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Protect .NET Core DLL by Skater .NET Obfuscator

The .NET Core actual application is a dll library. Its .NET source code as any other .NET framework code is compiled into CIL/MSIL. .NET Core dll assembly contains code which the Common Language Runtime (CLR) executes. It can be disassembled (read ‘hacked’:) by anybody else. We still need to protect that kind of .NET assembly by obfuscating it.

Skater supports .NET Core 2.0 projects where the publish output is a DLL file (Framework-dependent deployment). When the publish output is an EXE file that calls .NET Core DLL (Self-contained deployment) the final DLL has to be obfuscated as well.
There are two types of .NET Core apps can be built:

Framework-dependent deployment. As the name implies, framework-dependent deployment (FDD) relies on the presence of a shared system-wide version of .NET Core on the target system. Because .NET Core is already present, your app is also portable between installations of .NET Core. Your app contains only its own code and any third-party dependencies that are outside of the .NET Core libraries. FDDs contain .dll files that can be launched by using the dotnet utility from the command line. For example, dotnet app.dll runs an application named app.

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Self-contained deployment. Unlike FDD, a self-contained deployment (SCD) doesn't rely on the presence of shared components on the target system. All components, including both the .NET Core libraries and the .NET Core runtime, are included with the application and are isolated from other .NET Core applications. SCDs include an executable (such as app.exe on Windows platforms for an application named app), which is a renamed version of the platform-specific .NET Core host, and a .dll file (such as app.dll), which is the actual application.


To test how Skater Obfuscator protects .NET Core assemblies open Visual Studio 2017 and create new .NET Core project.

In the Name text box, type "HelloWorld". Select the OK button.
Visual Studio uses the template to create your project. The C# Console Application template for .NET Core automatically defines a class, Program, with a single method, Main, that takes a String array as an argument. Main is the app entry point, the method that's called automatically by the runtime when it launches the application. Any command-line arguments supplied when the application is launched are available in the args array.
The template creates a simple "Hello World" application. It calls the Console.WriteLine(String) method to display the literal string "Hello World!" in the console window. By selecting the HelloWorld button with the green arrow on the toolbar, you can run the program in Debug mode. If you do, the console window is visible for only a brief time interval before it closes. This occurs because the Main method terminates and the application ends as soon as the single statement in the Main method executes.
To cause the application to pause before it closes the console window, add the following code immediately after the call to the Console.WriteLine(String) method:



C#
Console.Write("Press any key to continue...");
Console.ReadKey(true);



This code prompts the user to press any key and then pauses the program until a key is pressed. You will get the following source code:


On the menu bar, select Build > Build Solution. This compiles your program into an intermediate language (IL) that's converted into binary code by a just-in-time (JIT) compiler.
Run the program by selecting the HelloWorld button with the green arrow on the toolbar.


Press any key to close the console window.


Take a look what we got after the HelloWorld.dll .NET Core app decompilation:


We can see the non-obfuscated "Hello World!" string in the decompiler's interface. Decompilation tools can decompile a .NET assembly directly back to a high level language like C#, VB .NET, or C++. We are ready now to obfuscate the sample HelloWorld.dll .NET Core app by using Skater .NET Obfuscator. In Skater .NET Obfuscator open HelloWorld app.


Skater immediately identifies the HelloWorld.dll is .NET Core assembly:


Now you can adjust HelloWorld.dll app obfuscation settings and run its protection process.
After all you need to check what the output of the Skater obfuscation and how HelloWorld.dll app is protected.
When you run the obfuscated app (dotnet HelloWorld.dll runs an application named HelloWorld in command-line cmd interface.) it produces the same result. Take a look what changed inside the simple program. We need to run the decompiler again against the new obfuscated dll and it will give us the following decompilation result:


The "Hello World!" string has been allocated by Skater into a public variable then it was encrypted. We can pretty easily spot the encrypted string inside that decompiled script. Should this make it pretty obvious that our code is protected? Is it not simply too easy to decrypt the safe .NET Core source code? Almost. An absolute hacker still can choose a password for the encrypted string and decompile it. As a conclusion, no matter what we do, if our code is placed at the end-user's PC/Mac/Phone, it is not safe. As long as the code is placed at the end-user, all we can do is to make it as unwieldy as possible to get to the original source code, with any luck avoiding most hacker's attempts.



Also a good news is the .NET Standard 2.0 has now feature to allow any .NET Core app to reference any .NET Framework dll. So .NET Core does not have a problem now with third-party libraries when you deploy .NET Core app on Linux or MacOS. You may use .NET Core and target whole .NET framework and will not have problems.






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