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Black Hat Q&A: Understanding NSA's Quest to Open Source Ghidra
National Security Agency researcher Brian Knighton previews 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 appearance.
Alex: Can you tell us a bit about who you are and your recent work?
Brian: 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 3-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.