Syntia: Synthesizing the Semantics of Obfuscated Code


Tim Blazytko, Moritz Contag, Cornelius Aschermann, and Thorsten Holz, Ruhr-Universität Bochum


Current state-of-the-art deobfuscation approaches operate on instruction traces and use a mixed approach of symbolic execution and taint analysis; two techniques that require precise analysis of the underlying code. However, recent research has shown that both techniques can easily be thwarted by specific transformations.

As program synthesis can synthesize code of arbitrary code complexity, it is only limited by the complexity of the underlying code’s semantic. In our work, we propose a generic approach for automated code deobfuscation using program synthesis guided by Monte Carlo Tree Search (MCTS). Specifically, our prototype implementation, Syntia, simplifies execution traces by dividing them into distinct trace windows whose semantics are then “learned” by the synthesis. To demonstrate the practical feasibility of our approach, we automatically learn the semantics of 489 out of 500 random expressions obfuscated via Mixed Boolean-Arithmetic. Furthermore, we synthesize the semantics of arithmetic instruction handlers in two state-of-the art commercial virtualization-based obfuscators (VMProtect and Themida) with a success rate of more than 94%. Finally, to substantiate our claim that the approach is generic and applicable to different use cases, we show that Syntia can also automatically learn the semantics of ROP gadgets.

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@inproceedings {203640,
author = {Tim Blazytko and Moritz Contag and Cornelius Aschermann and Thorsten Holz},
title = {Syntia: Synthesizing the Semantics of Obfuscated Code},
booktitle = {26th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 17)},
year = {2017},
isbn = {978-1-931971-40-9},
address = {Vancouver, BC},
pages = {643--659},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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