Reverse engineering a Gameboy ROM with radare2

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 Prologue

A month ago in Barcelona I was attending to r2con for the first time. This is the official congress of the radare2 community where everyone can learn more about radare2 framework and dive deep into different aspects of reverse engineering, malware analysis, fuzzing, exploiting and more. It also the place where all of us, the contributors and developers of radare2, can meet, discuss and argue about every other line of code in the framework.

This was the second congress of radare2, after the success of the first congress in last year which was also a celebration for radare’s 10 years old birthday. This year the conference was bigger, fancier and probably organized much better. r2con was four days long, starting at September 6 and lasted until September 9. The first two days were dedicated to training and took place at Universitat de Barcelona. The other two days were talks days and took place at the MediaPro.

Crackmes Competition

During r2con this year there was a Crackmes competition where all the attendees were given with the same 5 challenges and had to publish a writeups to all the challenges they had solved. The scoring was based on the quality of the writeups along with the quantity of solved challenges.

I won the competition and got myself some cool swag!

  • Flag of radare2
  • POC | GTFO book
  • Orange PI with 3D printed case of r2con logo
  • Radare2 stickers
  • A beer 🍺

 

I thought of sharing some of my writeups with you, so you can taste a bit from what we had in the competition and so that others, coming from google, twitter and such, could learn how to use radare2 for solving different challenges. This article is aimed to those of you who are familiar with radare2. If you are not, I suggest you to start from part 1 of my series “A Journy Into Radare2”.

Getting radare2

Installation

Radare2’s development is pretty quick – the project evolves every day, therefore it’s recommended to use the current git version over the stable one. Sometimes the stable version is less stable than the current git version!

If you don’t want to install the git version or you want the binaries for another machine (Windows, OS X, iOS, etc) check out the download page at the radare2 website.

Updating

As I said before, it is highly recommended to always use the newest version of r2 from the git repository. All you need to do to update your r2 version from the git is to execute:

And you’ll have the latest version from git. I usually update my version of radare2 in the morning, while watching cat videos.

 

Playing with Gameboy ROM

This post will describe how I solved simple.gb, a Gameboy ROM challenge written by @condret. It was actually my first time reversing a Gameboy ROM — and it was awesome!

First thing I did was to open the binary in radare2 and check for its architecture and format:

$ r2 simple.gb
— For a full list of commands see strings /dev/urandom
[0x00000100]> i~format
format   ningb
[0x00000100]> i~machine
machine  Gameboy

The i command gives us information about the binary. Check i? for more commands.

Tilde (~) is r2’s internal grep.

Surprise, surprise, it is a Gameboy ROM — dah. After reading a bit about its instruction set we should go to the mission. 

The obvious thing to do is open the ROM in an Gameboy emulator. I downloaded the good old emulator I used back in the days when I played Pokemon: VisualBoy Advance.

Let’s open the ROM in our emulator and see what we have:


Woops, wrong file. Bad habits… Let’s try again:

Cool! It’s a simple game where, by using the arrow keys, you increase/decrease 5 digits. We ‘simply’ need to find the correct password.

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A journey into Radare 2 – Part 1: Simple crackme

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Prologue

I was playing a lot with radare2 in the past year, ever since I began participating in CTFs and got deeper into RE and exploitation challenges. I found radare2 very helpful with many CTFs tasks and my solutions had shortened significantly. It’s sometimes also my go-to tool for malware analysis tasks such as configuration retrievals. Sadly, I believe that only few people are familiar with radare2. It might be because they’re afraid to break out of their comfort zone (IDA Pro, OllyDBG, gdb) or they have simply not heard of it. Either way, I honestly believe that you must include radare2 in your toolbox.

Because I got really enthusiastic about the project and I want more and more researchers to be familiar with it, use it and hopefully contribute to the project, I decided to create a series of articles and use-cases of r2. Since these articles aim to teach you the basics of radare2, its features and capabilities, I’ll explain much more than you actually need to know in order to solve each task.

Welcome to IDA 10.0. (see radare2/doc/fortunes.fun for more fortunes)

radare2

radare2 is an open source framework for reverse engineering and binaries analysis which implements a rich command line interface for disassembling, analyzing data, patching binaries, comparing data, searching, replacing, visualizing and more. It has great scripting capabilities, it runs on all major platforms (GNU/Linux, .Windows *BSD, iOS, OSX, Solaris…) and it supports tons of architectures and file formats. But maybe above all of its features stands the ideology – radare2 is absolutely libre.

This framework is composed of a set of utilities that can be used either together from r2 shell or independently – We’ll get familiar with tools such as rahash2, rabin2, ragg2. Together they create one of the most powerful tools in the field of static and dynamic analysis, hex editing and exploitation (I’ll dive deeper in the following articles).

It is important to note that r2’s learning curve is pretty steep – although r2 have a GUI and a WebUI, none of them is quite enough to compete with the GUI or the convenience of IDA, IMHO. The CLI, however, including its Visual Mode, is still the core of radare2 and where its power lays. Because of its complexity I’ll try to make things as clear and simple as I can.

This is more or less how r2 learning curve works.

This is more or less how r2 learning curve works.

Before we begin you can check out the “Unfair comparison between r2, IDA Pro and Hopper” to get an idea of what we’re dealing with.

 

Getting radare2

Installation

Radare2’s development is pretty quick – the project evolves every day, therefore it’s recommended to use the current git version over the stable one. Sometimes the stable version is less stable than the current git version!

If you don’t want to install the git version or you want the binaries for another machine (Windows, OS X, iOS, etc) check out the download page at the radare2 website.

Updating

As I said before, it is highly recommended to always use the newest version of r2 from the git repository. All you need to do to update your r2 version from the git is to execute:

And you’ll have the latest version from git. I usually update my version of radare2 in the morning, while watching cat videos.

Uninstalling

I Can’t think of a reason for you to uninstall radare2 so early in the article but if you do have you can simply execute:

Getting Started

You can download the first challenge here.

Now that radare2 is installed on your system and you have downloaded the binary, we are ready to start exploring the basic usage of radare2. I’ll work on a Remnux machine but most of the commands and explanations (if not all of them) would be the same for Windows machines and others.

Command Line Arguments

As most command line utilities, the best approach to reveal the list of the possible arguments is to execute the program with the -h flag.

I won’t paste here the full output, Instead I’ll point out those which I usually use in my daily work:

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