Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2021-05-07, 12:56 authored by Christopher M WrightChristopher M Wright

System emulation and firmware re-hosting are popular techniques to answer various security and performance related questions, such as, does a firmware contain security vulnerabilities or meet timing requirements when run on a specific hardware platform. While this motivation for emulation and binary analysis has previously been explored and reported, starting to work or research in the field is difficult. Further, doing the actual firmware re-hosting for various Instruction Set Architectures(ISA) is usually time consuming and difficult, and at times may seem impossible. To this end, I provide a comprehensive guide for the practitioner or system emulation researcher, along with various tools that work for a large number of ISAs, reducing the challenges of getting re-hosting working or porting previous work for new architectures. I layout the common challenges faced during firmware re-hosting and explain successive steps and survey common tools to overcome these challenges. I provide emulation classification techniques on five different axes, including emulator methods, system type, fidelity, emulator purpose, and control. These classifications and comparison criteria enable the practitioner to determine the appropriate tool for emulation. I use these classifications to categorize popular works in the field and present 28 common challenges faced when creating, emulating and analyzing a system, from obtaining firmware to post emulation analysis. I then introduce a HALucinator [1 ]/QEMU [2 ] tracer tool named HQTracer, a binary function matching tool PMatch, and GHALdra, an emulator that works for more than 30 different ISAs and enables High Level Emulation.





Sandia National Laboratories (SAND2021-4148 T)


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Electrical and Computer Engineering

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Milind Kulkarni

Additional Committee Member 2

Samuel Midkiff

Additional Committee Member 3

Vijay Raghunathan

Additional Committee Member 4

Abraham Clements