Binary Literacy: A Systematic Introduction to Static Reverse Engineering
Rolf Rolles


11-14 February 2019




4.000,- €
(Early Bird 3.500,- €)


This four-day course contains a thorough introduction to static reverse engineering, the act of deriving meaning from assembly language code simply by reading it. The course has been heavily classroom-tested, having been taught over two dozen times.

We target programs written in unobfuscated C and/or x86 assembly language. The target audience is those who primarily employ dynamic reverse engineering, and/or those who are more comfortable with Hex-Rays than an ordinary disassembly listing. Students need not be expert C programmers, but should be comfortable with the basics of C, most importantly pointers. Similarly, students need not be experts at x86 assembly language, but should be somewhat familiar with it.

A sample of the course material can be found at the top of the course website:

Course Description

As the title implies, this course is about analyzing software systems without executing them, as though one was reading a novel. Starting from the basic letters (assembly language instructions), words (basic blocks) are constructed; from there sentences (functions) may be put together. These are organized into paragraphs (modules) which, taken together, form the bulk of chapters (executable objects). Finally, a collection of chapters makes up a book (software system).

This class splits reverse engineering into two halves: understanding compiled assembly language in terms of the original, high-level C; and comprehending assembly and C code with no comments or debug information.

After a brief refresher in x86 assembly language, the course begins by systematically examining the process of compiling C code into assembly language, and how to manually decompile assembly language back into C. Prior experience teaching this course shows that this gives students a good grounding in reading assembly language. In particular, we examine the following topics, each with relevant exercises from real-world binaries:


    • How concepts regarding C functions are implemented in compiled assembly language
    • How types in C are manifested in assembly language, which does not have a type system
    • How C expressions and statements are compiled, and manual decompilation thereof
    • Conditionals (and compound conditionals) in C, their compilation into assembly, and their decompilation
    • Control-flow statements in C and their compilation and decompilation
    • Structures in C, and the challenges they pose reverse engineering


The first half also covers:

    • Linkers and loaders
    • Compiler optimizations, an advanced topic, in great depth
    • Time permitting, we may also discuss the basics of C++ reverse engineering (calling conventions, allocation scopes, constructors and destructors, and polymorphism)


Understanding the structure of a sentence is not enough to understand its actual meaning, or that understanding one sentence is not enough to understand a paragraph, etc. Decompilation is therefore not enough: the human analyst needs techniques to comprehend the code that he or she is seeing. Thus, the second half proceeds with techniques to derive semantic meaning from assembly code.

In particular, the class discusses a systematic and complete process for binary comprehension, conveyed through lectures, exercises, and hands-on sessions reverse engineering malware in IDA. (It should be stressed that this is not a course on malware specifically: this is a course on reverse engineering in general, and its techniques are applicable to all sub-fields thereof -- malware, security, interoperability.)

  • Class Requirements
    • A laptop with IDA Pro installed on it (any recent version will do, on any of its supported operating systems)
    • Basic knowledge of C programming, especially pointers
    • Exposure to x86 assembly language is assumed (it will be briefly reviewed, but not treated in depth)
    • A firm grasp of the English language


Rolf Rolles has 21 years of experience reverse engineering, spanning the areas of malware analysis, vulnerability analysis, exploit development, reverse engineering tool development, and professional education. He specializes in static reverse engineering, deobfuscation, and static program analysis. Rolf created and moderates the Reverse Engineering Reddit. These days, he runs Möbius Strip Reverse Engineering, which offers training classes. He obtained his B.A. in pure mathematics from New College of Florida in 2005.

Rolf Rolles

Rolf Rolles

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