The "Prefetch Instruction Queue" idea
(A possible addendum to the "our protections" section)

by Camel Eater, 13 August 1997

Courtesy of Fravia's page of reverse engineering

Well, an interesting idea. This trick has been already used, though: it is one of the main "anti-debugger" measures used by higher protections. Yet shareware programmers should take note: it could let Micro$oft's "Steal-tank" eat dust! (They are not so good, when it comes to tackle such tricks as we are :-)

Prefetch Instruction Queue or PIQ
This method could be used to fool any debugger, or at least any process that executes one operation at a time. The PIQ reads instructions in advance so that they are already in the CPU when its time to execute them rather than executing an instruction and then waiting for the next one. The length of the PIQ was around only 4 or 6 in old computers, but is much longer in newer ones. What the protectionist could do is change the instruction after itself into something unwishful. While debugging the instruction will be modified before it is read, but when run normally, it will be changed afterwards. ;Example program for Prefetch Instruction Queue Manipulation ; ;This example is a modification of a 'Hello world!' program... ; ;Program by Camel Eater ;Assemble with TASM Ideal ; Ideal Mode P386 ; 386 CPU Model Tiny ; Model for *.COM files DataSeg ; Data Segment MSG DB "Hello world!$" ; Message to print if no debugger is ; used. CodeSeg ; Code Segment startupcode mov bx,offset BitToChange ; BX = address to change mov dx,offset MSG ; offset of message mov [bx+1],4c00h ; set to function 4ch BitToChange: mov ax,0900h ; function to print text int 21h ; interrupt mov ax,4c00h ; exit program int 21h End If you are not using a debugger than writing 4c00h to BitToChange+1 (mov [bx+1],4c00h) has no effect, as the part being changed is already in the Prefetch Instruction Queue. If the program is running inside a debugger, on the countrary, it will change the line before it is loaded and so the program will quit earlier as it should. In the case of our program, if it will be run under a debugger then it just quits back out to dos, otherwise it writes 'Hello World!', first. Some Final Notes. I dont know if this works at all in any Windoze, I've tested it in DOS and it worked, under windoze it may suicide, but then... it might not. Im not sure of how windows handles task swapping and stuff like that, but it would probably still work. Well that is all I wanted to write about the Prefetch Instruction Queue. So goodbye for now, Camel Eater.
(c) Camel Eater, 1997. All rights reserved
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