product is not as easy to use as it could be.

Do we really need this? I think not, and I actually prefer what Redis Labs, MariaDB and others have been doing with the licenses for their modules. Sure, Business Source license and similar are not open-source (as in "freedom to take the product you have built and sell services on top of it, driving you out of similar business as collateral damage"), but at least they provide developers with the incentive to produce easy to use software, and not just because they feel like it, but because they can actually earn their living from it.

There might be some exceptions that "make it work", but this is in spite of just selling services on top of their product, not because of it. The cards are stacked against them - it is much easier (and profitable) to take other persons' product and build on it that it is to build your own.

In my experience, selling support is an acceptable answer only in the eyes of would-be competitors. Otherwise it is just plain wrong. </rant>

I don't see this as an incentive specific to FOSS. Most customers of any software tend to demand increasingly complex featuresets as time goes on.

The complexity is not specific to FOSS. The incentive as described however is.

There are many, however that's not even relevant here, considering NSA is funded via tax dollars.



You can just reverse-engineer it!

No, you almost certainly promised not to do so when you bought a licence.

That’s actually untrue - they explicitly give permission to reverse engineer their software in the license.

Check restrictions in https://docs.binary.ninja/about/license/index.html

For the lazy:

> Restrictions. Subject to applicable copyright, trade secret and other laws, you are permitted under this License to reverse engineer or de-compile the Software but you may not alter, duplicate, modify, rent, lease, loan, sublicense, create derivative works from or provide others with the Software in whole or part, or transmit or communicate any of the Software over a network in order to share it with others.

> create derivative works from

That's pretty much the only reason one would reverse engineer it, in this context - and it's somewhat misleading to suggest otherwise.

Most reverse engineering done nowadays is not for derivative works

Hunting for bugs to report would be a valid, wouldn't it?

I'd rather just have the damn code.

that always of course :D

Not if you're oracle.

Can't edit but I'll reply: This was meant as more than a throwaway comment, please see the many discussions - Oracle's chief security officer got extremely upset by it.



thats for commercial purposes, and it's misleading to suggest otherwise.

Ghidra on the other hand you could, since even if they never get around to fully releasing the source (unlikely) they still granted us an apache license on the whole thing :)

I think it's probably pretty unique right now in that it's under an OSS license without all the source available.

All the source is in .zip files in the download. What's missing (and coming soon) is a build system.

Ghidra is mostly Java, so decompilation would pretty high-fidelity to begin with.

The java sources seem to all be there in zip files actually (as far as I can tell). The part I was most interested in atm (the decompiler) turns out to be some sort of native language compiled to an executable, and its source isn't there.

It's being released at RSA as open source, so it's more correct to say that it's not open source yet.

This was in reference to Binary Ninja, which was neither released at RSA nor is Open Source.

not everything in the world has to be open source

True, but we do need one of everything to be open source.

> Ghidra has a lot of really cool features that IDA Pro doesn't, such as decompiling binaries to pseudo-C code.

To be fair, IDA Pro has a decompiler plugin to do this.

For which they charge a per-CPU fortune https://www.hex-rays.com/cgi-bin/quote.cgi

It's a funny situation, though: decompilation probably should cost a small fortune. If you're in a line of work that needs it, the quality of your decompiler is probably a huge factor in how valuable an hour of your time is, and many [most?] fields where people routinely decompile stuff are very highly compensated.

IDA has always had a weirdly low price point given the bill rates of people who use it, and it's interesting to see that price being competed all the way down to free.

> It's a funny situation, though: decompilation probably should cost a small fortune.

In the past, the same could have been said of compilers and even web server and mail server software.

> many [most?] fields where people routinely decompile stuff are very highly compensated.

If it's more freely available, and more people have experience with it, then the compensation might go down as the supply of people with this experience goes up. I'm not sure using salary as a justification of what a tool price should be makes a whole lot of sense. to me, it just sounds like an inefficient market because there's not enough competition (justification on the ground that it does much more than any competitor and thus can command a premium does though).

Another way to think about it is that if any piece of professional software should cost a lot, a super-specialized piece of software that is hard to duplicate, is a near industry standard, and is used almost exclusively by people with high bill rates should be expensive. But again, my point is: IDA costs a lot less than its place in the market suggests it should.

I'm not arguing that a capable free alternative is a bad thing. I think there's an industry business case study in what Hex-Rays could have done to keep this from happening, though.

> I think there's an industry business case study in what Hex-Rays could have done to keep this from happening, though.

Is the fact that Hex-Rays is Russian one of the reasons why Ghidra exists? (Honest question.) If so, is there anything they could have done differently?

AFAIK the author is Russian but lives in Belgium

Hex-Rays is in Belgium.

> But again, my point is: IDA costs a lot less than its place in the market suggests it should.

Sounds like every developer working on an open source stack.

Well, now the market is saying that such a tool should be open sourced and well, now it is.

I wouldn't say the market is doing that, government funded tool being released as FOSS is opposite to "the market".

Yeah, but it is the market - it's just not a perfect market; you know, the kind that can't exist.

No, "the market" means financial considerations created an opportunity that was fulfilled to generate profit. It could be that the economy gained via this FOSS release, and that was part of the consideration, but that would be structural interference by the government (which can be a good thing IMO) working in opposition to the market.

Market forces are often reined in, eg by human rights, those things aren't part of the market operating they're mitigations of the damaging effects. In this case it's an external force (gov action), not the market, that has created the availability of the product.

Hmm? Large customer of leading widget manufacturer decides to make its own widgets in-house instead and keep the build minus buy money (plus possibly getting a better widget). Totally normal market practice.

Large player in widget market has low marginal cost and deep pockets, sells widgets at marginal cost its competitors can't match. Also totally normal market practice.

Competitors exit market or are relegated to minor market share, leaving de facto sole survivor. Also totally normal market practice.

We could be talking about chrome just as easily as IDA pro here.

In the past, the same could have been said of compilers and even web server and mail server software.

I'm not sure the exact same thing could have been said which to me seems like a testament to how complicated software pricing can be. Web servers never really sold†, platform vendors eventually figured out it's better for them for compilers to be free (non-platform vendors still sell compilers), etc.

† back in the 90s, Netscape used to pester web companies to make their Apache installs lie that they are Netscape web servers.

It depends on what you're doing. I imagine a lot of people use IDA pro for modding video games, which often/usually provides no monetary compensation.

Perhaps they would benefit from some type of "free/cheap for noncommercial use" license?

Video game modders certainly use IDA. IDA's purchase price, though, is, ah, not an issue for them- not because they have lots of funds available, but rather quite the opposite.

To be fair, I don't think HexRays is oblivious to this dynamic, and to that end I think the freeware version they offer makes a lot of sense. Especially if it supports AMD64, which I'm hearing it does nowadays.

That's not going to prevent many people from taking the five finger discount I'm sure, since they'd rather have as many of the features as they can, but at least nobody can say HexRays isn't trying.

Yeah, but I think the big issue is the lack of decompiler. If you're new to RE, it's literally night and day between that and "assembly with stack variables renamed and some helpful comments". (Even Binja's MLIL is a huge step up from the annotated assembly IDA provides.)

Biggest limitation in the free version for me, as somebody who likes to tinker with old games as a pastime, is that it does not support any other instruction set than x86/x64 and not many executable formats either.

There are a lot of good and interesting games that were made in the DOS era for PCs which used the DOS4GW DOS extender, and their binaries come in the OS/2 executable format (LE/LX) which is unsupported in IDA's free version. A lot of good and interesting games also happen to run on game consoles which use non-x86 processors.

Ghidra probably won't have plugins to support all of these weird old legacy formats and CPUs which the full IDA package does for a while, but hopefully it'll get there eventually. If it doesn't seem too difficult, I might even try creating a LE loader for it myself.

I agree that the decompiler is amazingly useful... but it's pretty telling that there's really no alternatives that come close. I sympathize with hobbyists that pirate IDA Pro, but I personally wish we could do better than that.

There is a free (much less capable) version of IDA.

Which doesn't provide decompilation.

And has a very limited support CPU arch / executable format selection.

And looking for vulnerabilities

Isn't that true for lots of software that's been driven down to zero cost, though? Like, say, TensorFlow? Given the business value of people who need to use TensorFlow, it "should" cost more than even IDA.

It feels like to stay in business with software like this, it has to be lucrative, but not too lucrative, or else FAANG companies (or occasionally governments, like in this case) will either gobble up or kill the market.

The pricing of Ida Pro is set to limit the size of the support work and to avoid liabilities. Do not know how it works now, but many years ago, as you were buying Ida Pro, they were asking questions and if anything seemed to imply that you want to hide the buyer's identity, they refused to sell.

That is, Hex-Rays do not want to have any business relationship with the proverbial would-be teenage hackers.

Outside of that, Hex-Rays is a small business which has probably around than 1mln eur/year of turnover and they do not want to grow it much more. It was a Basecamp-style business long before DHH made the concept of anti-growth popular.

It still works like that. I practically had to beg Hex Rays to take my money. They were very skeptical of me at initial purchase, it took about 2 hours of email exchange and phone calls.

When I went to renew my support, they grilled me again. This was just a few weeks ago. I gave up and figured Ghidra was just around the corner. Looking forward to trying it.

I emailed them and told them a) I didn't appreciate being treated like a criminal (won't get into the specifics, but one set of answers led to another set of questions, but I'm a consultant with my own company, website, physical address, company history, blog posts, etc. -- I work in security / reverse engineering of electronic devices)

I also told them I've never had to work so hard to give someone my money. Finally I gave up. Let the market speak.

I think IDA's lack of significant competition until now is nearly a textbook example of how charging a lot for a tool is no indication that the funds will go toward improving the quality.

What's been significantly improved in IDA over the last 10-15 years? Certainly not the x86 decompiler, which costs something like five times as much as IDA itself. The interface is still super-clunky and missing functionality like keyboard shortcuts for frequently-used functions.

I'm ecstatic that there's finally a realistic alternative.

Certainly the x86 decompiler improved! It hadn't existed. We also got graph view, a Python interface, a native Linux port using Qt, and 64-bit binaries.

IDA comes with amazing technical support. I've emailed complaints, then gotten a freshly-compiled build with a bug fix within a couple days. Funds are thus improving quality in ways that customers request.


In fact, the essence of decompilation is a NP-Complete problem: Graph Isomorphism.

So far, our decompilers are just greedy scheme to approximate the original expressions as best as possible by treating each instruction as a tree then as a graph, but still even a single assignment could cause the entire outcome of the code to change a lot, let alone to correctly recognizing heavily optimized procedures.

Edit: Wiki said it is NP-Complete but I was pretty sketchy about it. I think the better wording should be "at least NP"

Graph Isomorphism is not known to be NP-hard, that is we don't know a proof that a polynomial algorithm for GI implies NP=P. So it is "at most NP" rather than "at least NP", because GI is obviously in NP.

Reverse engineering doesn't pay that well-- IME at or just below par with software engineers.

So as one point of comparison you might look at the tools of software engineers, which are essentially all free today.

To get to hex-rays having a reasonable price you probably have to look at jobs like pipe welding where the equipment is expensive and the hourly high, but the comparison is much less direct.

In what fields is this type of tooling used routinely?

Besides the usual ones, I've had to use IDA Pro occasionally for compatibility purposes in my job as a NAS vendor.

There are lots of apps that make lots of assumptions about how filesystems behave, generally based on the local filesystem and maybe on one popular networked filesystem for the platform (NFS, SMB, AFP).

If one of those assumptions is violated, applications can crash or refuse to interact with you. Some just refuse to write to any networked filesystem. Some run only on whitelisted filesystems. Some will hit an error due to an unsupported operation on your filesystem, fall back to some ancient code path using long-since deprecated Carbon APIs that only work properly on 32 bit systems, and so truncate all of your data to 2 GB.

Problems like the latter are really helped by being able to do some reverse engineering of the application to figure out why the heck it just writes out the first 2 GB of the file.

Because this isn't our bread and butter but only an occasional tool in our toolbox, the licensing on IDA Pro can be rather frustrating. We use it only once every couple of years to debug some kind of compatibility issue like this, and so we usually have to dig around to figure out if we still have valid licenses, deactivate systems that we're no longer using, and so on.

Malware analysis and vulnerability research.

Would you mind answering some questions if you're familiar with the area (edit: hah, just noticed you posted to the OP to this whole thread.); What are some examples of firms that are involved in this work? Is it mostly a collection of smaller shops/individual contractors? After a cursory search, I seem to be seeing a lot of groups/labs comprised of relatively few people. Why are there so many references to high bill rates in these comments, is the pay especially notorious? That's something I haven't heard before.

My office is in the same building as BitDefender. I casually talked to some of the guys and they do use IDA Pro in their malware research department.

They mostly hire their researchers straight out of college if they have high C proficiency and train them internally to use IDA Pro.

I know my comment isn't exactly what you asked, but I hope it clears some light.

> My office is in the same building as BitDefender. (...) They mostly hire their researchers straight out of college if they have high C proficiency

Also partially OT, just wanted to say that I was a sort of college-roommate with one of their present-day senior security researchers in the early 2000s and to this day I remember that person as one of the most code-obsessed persons I have ever met, and I say that in a good way.

He was looking at almost every program running on our room's computer (yes, we only had one computer in our room of 4 or 5, no laptops) as a thing to be "broken apart"/analyzed/made sense of, he had a state of mind and a way of looking at things when it came to computers that I've never met since then at any other computer programmers (I've mostly met desktop, backend and front-end programmers, I'm a data-obsessed person myself). I realized in the meantime that in order to enter this "computer security" field and especially in order to be good at it you need to have a different set of skills and especially a different way of looking at things compared to other computer programmers.

So he is basically Stallman's hacker.

All software should be free, The marginal cost of one more user is exactly zero

> All software should be free, The marginal cost of one more user is exactly zero

All bridges should be free, The marginal cost of one more user is effectively zero.

If you're suggesting we should fund critical software in the same way that we fund bridges, then I support that motion.

Quite ironically for the GP, that's exactly what has happened in this case: a taxpayer-funded governmental organisation (NSA) has produced and released a public good for free consumption. They literally saw the toll bridge (IDA Pro), said ‘nope’ for whatever internal reason, built a new one downstream, drove their vehicles across it, and then said “hey folks, this over here is for you to use for free whenever you want”.

While I agree with your overall point, this isn't the greatest analogy, because a finite number of users are able to use a bridge simultaneously. A bridge with too many users is called a traffic jam.

A piece of software with users who can't support themselves when issues crop up (and sustain their longterm usage) has effectively the same issue.

Toll bridges are quite rare. Most bridges are publicly funded via taxes and free to use, just like Ghidra.

Speak for yourself, I pay a fortune in tolls.

Time to stop driving the Mass Pike (I know, regional humor/rant.)

Sometimes it's an hour or more in time savings.. Not MA, probably just as bad in DC.

Bad analogy. Bridges have upkeep.

The people who make software need to be paid. Where do you think that’s coming from – ads?

Currently, yeah.

Along these lines, the first customer should pay the millions of dollars it takes to market and produce the software and then they can do what they want with it.

The first user can cost a lot, however

Okay, they you be the first user and pay the R&D costs + the salaries + bug fixing future expenses. I hope you got a billion in your pocket.

$4k/cpu/year is really not very expensive at all for industry-leading niche software.

Good comparison might be Synopsys VCS. Prices are not published but I believe they are over $30k/cpu/year and for larger designs you really want a big sim server.

It does, but it costs an extra $1.5k on top of the main software, per architecture.

$2.6k+ you mean

Wait, IDA has a collaborative mode? I couldn't find one; link please?

This is shocking, because, in an E-mail exchange a few years ago, Ilfak wrote to me:

> [...] we at hex-rays do not have any ideas how to implement dynamic database synchronization, so it is unlikely that others will come up with a good solution.

How well does it work? The aforementioned exchange with Ilfak came after my poor experience with collabREate, a previous plugin that claimed to do the same thing.

Ghidra appears to use version control, with a need to merge changes. Merges could get ugly.

I think Binary Ninja's enterprise version might involve clients connecting to a server that maintains the database. It would be more like Google Docs if that is the case. Actions in the GUI would request atomic transactions on the server, then display the current state.

Let's not forget https://www.radare.org which is trying to be a OSS IDA Pro.

I use r2 almost all the time, it's just so fast and convenient, and it makes working with Binary Ninja easier. Also use IDA when all else fails.

And the decompiler is dope for IDA

Even if it is open source, I might worry about using an open source tool from the NSA.

Yeah, my mouse was hovering over the download button eager to test it out when my brain suddenly went "wait, don't do that!"

If you wanna run this thing, you should probably build it from source yourself (don't trust the binaries) and even then run it in a pretty well sandboxed virtual machine. I would not be surprised at all if the NSA left some surprises in that thing.

> I would not be surprised at all if the NSA left some surprises in that thing.

Huh. I would be extremely surprised if the NSA were to include some kind of malicious or pseudo-malicious easter egg in the open source RE toolkit they're releasing. How dumb would they have to be to pull a move like that, and for what? The self interest just doesn't line up.

I hope you don't use Linux, because the NSA contributes to quite a lot of OSS. They also created SELinux for instance.

Those changes on OSS are reviewed by a lot of people, this here is just released and reviewed by themselves only.

Sure, the ones officially contributed by the NSA. What you have to wonder is how much code was contributed by some seemingly normal community member that is actually a front for the NSA to introduce subtly flawed code that they can use to their advantage while being plausibly just a bug?

There are those who suspect Heartbleed came about this way.

- SELinux has been free-software for over a decade, with many open-source contributions.

- Many people don't use SELinux, especially on distros like Arch, Gentoo etc. where it (luckily) doesn't come as part of the package, SELinux is far from universal.

If you're decompiling and analysing ANYTHING, you should be running it on a reflashable, airgapped machine in case it does something unexpected, even if it isn't intentionally malicious. Plus you probably don't want it phoning-home either...

Maybe it's all just an elaborate recruitment ad. :)

There is JEB Decompiler too: https://www.pnfsoftware.com

ida can use hexrays to decompile, which is working great. but ofcourse you need some employer to pay for it which is aa pain, no one will pay some 10k for a tool personally. however, free version is very adequate for most things.

i would say these both tools ,as well as r2 have their own merits and weak points, and it would be good not to exclude one and take the other as better, but to have them compliment eachother in your arsenal.

in the end if you want quality, then manual work is always better than these opinionated tools, and sometimes that is required, so really the tools offer different perspectives / opinions of the same thing, and that is valuable in any case. when you run into the limit of 1 tool ,another might just fill that gap.

>is basically the first real competitor to IDA Pro

What do you think of BAP[1]?

[1] https://github.com/BinaryAnalysisPlatform/bap

BAP is not a competitor to IDA Pro or Ghidra, it's a platform for implementing automated analysis, while IDA and Ghidra are more like reverse engineering tools that are focused on human interactions. We do support IDA Pro so that you can run BAP analysis from it and have the best of two words. We will soon roll out the support for Ghidra too (the issue is created [1]).

What is a really great contribution of Ghidra, to my opinion, is the detailed specification of all supported ISA in Sleigh (their terse and concrete ISA specification language). Ghidra ships with about ~200kLOC of instruction descriptions and this is the most valuable contribution to the community. We're planning to support Sleigh in the nearest future, and I believe that Sleigh might become a standard de facto for instruction semantics specification.

[1]: https://github.com/BinaryAnalysisPlatform/bap/issues/929

Ghidra’s source source code was not released. The only thing on Github is the Readme, the license, and some git files. The best you can likely do is use Ghidra to reverse-engineer Ghidra.

The download includes a zip file containing source code next to every jar file.

IDA Pro is not expensive at all for serious professionals in the field. Other common software in the industry costs way more. Nessus is $2k a year, Metasploit like $1500 to $15000, and Core Impact is $30k and up.

If this is expensive to you, then it’s not for you. This is for people who are making real money with these tools, not hobbyists dicking around.

> If this is expensive to you, then it’s not for you. This is for people who are making real money with these tools, not hobbyists dicking around.

That's an odd perspective. Imagine if this type of sentiment were applied to paint brushes. There is a lot of useful work that is not economically viable per se, and to discount that and to be pejorative feels wrong.

It is less odd if you look at it from the perspective of a professional in the field. Being expensive (and a little mean about it) discourages potential competitors from entry.

Not necessarily nice, but it makes sense.

If you are using these tools you are either defending systems from threats or breaking into systems and making money through illegal activities. There is not really any other useful work you can do with these tools.

I don’t see how the perspective is odd. Having tools like Core Impact and the knowledge of how to use them well can propel you to a six figure income easily. On top of that these tools are also business expenses you can use for tax write offs.

They are certainly worth the investment. The only people who see the price as steep are those who cannot see any viable way to make a decent ROI off them.

Google "video game modding ida".

Then think about the fact that some people are poor and can't float thousands of dollars long enough to learn and get employed with tools like this.

and to be quite honest, its just fun to me to reverse a program

I don't think about those people, here's why:

1) No one is entitled to a career in cybersecurity or reverse engineering, no matter how poor or sad your origin story is.

2) There are always lucrative opportunities in this world that are out of reach by people who lack some resource. In this case, it's money, but it could easily just have been something like popularity, beauty, connections, location, or even plain old brains.

I always wanted to be popular and loved by many, but I came to accept long ago that it just wasn't going to happen. I'm an introvert, I keep to myself a lot, don't get much pleasure from social outings, and at the end of the day people just don't give a fuck about weird people like that. So I just try to enjoy the gifts I do have and the things that come naturally to me. We all have to accept the realities of our lives at some point, even the poor.

Sorry to hear you're finding it tough. Some people find ways of becoming less constrained by their introversion, but no judgment on you for doing what works for you.

It's true that some pre-existing conditions can limit what options people have, but it doesn't apply to everything.

It's important to be discerning about when this effect applies and when it needn't, and work to open more opportunities to more people wherever possible.

If you are studying to become a (paid) professional in the field, be it offensive or defensive, having a quality, open source, free tool available which is also the defacto standard is a big plus for getting you started. Elitist will fear such competition, those with love for the field of work will endorse it.

What's the average wage of a cyber security professional in SE Asia or Africa compared to these tools?

What advantages does the paid version of Metasploit offer? I have been able to do some pretty incredible stuff with the free offering...

That's enterprise penetration testing software, IDA is bench reverse engineering software. It's a totally different market.

I wonder if there were some mainframe "professionals" with this opinion before the advent of the personal computer.

From someone who does binary reverse engineering full time, in my experience, BinaryNinja, Hopper, radare2, etc are toys compared to IDA Pro + Hex Rays Decompiler. The quality of the results and the features supported are unmatched... until now. I haven’t spent too much time with ghidra yet but it’s the real deal. The output of the decompiler looks alright (not complete garbage like I’ve seen with other tools). Even if everything else sucks, the decompiler by itself makes it outrank every other tool aside from IDA. And it costs $10k less! The fact that it’ll be open source is just icing on the cake.

Binja is the only real competitor in any remote sense IMO, and while the LLIL/MLIL are nothing compared to Hex-Rays, they do still dramatically improve the speed of the job. Binja is also fairly extensible/pluggable, though it's pretty undocumented... I just don't do it enough in my spare time these days (not in the field anymore) to justify a Hex-Rays license for myself (even if it is permanent...)

That said I just renewed my license so I have to get some use out of it, but Ghidra does seem like it could be the real deal. Honestly, I never really expected any free/FOSS alternative to IDA to ever exist at this point, so the possibility is tantalizing.

I agree, they have a big potential. But if you speak about FOSS alternative - there is already radare2[1]+Cutter[2]+radeco[3].

[1] https://github.com/radare/radare2

[2] https://github.com/radareorg/cutter

[3] https://github.com/radareorg/radeco

Binary-Ninja and IDA are a completely different class of tool from Radare. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy Radare exists. And I occasionally check it out and play with it -- I think "the vim of RE tools" is a cool point in the design space. As a Linux person, I find that attractive, especially for certain kinds of automated stuff (vs loading Python scripts in through a UX or whatever). But that kind of aesthetic is an extremely small part of these tools in the whole, and it simply does not matter if the tool cannot "keep up" with your work. All of that comes later on. You're comparing a Jalopy to a Prius -- and that Prius is already going up against a Ferrari.

When I use IDA, almost all of my actual work in the tool itself is very "boring" RE stuff, because it does its job. I am not constantly fighting with it to get basic things analyzed propertly, or fighting a lack of supported features that prevent it from opening something, or a bad analysis engine that misses 80% of things I later reverse by hand. You could comparatively stitch something together with the tools in Radare to patch over this for the cases it doesn't handle. You might even call those "edge cases", but reverse engineering is 90% edge cases and 10% easy stuff. I'll already be done by then.

I should also be clear that part of the issue is that reverse engineering is a money game, one where money is easy to come by if you have the clients -- and as a result and a lot of the developers of those tools have more money/labor available than the Radare developers. That also means people who need this can simply throw money at a problem, like an expensive IDA license, and move on. That doesn't mean Radare developers are incompetent. If you gave them a lot of money -- like, enough to fund 5-10 core developers for a couple years -- Radare would dramatically improve extremely quickly, I'm sure. (This is one of the reasons why I suspected a true competitor to IDA would never come around as FOSS -- it takes a shitload of money to do that, and it's also something you can make a shitload of money from.)

But I'll say this: if you put me into a situation where I had to reverse something, I'd pay for an IDA license 10/10 times even if every Radare developer was at my command, and I'd probably still get it done faster (most RE tools I know of lack even the most basic, fundamental features IDA has had for years -- such as FLIRT -- that can dramatically improve reversing speed.)

R2 has Cutter GUI, along with FLIRT support (and custom signatures format as well) for years as well. So bad example. And there are not much money even for IDA developers - it is very small market. So no tool would get a "shitload" of money ever.

IDA developers get paid. My company alone probably gives them more than two million dollars per year.

If we switch, it will be to Ghidra or to Binary Ninja.

Out of curiosity what kind of job involves doing binary reverse engineering full time?

Reverse engineering the firmware for an embedded product where someone lost the source code.

Bonus points available for:

  * "the source control is ZIP files on a network share"
  * "yeah we use forced squash commits on everything to keep the Git history nice and linear"
  * "it was designed by a contractor who is now uncontactable"

Malware analyst, vulnerability research

Well there are these, at my workplace: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19055183

That includes malware analysis, vulnerability research, and emulator development.

Audits for Intellectual Property.

Too often companies pay 6 digits for a feature that some supplier rips directly from an open source on the Internet (often GPL) and then sells as his own.

Chinese software dev firms.

A job at NSA, for instance.

Red team?

If your Red team is reversing binaries you’re doing it wrong.

Why? If your real world adversaries can reverse binaries, why would you shackle a Red team from doing so?

Because they have access to the source code itself. No need to reverse engineer anything.

That depends on your definition. Many people, myself included, take 'red team' to mean -> attack simulation. If you have access to source, it implies a white box test, which is not an attack simulation but 'ordinary' vulnerability research.

The concrete difference between the two is that vulnerability research is mostly focused on the technical security aspects. Eg. is there a buffer overflow here yes or no? From an efficiency perspective it makes no sense to hide the source code or even credentials from the pentesters performing this research.

An attack simulation is more holistic in nature, the question becomes "can your security team detect when we exploit this buffer overflow?". The blue team and the red team do not share details, and to give the blue team a proper exercise they are often not even informed. To do a proper red team exercise the scope must be very broad. Both technical controls as well as procedural operations are in scope. If you call application/network security research a red team exercise I think you're doing it wrong.

So a red team, in the sense of the word that I specified, does not have access source code, and most definitively sometimes needs to reverse engineer binaries.

Couldn't compilation introduce vulnerabilities that wouldn't be in the source, but could be found by decompilation?

Short answer is yes.

Because although you don't have source code (like other commenters are saying), reversing a program to get into a company would be the hardest way to go. Red teams are used to test a company's overall security, and reversing normally wouldn't make sense compared to phishing, using common exploits, and owning the network. Reversing binaries is not the job of a red team, but pentesters of specific systems.

Red teaming isn't limited to "get into a company" testing of networks, it's also used for testing products and infrastructure that's outside the company. For example, you can reasonably have a red team evaluation of some authentication or payment infrastructure based on smartcards or mobile apps, and that'd inevitably include reverse engineering of all the artifacts that are available to the users; and in such cases also likely that many/most software parts of "your" product or device aren't made by you but redistributed from some other vendor, and you don't necessarily have the source available for that.

Because they should use the source.

Leaving the decompiler aside, for core disassembly features, in what ways is modern IDA far ahead of its competitors?

Auto analysis when you have barely any information. Any tool can make nice output if you feed it nice input. Try a partial dump from an exotic device and then you’ll see IDA shine.

See, that's really most of what I ever did with IDA (I don't do a lot of Windows reversing) and I always had to do a lot of binutils munging to get weird architectures to work. But things may have improved dramatically in the last 8 years or so.

Definitely- it's all the years of tweaking and the massive numbers of heuristics to handle, i don't know, code emitted by Microsoft Visual FORTRAN from 1972- that's IDA's moat. Screw the decompiler. If GHIDRA can match that, it's a huge step forwards.

To be fair, without undo, Hex-Rays can only move forwards. This explains their advantage.

Not sure about everything, but last i looked IDA had a lot more support for different architectures and file formats compared to most of the open source stuff (not sure about other proprietary ones).

I’m a casual bystander who has only played with these tools, but I’ve been interested in this field for a long time. Do you think that radare2’s UI is a step forward? I like the Unix-esque command line and how composable everything feels. IDA (and now Ghidra) feel like an IDE, while radare2 feels more like Vim.

I mean having a good UI is great but without the features to back it up, you can’t do anything serious. I tried cutter again a few months ago and went back to ida after an hour of frustration. When handed a binary dump with no executable format or symbols, cutter just chokes while IDA was able to quickly find 90% of functions in memory as well as data xrefs and strings and so on.

I’m sure everything performs well on ELFs built with -O0 -g but in most real world usage, Ida is queen.

Since everything is open source, if ghidra is as good as people say it is, I’m sure people will make better guis for it (and tui) in no time.

do you mind talking a bit about how you got into the field?

Video game console hacking. Wanted to run my own code on my console back before phones and laptops were so cheap.

Pretty much all of the seriously talented reverse engineers I've met started out hacking video games as teenagers. Also, IDK if you remember me from back in the day, but hi! ^.^

It really is a job for a GUI, but even IDA lets you type commands. You can use Python, or a built-in language that is in the C family, or anything custom that you have attached to the plug-in interface. I would be surprised if one of these tools is lacking such a capability.

I use cutter with r2 and consider it a better UI than IDA; but then again I don't do a lot of work in it, just CTFs and crackmes.

I've found radare2 pretty neat for doing some automated analysis (specifically on RISC-V binaries), but I agree, IDA Pro has, until now at least, been the undisputed champion.

Curious how much a job like this pays? Seems like a fun job

You are the leader in your segment of the market one day and the undisputed leader. You wake up and the NSA decides to send a free competitor out with better or matching functionality. Tough blow. But good for us.

I'm surprised that noone is yelling "socialism" yet.

Tax paid competition for existing commercial products. Isn't that considered evil/wrong by pure capitalists?

"Eschew flamebait. Don't introduce flamewar topics unless you have something genuinely new to say. Avoid unrelated controversies and generic tangents."


Thanks for the link. That's a great reference point I did not know about.

OP does have a point that this software was subsidized by tax payers. One could argue the NSA needs advanced tools and that the costs of IDA Pro add up.

This, unfortunately, occurs so infrequently that it can safely be ignored by 99.9% of the economy. Businesses have really enjoyed having their cake and eating it too with the transition away from a highly involved acquisition process that generally resulted in a tailored solution that the USG owned, to the present COTS policy that allows them to then go on to sell software to people that have already effectively paid for it through taxes. While there was an impressive amount of bureaucracy and an infinitely self referential system of standards in the old method, it did lead to some pretty interesting side effects: Ada[0], IDEF[1], MIL-STD-498[2], etc.

The most recent liberation of useful taxpayer funded software that I can think of was over ten years ago, when NIST released NFIS2 - the fingerprint software that the FBI relied on. They of course had to be crappy about it and wrap it in export controls that limited its utility, but it was interesting to see all the work that internal development had done - very polished, with man pages going back to '97. Ah the memories: software classified as munitions, the clipper chip...

[0] http://archive.adaic.com/pol-hist/policy/naig94-1.txt

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IDEF#The_IDEF_modeling_languag...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIL-STD-498

[3] https://web.archive.org/web/20041206072946/http://fingerprin...

This not being the top comment kinda scares me.

Sure, it might be a great tool for free, but who knows what else might be hidden in there?

Likely nothing, it's the source code for an RE toolkit with an NSA sticker right on the box. There is literally no worse place to try to hide back doors.

At worst they will know how to mask their real malware from analysis with their own tools.

Download from the NSA without open source software...

anyone else virtualizing three layers deep to get to this?

I don't think they would burn some 0-days for this, one container should be enough.

I think you're underestimating the value of intel on people who know how to get intel or at least interested in the topic.

It's part of the NSA's recruiting push. "If you are interested in projects like this ... consider applying" is even mentioned in the README.

There's zero chance there's some secret trojan, because the people who are interested in this type of software are the exact people who would be able to find it.

Well... I suppose you could argue that it would make sense for them to add a secret trojan, encrypted alongside a message along the lines of "we'd like to talk to you about an interesting employment offer, give us a call on 00000" ;)

>"If you are interested in projects like this ... consider applying" is even mentioned in the README.

* As long as you have citizenship... which is the minority.

An RCE vulnerability has already been found.

Despite what @HackerFantastic is going on about, sloppy remote debugging capabilities enabled with a debug flag isn't an RCE.

It enables remote code execution, that's what RCE stands for.

The issue is with "vulnerability". By that loose definition, every modern IDE has an RCE "vulnerability".

It's a compile flag, it is not enabled by default.

If you specifically start GHIDRA in a debug mode, then yes there is a backdoor, but you asked for that.

Calling it a rce vuln is a bit of an exaggeration surely.

Also know as debug mode.

It doesn't have to be a secret trojan. Just a trojan is good enough.

Fortunately, a lot of people who are very knowledgeable about reverse engineering are downloading & opening it as we speak. They will point out any flaws/viruses found. Seems one has already been found [1]. All you need to do is to wait.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19315515

AFAICT all the source is there, beside every `.jar` there is a `.zip` with the corresponding source. The source in a more usable form should be posted here soon: https://github.com/NationalSecurityAgency/ghidra/

(And if not I'm sure the community will reconstitute it)

After further investigation my above comment is not true.

The decompiler for instance is a precompiled binary (elf64 file on linux) wrapper in some java code. The C/C++/? code is not provided.

One person’s jar is another’s zip.

Well sure, but the .zip files I'm referring to are "decompiled" for you with nice naming conventions and all that ;)

I'd expect most people who use software like this to be using things like Qubes OS anyway?

Honestly, not really.

I wonder if it will make it's way to FLARE.

Is this available outside the US? the first link returns a 403, the second contains no code... ?

Seeing 403 (I'm in Russia). Maybe some export restrictions, but more probably just a glitch in CDN (Cloudfront). P.S. I'm not in Crimea, never encountered software export restrictions before.

I was able to see access the first link in France. It might depend on the country?

Downloaded fine in UK

I'm curious what feature specifically prompted the NSA to develop their own IDA Pro alternative. I mean, someone somewhere at the NSA must have been trying to do something with IDA Pro only to repeatedly fail before the decision was made that whatever the NSA was trying to do warranted developing their own IDA Pro... right? Or perhaps they used IDA Pro so often and grew so frustrated by it that they started their own?

A few reasons I can think of:

1. Collaborative.

2. supporting classified proprietary architectures (think missile chips or something)

3. The intermediate representation (architecture independent representation of code) can be integrated in to many other classified tools. Maybe for automated analysis for example.

4. Managing licenses is a huge PITA, presumably especially in environments with lots of classified information.

Good point... "we need a site license. No, I can't tell you for how many employees, that's classified. No, I can't tell you who we are, that's classified. No, I can't tell you what we are working on, that's classified. Hello? Hello? Darn they hung up again..."

When I worked for a hedge fund we had to deal with this sort of thing (not classified obviously, but wanted exemptions from certain things), but it was actually pretty easy to deal with. They just charge you more to get custom terms.

I think all three letter agencies create front companies for this kind of stuff?

Operational reasons? They found a compromisable worker was employed there, or they somehow put modifications in IDA making the software compromisable and so not safe for them?

Hex-Rays can be hard to deal with, and the IC deals pretty extensively with large federal contractors like Raytheon, so it's possible they just needed something as capable as IDA that they could roll out across all their suppliers to use as a common toolchain and interchange format.

But it's also possible this is just sort of a labor of love type thing.

There’s a third possibility: they wanted a piece of software they could customize to meet their needs. Admittedly, for simple bugfixes and the like, Hex-Rays’ support is known for being quite responsive (as suits the small number of customers). There’s also a quite large (albeit poorly-documented and crash-prone) SDK, which can handle a wide variety of needs and has gained functionality over time. But if you want to add new functionality that can’t be implemented using the SDK? (That includes just about anything related to the decompiler.) You’re at the mercy of Ilfak’s priority list. Well, mere mortals are, at least; the NSA has enough money that it might be able to set up some sort of special contract with Hex-Rays, but I suspect that’s easier said than done.

From that perspective, the ideal is what the NSA ended up with, a codebase whose development is fully in-house. Notably, though, second best would be to just have access to the source code of an existing tool, so you can at least make your own patches if necessary, even if you’re not in control of the codebase’s overall direction. Did the NSA ever seek that in IDA’s case, and could they have obtained it if they did? I don’t know the answer to either question… but source access certainly isn’t offered to typical customers. In general I’m surprised that “paid + source access for customers” isn’t a more popular model of software development.

From my perspective, which admittedly is very different from the NSA’s, I was never very interested in low-cost IDA competitors like Hopper or Binary Ninja, but I’m very excited about Ghidra. Why? Partly because it’s a more full-fledged competitor in terms of feature set, I admit – but the competitors I mentioned are bound to narrow the gap over time. Partly because of cost: I myself am at a point where I could justify the $600/y for Binary Ninja’s commercial edition, or even the order-of-magnitude-higher cost of the Hex-Rays decompilers, without wincing too badly. but I believe that reverse engineering should be accessible to beginners and amateurs. (Piracy is a partial solution, including in IDA’s case, but some people don’t like to do that.).

But the main reason I’m excited about Ghidra is that I have the source code. As a concrete example, I’ve spent a good amount of time reverse engineering software for the Nintendo Wii and Wii U. Both consoles have a main CPU based on the PowerPC architecture, but with a custom ISA extension for an extremely barebones version of SIMD. Well, both Hex-Rays and Ghidra support PowerPC decompilation (although that’s a relatively recent development), but unsurprisingly, neither of them have full support for that ISA extension. IDA actually does have built-in support for disassembling it, but AFAIK not for decompiling; Ghidra doesn’t seem to support it at all (but I may just need to configure it properly). What can I do? Well, in practice, nothing, because I don’t care about the Wii U anymore. But if Ghidra had been released a few years ago, I’m pretty sure I would have gone and implemented support for the extension myself; I haven’t looked at Ghidra’s source yet, but since it already supports other vector ISAs, it probably wouldn’t be that hard. With IDA, I was stuck. The SDK supports adding custom instruction sets for disassembly, but the decompiler SDK is so limited that supporting them there is either impossible or at least would be a huge hack.

And that’s just one of many customizations I‘ve wanted over the years. Some of them are probably easier said than implemented, but at least now I can put that to the test!

It's worth to note NSA has quite specific needs.

If you need some very specific small functionality by next monday for $1million, then that development can be arranged.

However, NSA could also reasonably want that their targets (who have extensive capabilities of their own, likely including insiders in various companies) can't find out that NSA needs that very specific small functionality by next monday. They may not care if that functionality becomes available to the general public sometime in the next year (preferably in a more general manner that covers the reasonable/common usecases instead of just the one NSA had at the moment), but leaking the information that you needed (and thus probably used) X at time Y often isn't acceptable.

At the very least, they'd need every single employee who works on that feature or can see that this feature was developed to be vetted by them i.e. to have a security clearance; and that also requires the company to have the appropriate processes and infrastructure for separate, secret codebases and builds that can't be seen by uncleared people. And that is something many companies can't or don't want to provide.

I'm also in the situation where I'd like to try to reverse binaries for the custom PowerPC chips in Gamecube/Wii/Wii U. I'm wondering if it might be easier to rewrite the assembly such that the SIMD instructions are rewritten in terms of standard instructions, and then just use that. I hope it's possible.

> In general I’m surprised that “paid + source access for customers” isn’t a more popular model of software development.

Microsoft has a "shared source" agreement with governments.

Alternative take. Want to secure national infrastructure? Release the tools to do it for free.

Viva la open-source revolution

May be the NSA probably had this before IDA came about. It’s the NSA after all. They are now releasing it because it’s not a competitive edge anymore and can be used as a recruiting tool.

I don't think that is possible. I used early versions of IDA Pro on MS-DOS in 1996... and it had the core analysis and interactive disasm mode then. Ghidra seems to be based on this very concept, all the way down to the "XREF" labels. Even the sub-panels in the UI look the same: Imports, Exports, Symbols...

Is it possible that maybe this pre-dates IDA Pro?

Ever tried to use IDA Pro on the same project with a co-worker...at the same time?

I believe the included decompiler predates the one that goes with IDA Pro, so that could be a motivation. IDA Pro itself is really really old, having once been a 16-bit DOS shareware program, which explains why IDA Pro doesn't use the GUI shortcuts that were standardized much later.

IDA Pro still doesn't support collaboration, although there are very broken hacks that attempt to add it. Binary Ninja supports collaboration if you buy the enterprise edition.

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