flare-emu: use and flexible interface for scripting emulation tasks


flare-emu marries IDA Pro’s binary analysis capabilities with Unicorn’s emulation framework to provide the user with an easy to use and flexible interface for scripting emulation tasks. It is designed to handle all the housekeeping of setting up a flexible and robust emulator for its supported architectures so that you can focus on solving your code analysis problems. Currently, flare-emu supports x86, x86_64, ARM, and ARM64 architectures.


It currently provides four different interfaces to serve your emulation needs, along with a slew of related helper and utility functions.

  1. emulateRange – This API is used to emulate a range of instructions, or a function, within a user-specified context. It provides options for user-defined hooks for both individual instructions and for when “call” instructions are encountered. The user can decide whether the emulator will skip over, or call into function calls. This interface provides an easy way for the user to specify values for given registers and stack arguments. If a bytestring is specified, it is written to the emulator’s memory and the pointer is written to the register or stack variable. After emulation, the user can make use of flare-emu’s utility functions to read data from the emulated memory or registers or use the Unicorn emulation object that is returned for direct probing. A small wrapper function for emulateRange, namedemulateSelection , can be used to emulate the range of instructions currently highlighted in IDA Pro.
  2. iterate – This API is used to force emulation down specific branches within a function in order to reach a given target. The user can specify a list of target addresses, or the address of a function from which a list of cross-references to the function is used as the targets, along with a callback for when a target is reached. The targets will be reached, regardless of conditions during emulation that may have caused different branches to be taken. Like the emulateRange API, options for user-defined hooks for both individual instructions and for when “call” instructions are encountered are provided. An example use of the iterate API is to achieve something similar to what our argtracker tool does.
  3. iterateAllPaths – This API is much like iterate, except that instead of providing a target address or addresses, you provide a target function that it will attempt to find all paths through and emulate. This is useful when you are performing code analysis that wants to reach every basic block of a function.
  4. emulateBytes – This API provides a way to simply emulate a blob of extraneous shellcode. The provided bytes are not added to the IDB and are simply emulated as is. This can be useful for preparing the emulation environment. For example, flare-emu itself uses this API to manipulate a Model-Specific Register (MSR) for the ARM64 CPU that is not exposed by Unicorn in order to enable Vector Floating Point (VFP) instructions and register access. The Unicorn emulation object is returned for further probing by the user.

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Anastasis Vasileiadis

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