Redirection Revisited -- Achieving Redirection Through API Spoofing

by Victor Porguen
12 December 1998

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Target: Anything Protected by VBOX 4.10 Trial or Commercial such as

Tools: SoftIce, Hexeditor

Well, a very interesting development... more and more reversers are 'specialising' on particular themes... and a very fascinating theme indeed is what Victor Porguen is following: Of course there are many tricks and approaches that you can apply to our art and have been taken from the incredible findings, experiences and tricks devised by the viri makers...
See? There's nothing under our sun that cannot be used to gain knowledge...

In Reverser's prologue to my previous essay, "Defeating File Integrity Checks Through Redirection," he observed that "viral research applied to reversing has quite a lot to offer...." This article will describe traditional viral coding techniques as applied to time limited software. Specifically, I will detail a simple, straightforward concept of code redirection and apply it to the VBOX 4.10 protection system by Preview Systems ( The resulting patch will allow the full use of any program protected by either the trial version or commercial version of the product. However, as an initial caveat I will point out that "all "VBOXx410.DLL" files are not identical; indeed, they are not even compatible between themselves (which would most assuredly be an irritant if you had actually purchased a VBOX protected application that relied on a version that was subsequently replaced during a "trial" session of another product). While the specific coding described herein may be readily applied to any VBOXx410.DLL "set of files," and indeed I have tested it successfully on every set I could find, it is important that the reader realize that there are differences between the sets themselves.

As a matter of professional courtesy, I will reference the reader to the recent essay by Marigold, whom I regard with respect, entitled "VBOX The Hellraiser or the Paper Tiger" (for a fleeting moment I was tempted to subtitle this essay "Hellraiser II, Pinhead's Crack" but better judgment overcame me). The reader should note the references contained in that article to the "debugger check" used by VBOX in light of the fact that the patching technique that I outline will leave that code untouched, thus VBOX protected programs will continue not to function if a debugger is in the background. The defeating of that routine is not difficult, however, but I shall leave that pursuit to the reader.

The Goals - I began this essay with three goals in mind: 1) Devise a simple crack that would thoroughly defeat all VBOXx410 protected applications; 2) Do so with a minimum amount of byte changes, say no more than 250; and 3) In view of the integrity checks that are rampant in VBOX , make no code changes to the program. This last goal may sound impossible (perhaps it is if one takes a truly strict interpretation of the meaning), but the goal was indeed achieved through the use of API redirection (and the overwriting of some unused text).

What Viruses Can Teach Us - When we initially began writing computer viruses, and using "stealth" techniques to hide their presence, we did so by replacing the address for the DOS interrupt 21 and BIOS Int 13 handlers in the interrupt vector table. Calls by integrity checking programs to open and read files or sectors could then be intercepted and the viral code replaced with the original code. However, simply hooking the address in the IVT was of no help if the integrity checking routine had already hooked the interrupt and thus was sitting below us (FluShot was an example, as where the myriad of "write protect your hard drive" programs that hooked interrupt 13). Our first attempt to overcome this obstacle was the 4096 virus in which we placed a FAR JMP to the viral code at the beginning of the interrupt 21 handler which would then replace the five byte "cut-out" allowing us full access to the DOS routines. The trap flag was then set placing the CPU in single-step mode. A few instructions into a DOS call our interrupt 1 routine would then reinsert the five byte "cut-out" thus always maintaining control over the DOS operating system. Detecting the "lowest point" of either the DOS or BIOS interrupt vector chain was easily accomplished by setting the trap flag and sending an innocuous call through the chain and observing the address on the stack during the interrupt 1 routine.

Why This is Important - The stealth routine implemented by the 4096 virus was quite successful (so much so, in fact, that it "escaped" into the wild before we had a chance to fully complete it ... but that is another story). If you can take control of the operating system, there are virtually no restraints on your abilities. By implementing the FAR JMP of the 4096 virus we actually modified the DOS operating system. We can do the same with a time limited, heavily protected, WIN95 application (well, almost - we will not directly modify the operating system because of ring transition problems, however we will do just as well). By taking hold of the appropriate APIs we can dole out the required return values to the application as well as "feed" the correct parameters to both the application and operating system itself - this is what I mean by "Achieving Redirection Through API Spoofing."

VBOXx410: How to Crack It, Step by Step - The first step in cracking any time limited program is to achieve a successful execution of the application, while under a debugger, after the time limitation has expired; only then may the "theoretical" crack be written to the executable. The VBOX protection system, however, uses a routine to detect the presence of a debugger and Marigold describes it in his essay. While it may be time consuming to locate such a routine with software tools only, executing the application simultaneously on identical machines, one equipped with SoftIce and the other with a hardware based in-circuit emulator, readily highlights the discrepancy in the return value of EAX from the CALL 7019240 at offset 7006F5A. It is understandable that the vast majority of readers do not have access to hardware based debugging tools and it is sufficient to merely keep in mind that a BMPB 7006F5A X followed by an execution of the CALL and manually setting EAX to zero while under SoftIce will suffice to allow the program to execute normally under a debugger. The reader is cautioned that, because of the VBOX code integrity routines, only debug register breakpoints should be used (except, of course, within our stealth routine) as opposed to traditional CC breakpoints.

Stepping through the code we come to the DialogBoxParamA call at offset 70025C3 in the "Trial" version or offset 8002912 in the "Commercial" version, which displays the VBOX Time Limitation screen. The return value for "Try" is zero, the value for "Quit" is one. Again, clicking the "Quit" button and then manually setting the value of EAX to zero while under SoftIce will allow the program to continue. The final procedure is to step through the code until we reach the RaiseException call at offset 7035629 which displays an expiration message and exits. If we simply "step over" this call, and adjust the stack accordingly, the program executes flawlessly. Thus, the crack to the entire VBOX protection system, whether it be the Trial or Commercial edition is to have the DialogBoxParamA call return zero and to have the RaiseException call return without executing. Nothing could be more simple; the challenging part, however, is implementing the crack in view of the varied and diverse protection routines that VBOX implements (i.e., packing, memory image checks, encryption, etc.)

Obviously we can not simply NOP out the code, since it is both packed and repeatedly checked. However, does VBOX require the CALLs be executed at all? We know the answer is "No" for the RaiseException call, but does the DialogBoxParamA call have to be executed or does VBOX merely check the EAX register upon the return? Again we step through the code with SoftIce (remembering to deal with the debug check routine) and break on DialogBoxParamA. Instead of executing the CALL, we manually set the EIP register to the offset of the instruction following the CALL and adjust the stack accordingly. We then set EAX to zero and allow execution of the program ... and the program fails. We now know that the DialogBoxParamA call must be executed to satisfy the VBOX protection system.

The next step is to determine where our "working room" will reside. Looking through the VBOXP410.DLL we see it was compiled with the Microsoft Visual C++ Run Time Library, which politely includes a variety of wasted and useless code and text. An area that immediately jumps out as a possible working area is the vast list of geographic sites beginning around file offset 206D4 or so. Starting with the beloved homestead of Turkey (at file offset 20718) we simply overwrite two or three hundred bytes of text with zeroes and execute the program - and it runs perfectly. VBOX is not checking this portion of the file either in memory or on disk; thus we now have plenty of room in which to insert our "stealth cracking routine." Once again, we fire up SoftIce and break (remembering to use debug registers only because of the integrity checking routines) on the entry point to VBOXP410.DLL, which is at memory offset 5001F99 . This corresponds to file offset 1399 and is where we will insert our "cut-out" to the stealth routine. But before we modify the executable on disk we must first determine whether VBOX is checking the integrity of the replaced code from the disk file itself (we are not concerned whether VBOX checks the code in memory because we will have restored it). However, since our stealth routine will be changing memory, we must modify the PE header so that the .text and .rdata sections are writable. Currently, the characteristics for .text are Code, Executable, Readable (60000020) while .rdata has the characteristics of Initialized Data, Readable (40000040). Both of these double word entries must be modified so that the sections are writable (otherwise our stealth modifications will create page faults). The determination of whether VBOX is checking the integrity of these code areas from the disk file is easily made: Simply make the header changes on the disk file and overwrite the "cut-out" with five NOPs, then we set a BMPB 5001F99 X and execute the application. When SoftIce breaks on the loading of VBOXP410.DLL at 5001F99 we manually insert the original code and allow the application to continue loading and executing normally (still remembering the debug detection code). The program executes normally and thus confirms that VBOX is not checking the integrity of either the header or the location of the cut-out code from the disk file - it is essentially all "down hill" from here.

For ease of understanding, the following is the cut-out and stealth routines in "source code" format. Appendix A has the SoftIce dump of the actual byte values that correspond to the memory offsets and byte values of the code. This is the crack that defeats VBOX 4.10:

   jmp Restore_Original_Code

|--- VBOXP410.DLL Code Is Here

   mov dword ptr [Entry_Point],020496B8
   mov byte ptr [Entry_Point+4],05
   mov eax,[KERNEL32!EnterCriticalSection]
   mov dword ptr [KERNEL32!EnterCriticalSection],New_Critical_Handler
   mov [Critical_Section_Hdlr],eax
   jmp Entry_Point

   dw 0
   dd 0
   dd 0
   dd 0
   dd 0

   inc word ptr [Counter]
   cmp word ptr [Counter],4000
   jz Hook_DialogBox_for_VBOXC410
   cmp word ptr [Counter],2EOO
   jnz True_Critical_Handler
   mov dword ptr [KERNEL32!RaiseException],New_Exception_Handler
   mov eax,[USER32!DialogBoxParamA]
   mov [DLG_Hdlr],eax
   mov dword ptr [USER32!DialogBoxParamA],New_Dialog_Handler
   jmp True_Critical_Handler
   mov eax,[USER32!DialogBoxParamA]
   mov [DLG_Hdlr],eax
   mov dword ptr [USER32!DialogBoxParamA],New_Dialog_Handler
   jmp [Critical_Section_Hdlr]

   ret 10

   mov eax,[esp+1O]
   mov [DLG_Procedure_Hdlr],eax
   mov dword ptr [esp+1O],New_DLG_Procedure_Handler
   pop dword ptr [Return_From_DLG]
   push Back_From_DLG_Call
   jmp [Dlg_Hdlr]
   xor eax,eax
   mov word ptr [New_Critical_Handler],4feb
   jmp [Return_From_DLG]
   cmp dword ptr [esp+08],18
   jnz True_DLG_Procedure_Handler
   mov dword ptr [esp+08],111
   mov dword ptr [esp+OC],495
   jmp [DLG_Procedure_Hdlr]
An Explanation of the Code - The entry point is the location of the five byte "cut-out" code and, specifically, is located at file offset 1399 and memory offset 5001F99. Upon loading of the DLL, this cut-out code is immediately restored by the RestoreOriginalCode routine, thus all of VBOX's code is now identical to the unpatched version. We have achieved Goal #3 and consequently all of VBOX's memory checking routines will confirm the integrity of that code. The RestoreOriginalCode routine also serves another purpose: It "hooks" the EnterCriticalSection API that VBOX must call to allow for mutual exclusion synchronization and replaces it with New_Critical_Handler.

The New_Critical_Handler routine is responsible for waiting for the VBOXT410.DLL (and VBOXC410.DLL, for the commercial version) to unpack and then it will hook the RaiseException and DialogBoxParamA APIs, which are the focal point of our crack. The RaiseException API is vectored to the instruction RET 10, which of course does nothing more than RETURN with a bit of stack cleanup. DialogBoxParamA is vectored to New_Dialog_Handler, which is a bit more clever.

The New_Dialog_Handler routine accomplishes two tasks: 1) It replaces the RETURN value on the stack with the offset of Back_From_DLG_Call; and 2) It hooks the DialogBoxProcedure that processes messages sent to the dialog box with New_DLG_Procedure_Handler. New_DLG_Procedure_Handler watches for the ShowWindow message to be sent by the operating system to the dialog box and replaces it with the message and parameter necessary to close the box. Control is then returned to Back_From_DLG_Call which places a zero in the EAX register and then "closes the door" on the New_Critical_Handler by placing a JMP True_Critical_Handler instruction (EB 4F) as the first instruction of that routine. We then JMP back to the VBOX code that followed the CALL DialogBoxParamaA that had transferred control to our New_Dialog_Handler. Shortly thereafter VBOX will attempt to display the "expired" message by way of the RaiseException API. Of course, we have hooked that code with New_Exception_Handler and will courteously return to VBOX without executing the CALL. The program will then execute normally.

A Summary, Please - Here is the logic flow: 1) VBOXP410.DLL loads; the cut-out code jumps to the stealth routine that replaces the cut-out code, hooks EnterCriticalSection, and chains back to VBOXP410.DLL. 2) The New_Critical_Handler waits for VBOX to "drop its pants" and then hooks the RaiseException and DialogBoxParamA. 3) The New_Dialog_Handler then "spoofs" the ending of the dialog box, and the return values to the application, by feeding the VBOX dialog box procedure the values it would like to see, at exactly the right time that it would like to see them, and by intercepting the return. 4) The RaiseException call by VBOX is then intercepted and RETURNs without doing anything.

A Request To The Reader - Of course, this essay is not intended to encourage the theft of software programs, or any intellectual property for that matter. Instead it is designed to foster a better understanding of reverse engineering techniques and software protection systems. I hope you enjoyed reading this essay, and perhaps learned something as well. If you did, I would appreciate it if you would drop me an email letting me know your thoughts. I am Victor Porguen (yes, that's my real name) and my address is - I would very much enjoy hearing from you.

	Appendix A - Byte Values and Memory Offsets

;(The Cut-Out Code) This corresponds to File offset 1399 in
5001F99  E97AF90100           JMP 05021918

|--- VBOXP410.DLL Code Is Here

;(The Stealth Routine) This corresponds to File offset 20718 in
5021918  C705991F0005B8960402 MOV DWORD PTR [05001F99],020496B8
5021922  C6059D1F000505       MOV BYTE PTR [05001F9D],05
5021929  A1AOB50205           MOV EAX,[0502B5A0]
502192E  C705AOB5020554190205 MOV DWORD PTR [0502B5A0],05021954
5021938  A344190205           MOV [05021944],EAX
502193D  E95706FEFF           JMP 05001F99
5021942  0000              
5021944  0000      
5021946  0000   
5021948  0000   
502194A  0000   
502194C  0000   
502194E  0000   
5021950  0000   
5021952  0000   
5021954  66FF0542190205       INC WORD PTR [05021942]
502195B  66813D421902050040   CMP WORD PTR [05021942],4000
5021964  742B                 JZ  05021991
5021966  66813D42190205002E   CMP WORD PTR [05021942],2EOO
502196F  7534                 JNZ 050219A5
5021971  C70590890507AB190205 MOV DWORD PTR [07058990],050219AB
502197B  A1348A0507           MOV EAX,[07058A34]
5021980  A348190205           MOV [05021948],EAX
5021985  C705348A0507AE190205 MOV DWORD PTR [07058A34],050219AE
502198F  EB14                 JMP 050219A5
5021991  A1E8760808           MOV EAX,[080876E8]
5021996  A348190205           MOV [05021948],EAX
502199B  C705E8760808AE190205 MOV DWORD PTR [080876E8],050219AE
50219A5  FF2544190205         JMP [05021944]
50219AB  C21000               RET 0010
50219AE  8B442410             MOV EAX,[ESP+10]
50219B2  A34C190205           MOV [0502194C],EAX
50219B7  C7442410E1190205     MOV DWORD PTR [ESP+10],050219E1
50219BF  8F0550190205         POP DWORD PTR [05021950]
50219C5  68D0190205           PUSH 050219DO
50219CA  FF2548190205         JMP [05021948]
50219DO  33CO                 XOR EAX,EAX
50219D2  66C70554190205EB4F   MOV WORD PTR [05021954],4FEB
50219DB  FF2550190205         JMP [05021950]
50219E1  837C240818           CMP DWORD PTR [ESP+08],18
50219E6  7510                 JNZ 050219F8
50219E8  C744240811010000     MOV DWORD PTR [ESP+08],00000111
50219FO  C744240C95040000     MOV DWORD PTR [ESP+OC],00000495
50219F8  FF254C190205         JMP [0502194C]

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