There is already a Stack Exchange site about programming, including reverse engineering. There is already a Stack Exchange site about security, including reverse engineering. So it seems to me that reverse engineering is already fully covered on Stack Exchange, both from the concrete task-oriented side (SO) and from the general principles side (Sec.SE).

A cursory look at the example questions doesn't turn up anything that would be off-topic on both Sec.SE and SO.

The two sites overlap comfortably and don't lack expertise. It's not difficult to find directly relevant questions as they are nicely indicated by a tag.

So what's the point of creating a separate site?

I notice that few committers are active on Sec.SE, and not that many are active on SO either. If that describes you, why?

Proposal: Reverse Engineering

  • 2
    I'm a bit disappointed with whoever down-voted this question. I'm a supporter of this proposal myself (with a rotating banner for it on my personal website), but I believe this question to be as valid as they come. And if this proposal is to have something to live on once it reaches beta, you should disagree with proper arguments for it in your answer below instead, otherwise you're just proving the opposite.
    – TildalWave
    Mar 9 '13 at 3:25
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    @TildalWave I didn't down vote, but from what I understand this is very much like the META of other active sites (but I maybe wrong on that point - so correct if I am wrong). What I have been told is that a downvote in META is not like a down vote on a main site. It is more about a "i'm in favor", "I'm not in favor" sort of thing. Mar 11 '13 at 3:32
  • @rawbrawb - Yes, they do like to give that answer on meta, don't they? It could be as well true, but if, then it would be so for the reason of having suggestions organized by their approval, and which should be looked into by developers first. Area 51 is different in this sense, as we ourselves are the developers of ideas, thereof I don't see any value in having questions sorted by how much their authors are in favor of the proposal, but there is a value having them sorted by how much the issues they suggest might be in need of addressing with proper counter-arguments. ;)
    – TildalWave
    Mar 11 '13 at 3:40

I would simply point out that the coverage in SO and Security covers only certain aspects of Reverse Engineering. Here is a short list of areas that are part of RE:

Hardware: Circuits (digital, analog), Process (for manufacturing), Materials, Techniques, Equipment (EDX, SEM, FIB).

Legal: how do you do RE for SW vs. HW, what are the legal frameworks?

Software: What software is the best to use for collating data and extrapolating the data from the HW RE?

In fact I'd love to see a few Lawyers on here as well.

As a case study: The smart card chips were hacked when the researchers realized that given op-codes have unique Idd current patterns on the power supplies. By executing code they mapped out the relationships and used that to watch the code trace in real time of the real code. the internal understanding of the chip, the understanding of the measurement eqt. was all necessary, on top of some custom code to unroll the code trace.

  • Your case study is wholly about security. Mar 10 '13 at 19:03
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    @Gilles Sorry - Just because the object being RE was a security component does not mean that the techniques and the fundamental understanding necessary to the RE effort had anything to do with security. It speaks to a broader knowledge base being necessary and the need to be open to different techniques. THAT was the point of my post, if anything you just made my point very handily for me. Mar 11 '13 at 3:28

Personally, I am interested in reverse engineering, but not at a high-level of ability yet. I do intend to become good, but I am certainly not there yet. This site offers a single place to look for reverse engineering information, so that's a major plus. It's easier to browse questions this way. I don't think much about the reverse engineering tag on stack overflow, so if I had a really interesting question, I wouldn't think to ask it there. Really interesting questions are likely to be a bit open-ended, so I probably couldn't ask it there either.

Also, the more people are talking about reverse engineering, the more people are thinking "maybe I should work in this field". I figure fields with people who want to become skilled, yet are unable to are more likely it is that people like me will make tools to make it easier.

A much more immediate benefit is a sudden influx of interesting questions focused around reverse engineering. I expect some of those example questions are going to be actually asked once the site goes live.


Another benefit is, if there's a site, or better, multiple sites dedicated to a topic, it seems to me it would be easier to form a community around it. People don't consider themselves part of "the group of people who answer questions related to reverse engineering on Stack Overflow". They may consider themselves a person answering questions about reverse engineering, but they don't consider themselves part of a community that specific.

The reason that's important is because if there's a community around something, people start to collaborate, cooperate, compete, and generally help out. That's less likely to be focused around reverse engineering in a very large, homogenous community like on Stack Overflow, because there's not a focus on reverse engineering.

In fact, I would expect it to be less likely altogether, because there's too many people together, and the amount of contact they have is extremely low. It's fairly random which person who can answer your question does, and there's a large number of people who can. In a smaller site, there's fewer people answering fewer questions, so people are more likely to recognize each other and interact. Even if they don't interact much on this site - very likely - they are caring about reverse engineering and are more likely to seek out or create sites in which a community is formed.


Summary: More people thinking about reverse engineering = tiny bits of publicity coming in = more people caring about reverse engineering = more publicity coming in = more reverse engineering = more tools, classes, games, etc. aiding people reverse engineering.

Put concisely, my reasons are "more interesting questions", and "more tools for reverse engineering".

  • Experience on Stack Exchange shows that sites need enough See stackexchange.com/sites?view=list#users for the total number of accounts on each existing site, and browse area51.stackexchange.com/?tab=launched to see how many engaged users (by rep threshold) graduated sites have. A tiny community is a liability, not an asset. An SE site won't create a community, it needs an existing community to cater to. Mar 9 '13 at 10:00
  • More specifically, reverse engineering isn't an isolated field. You need to understand programming, compilers, debuggers, … and also obfuscation techniques, information flow, …. All of those topics benefit from interaction with people who are not primarily (or at all) reverse engineers. Obfuscation techniques, in particular, are the yin to reverse engineering's yang (or vice versa), you can't separate them. Mar 9 '13 at 10:04
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    It is true that a Stack Exchange site won't create a community. That's what the process of commitment is for, weeding out those concepts which have too little interest. Stack Overflow is ginormous, its size is as much a liability as an asset. It's entirely possible this site will launch and then proceed to fail. If the people who are interested in the site are all primarily reverse engineers, it probably will. But, there may be programmers skilled in other fields who are just beginning to become reverse engineers. But there is a chance for success also, so why not try to make that happen?
    – user336462
    Mar 9 '13 at 15:25

Consider the following hypothetical argument which is symmetrical to your own.

On reddit, there is a programming subreddit. Once in a blue moon, some programmer posts a submission that has some connection to reverse engineering. There is also a netsec subreddit. With greater frequency, posters to that forum post a submission that is more directly related to reverse engineering. Why, then, do we need a ReverseEngineering subreddit (one that is extremely active and popular, and whose audience is somewhat disjoint from the other two forums)?

The answer is, reverse engineers know reverse engineering better than programmers or general computer security types. Almost none of the reverse engineers that I know consider (as of today) StackExchange a worthwhile site for asking and fielding questions related to reverse engineering, and hence those forums (as well as /r/programming and /r/netsec) are not representative of what the reverse engineering community wants to see, nor what it has to offer (i.e. questions about reverse engineering could be answered much better when they are posed to reverse engineers, as opposed to posed to programmers).

A dedicated reverse engineering StackExchange site will benefit the following entities in the following ways.

  • For questioners, create a place where legitimate reverse engineering questions are always on-topic and will never be ignored, and hopefully never unanswered due to lack of expertise.
  • For answerers, create a centralized, general-purpose forum for aggregating questions that would otherwise be asked on a diverse array of reverse engineering sites across the internet; additionally, create an edifice that reverse engineers who have not yet entered the field professionally can point their employers to as evidence of their expertise.
  • For the reverse engineering scene in general, attract the attention of alternative entities (such as programmers) who have historically not been involved in reverse engineering websites. This has the benefit of providing alternative perspectives, as well as influencing programmers. Also, StackExchange is very visible, so it is expected that this site would enlarge the field of reverse engineering, which benefits everybody.

Yes some of the sites already cover parts of Reverse Engineering, but having a site that is specialized to that is great. It will regroup all the information and all the experts at the same place. That means faster and better answers.

Right now, as some other said, one site covers that small part, the other covers that other small part. Maybe some part are left over and doesn't fit anywhere. Well with one site about Reverse Engineering, you can stop wondering if it fits to this or that SE and get answers to your question.

  • On the contrary: with one more site, you have to wonder more: was the question posted on RE.SE? on Security.SE? on SO because it's about the code? on EE.SE because it's about the hardware? on CS.SE because it's about the core principles? Mar 10 '13 at 19:05
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    Well I don't see it this way. Because if RE.SE was created well then you wouldn't wonder where to ask and post your question on RE. All the RE question would be at the same place. Mar 10 '13 at 19:18
  • No, the questions would still be spread out over all the sites where they're relevant. The creation of a site about RE would not make questions about reverse engineering software off-topic on SO, or questions about implementing or circumventing protections against RE on Sec.SE, etc. Mar 11 '13 at 21:53

I'm fairly new to SE and active both on SO and Sec.SE, so I might not be the best person to argue for this proposal, as I'm being stretched between both believing it's worth pushing it into beta and seeing where it lands, and actually agreeing with you that both SO and Sec.SE provide a platform for nearly all example questions provided.

I also mentioned in our conversation at DMZ that I probably won't be replying to your question, not to make a mess of it (for said resons). Well, I've changed my mind, so 'grin and bear it'! :P

I think my main argument for it should be from the organizational point of view, as SO does seem a bit overwhelming in how wide of an area it covers, making it somewhat difficult to navigate and filter through when one's interested only in a fairly limited subset of its topics. Sec.SE itself could have easily been just a tag in SO as well, as I guess it used to be, among many other now separate websites of SE network (tho I'm not here long enough to be able to argue that, so please pardon my ignorance if it offended anyone). I believe that SO is pushing its limits of manageability, and current voting for even more SO mods kinda proves it.

That said, I believe this proposal won't be feeding of the Sec.SE as much as perhaps help offload some of the huge arsenal of topics on SO to a separate website (that would still live under the SE banner, which should not be overlooked). I also expect many of the members (and mods) active on Sec.SE to be participating and sharing their expertise here as well, as they do on other SE websites, so in that sense we wouldn't be talking of completely separate communities, but merely another dweller of the same SE biosphere.

TL;DR - Out of ammunition (for now, reloading...), but if this above doesn't sell it to you, then think of how cool 'Reverse Engineered' swag would be! :P

RELOAD (forgot about the one in the chamber): I also can not wait to see the new RE webpage design from @Jin which on its own should be a reason enough for more new SE websites!

  • Sec.SE is far broader than programming. It was actually created more as an offshot of Server Fault, centered around network security, but quickly evolved to cover all infosec including appsec. And I've yet to see a problem with that; on the contrary, people doing security on different fields get to interact and benefit from the interaction. Why deprive reverse engineering from these interactions? Mar 9 '13 at 10:07
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    I'm interested in reverse engineering, but I'm not interested in security. I want to know how things really work when you get right down to it. I would be reverse engineering open-source software for fun, and to hunt down bugs. Probably not bugs in security, since I don't have the inclination to learn about security. So, a site about security is not a good fit for me.
    – user336462
    Mar 9 '13 at 15:08
  • @Gilles - Good point and one I'll have to ponder on for a while. RE is interdisciplinary and thus required to be understood in a broader sense than the sum of its parts. Saying it differently, it's not an isolated, self-contained field of research in a sense that you can't really say "This Joe here is our reverse engineer, but he didn't have to be an engineer first to become a good reverse engineer". Then again, nothing is stopping this Joe from using more than one SE website, and I still believe that wide enough topics warrant having their own files drawer of the same SE cabinet.
    – TildalWave
    Mar 9 '13 at 15:42
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    @user336462 “I'm interested in reverse engineering, but I'm not interested in security.” That is the single good argument in favor of the site on this page. Mar 10 '13 at 19:07

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