[Craig Heffner] recently found himself on the case of the Linksys WRT120N router. The router’s firmware was using some previously unknown form of obfuscation, causing headaches for those wishing to run their own software. The WRT120N, being a 2009 model is somewhat out of date at this point. That didn’t stop [Craig] though, as he dove into reverse engineering the firmware obfuscation.
[Craig] started by running the firmware through his own Binwalk tool. Binwalk analyzes firmware files for known data, be it embedded filesystems, raw compression streams, or binary files. In this case Binwalk only found a small LZMA block which contained the compressed html files for the router’s web interface. The rest of the firmware was unknown data with a high level of entropy. [Craig] couldn’t do anything more with the firmware update file alone, so he ordered a router to attack from the hardware side. Inside he found typical low-end router components: An Atheros AR7240 SoC, a 2MB SPI flash chip, 32MB of RAM. He also found serial and JTAG headers.
[Craig] connected to the serial port and was greeted with a boot menu. This allowed him to run some commands on the router, but didn’t give him any way to dump memory. He had to go straight to the source – connecting directly to the router’s SPI flash with an FTDI C232HM cable. Using libmpsse, another of his open source tools, [Craig] was able to dump the flash. He now had the un-obfuscated bootloader code, albeit in MIPS assembly. [Craig] was then able to go after the bootloader with IDA Pro. After a bit of work, the obfuscation system was exposed. The system was simple – several byte and nibble swaps had been performed between the LZMA header block and the first few bytes of data. [Craig] finished out this part of his hack by writing a simple C program to de-obfuscate and decompress the firmware.