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Threat Intelligence

7/3/2019
09:00 AM
Alex Wawro, Special to Dark Reading
Alex Wawro, Special to Dark Reading
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Black Hat Q&A: Understanding NSA’s Quest to Open Source Ghidra

National Security Agency researcher Brian Knighton offers a preview of his August Black Hat USA talk on the evolution of Ghidra.

The National Security Agency (NSA) made a splash in the cybersecurity industry this year when it released its Ghidra software reverse-engineering framework as open source for the community to use. Now that the tool is in the public’s hands, NSA senior researcher Brian Knighton and his colleague Chris Delikat, will be presenting a talk at Black Hat USA about how Ghidra was designed, and the process of rendering it open source.

We recently sat down with Brian to learn more about Ghidra and his Black Hat Briefing.

Alex Wawro: Can you tell us a bit about who you are and your recent work?

Brian Knighton: I’ve worked at NSA for about 20 years. The past 18 years I’ve been a member of the GHIDRA team, developing various aspects of the framework and features. My focus these days is applied research, utilizing Ghidra for cybersecurity and vulnerability research of Internet of Things (IoT) devices from smartphones to autonomous and connected vehicles.

My educational background includes a BS in Computer Science from University of Maryland and an MS in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University.

Alex: What are you planning to speak about at Black Hat, and why now?

Brian: I’m going to use this opportunity to discuss some implementation details, design decisions, and the evolution of Ghidra from version 1.0 to version 9.0, and of course open source.

Alex: Why do you feel this is important? What are you hoping Black Hat attendees will learn from your presentation?

Brian: It’s important to describe how Ghidra came about, why certain things are implemented the way they are, why we selected Java, and why it’s called a framework. In the end, I hope it will allow the community to better utilize Ghidra for cyber-related research.

Alex: What's been the most interesting side effect, so far, of taking Ghidra from internal tool to open-source offering?

Brian: The entire team is amazed and humbled by the overwhelming interest and acceptance of Ghidra. I knew it would be well received, but I’m surprised by how much. I feel honored to have been a part of it. For me personally, two specific things jump out.

The first was being on the floor at RSA and experiencing the energy, the excitement, and the positive interactions with so many folks during the three-day conference. The second was delivering a Ghidra lecture at a local university. One of the many reasons for releasing Ghidra was to get it into the hands of students and ultimately help advance cyber proficiency, and now I was actually doing it first-hand.

For more information about this Briefing check out the Black Hat USA Briefings page, which is regularly updated with new content as we get closer to the event! Black Hat USA returns to the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas August 3-8, 2019. For more information on what’s happening at the event and how to register, check out the Black Hat website.

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tdsan
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tdsan,
User Rank: Ninja
7/5/2019 | 9:20:01 PM
It sounds like the walls are finally dropping and we are working together.
Initially, when NSA finds an exploit on the Internet or from their research, they keep that exploit to themselves and did not report it because they found something that could used as a cyber-weapon (reverse-engineering).

This is good that they are finally opening up their lines of communication to help address this cyber-security delimna (we are all on the same team). I will keep my fingers crossed and hope they do the right thing, but they have a track record of violating the public's trust - ThinThread, Trailblazer, Prism, Immersion, XKeyScore, Boundless Informant, Fascia, Dishfire, etc.
Initially referred to as EternalBluescreen because of the tendency to crash computers, EternalBlue was once a powerful weapon for counterterrorism and gathering intelligence for the NSA. Anonymous reports from former NSA operators suggest that analysts spent nearly a year working to find flaws in Microsoft's software and write code to target it, but never really considered warning Microsoft about it. However, the leak of EternalBlue to cybercriminals forced the NSA to admit it had known about the vulnerabilities. - Reference NSA involved in CyberAttacks

This was written in March 2019, another reason why the groups should be skeptical of NSA's history, as stated before, remain cautiously optimistic

Todd
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