Archive for the ‘TinyKRNL and ReactOS’ Category

A New Direction

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

It is with great excitement (and a certain amount of nostalgia) that I would like to announce two important changes in my professional life and in the direction in which I will pursue my knowledge and work on Windows Internals. The first of these changes is my debut as an instructor for David Solomon’s Expert Seminars, and the second is my departure from ReactOS, effective immediately. These plans do not change in any way my internship at Apple which will take place during the summer.

Some time ago, I had the great privilege of being approached by David Solomon, a well-known and highly regarded computer expert, teacher, consultant and co-author of Windows Internals 4th Edition (and Inside Windows 2000, 3rd Edition). For the last couple of years, David had been working with Mark Russinovich, another respected figure in the world of Windows Internals, and co-founder of Winternals and Sysinternals as well as developer of some of the most useful Windows system tools available today. Apart from working on the two books (which Mark was a co-author of), they both provided trainings and seminars on Windows internals under the “David Solomon Expert Seminars” banner. As is widely known, Microsoft realized that Mark’s experience and amazing work on the NT platform through his articles and tools could provide a highly beneficial new addition to the company. The company bought Winternals last year, and hired Mark at the highest technical level in the company, Technical Fellow. 

All this is history of course, and back to the matter at hand, Mark’s recent new employment made him unavailable for teaching new classes, which made David Solomon start the search for a new instructor which could take on the responsibility of teaching new classes. I was highly honoured to have been chosen as this person, and accepted this unique opportunity to bring my knowledge out to many more people and to work with one of my most admired Windows experts

With this new job as an added task on top of my already busy life, as well as with the imminent Apple internship, I was already planning to cut back on my involvement with ReactOS. However, since it became clear that my level of contact with Microsoft employees and resources would be in conflict with my work at ReactOS, I made the difficult choice of amicably severing my ties with the project. This decision took some time for me to finalize, but the various motivations behind it had started cropping up since early this year

When I first joined ReactOS 3 years ago, the kernel was – in my opinion – highly disorganized and hodgepodge of Linux, NT 4, Wine and Windows 9x code which was very far from its actual goal of NT Driver compatibility. In fact, the development model seemed to focus on hacking NT drivers to work on ReactOS, and not vice-versa. Coincidentally, I joined the project just as the lead kernel developer, David Welch, had just burnt out and moved to other projects and goals. For the last three years, I rewrote key subsystems such as the thread scheduler, dispatcher, locking and IRQL mechanisms, HAL, executive support, object manager, process manager, I/O manager, basic VDM and 8086 support, and much more, as well as switched the project goals from NT4 to NT 5.2. 

My ability to do this came from my extensive reverse engineering of the kernel in the past, reading internals books, access to the DDK/IFS, as well as using WinDBG and .pdb type information. In return for all the code and guidance I provided, the project gave me a lot in return as well, including a unique perspective of working on such a project, the ability to work in large and distributed teams, and using open source tools for Windows NT kernel development. With millions of lines of code, ReactOS is the kind of project that an 18 year old could’ve only dreamt work ing on. I became adept in source control repositories, regression testing, unit testing, team management, IRC administration, as well as a much better coder in C. I also made friendships of all levels with various developers, testers and users, and had a chance to mentor two students during last year’s Google Summer of Code. I was able to attend and give talks on ReactOS, exhibit it, and make connections with other people in the industry, and in the open source world. Overall, it’s been an exhilarating adventure.

After three years however, and with the many new responsibilities that had kept growing, my free time grew short. Additionally, my work in the kernel had almost reached completion. The parts that still need major work, in my opinion, require extremely skilled developers in those areas to ever be as close to NT as needed. They are also some of the most critical: the memory manager, the cache manager, the Power/PnP Manager, the configuration manager and the file system runtime library. With the current differences that exist, most modern WDM drivers as well as IFS drivers can only dream of running properly. Unfortunately, my knowledge in those areas was limited. I had never reverse engineered them as extensively as parts of the executive, and documentation on their guts is limited.  In all honesty, they’re also not parts of the system that interest me much. I could, of course, have continued working on user-mode parts of the system where my help would still bring a lot of the system forward, such as ntdll, csrss, smss, winsock and kernel32, but my interest in teaching with David Solomon and getting in touch with the developers behind NT outweighed that desire.

After three years, I learned a tremendous amount of knowledge and skills while working on ReactOS, now the time has come for me to learn even more by expanding my horizons. In many ways, I had already outgrown the project, focusing more on security research, utilities and tools, articles and non-ReactOS related talks and conferences. It was time for me to step outside and take on a new opportunity with a larger audience and which would bring me many new experiences and teachings. I wish the ReactOS Project all the luck and I know that some significant new changes are on the horizon for them. I will keep watching from a distance, and I thank them for the most fun years of my life.

This blog will continue as usual, and I am currently working on the fourth part of the SDB series. Thank you for your continued readership and support!

Talk at University of Waterloo

Thursday, March 1st, 2007

This Monday, I’ve had the chance to speak at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, Canada, which is one of the top engineering and computer science universities in Canada, responsible for applications such as Maple. My short lecture was on using ReactOS in the academic environment, as well as present students and other atendees with a brief overview of Windows NT and ReactOS architecture.

You can find a PDF version of the slides here.

Recent Events

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

After initially being slashdotted, my blog post below got linked across the blogosphere, hit Digg, the Inquirer, BoingBoing and other major news sites, and I’ve reached some 60 000 visitors in less than 24 hours…

Since most of you are therefore new visitors, I just wanted to post a short introduction/information paragraph. First of all, I suggest you visit the About page of the blog, as well as my Wiki page on the ReactOS website. This is just to clear up any confusion on where I currently reside, age, education, etc. If you are interested in my other publications/works as a security researcher, you should visit the Publications page, as well as OpenRCE, where I usually post my latest articles. You can also find a recording of my REcon 2006 talk on Archive.Org. Search for my name; the PDF is available on the Publications page as well. Finally, my project, ReactOS, is having a donation fund; if you’d like to donate some money, that would be very appreciated.

As for the DRM post, I never expected that it would get the kind of attention it has; to be fair, I had completely forgotten that today was Vista’s launch date (being a beta tester, I’ve had RTM for months now); I certaintly don’t want to make it seem like I was specifically targetting this day to release anything. Later this week I will release some safe, generic, proof of concept code that targets what I believe is a flaw in the Code Integrity/Driver Signing model. My 64-bit VM is running extremly slow, so it will take me some time to test the code. Because this code will require an initial reboot, Microsoft does not consider it to be a flaw from a security standpoint. And because it’s so generic, it has absolutely nothing to do with DRM or PMP. That being said, I’m sure someone with knowledge of the PMP implementation might be able to use this as a very smart building block of the entire code that would be required; but that would be like arresting every knife manufacturer because knives can kill people.

Finally, if any of you would like more information about ReactOS or would like to meet in person, I will be giving a talk at the SOCAL5X conference on February 9th, and I will be around LA on the 10th as well.

Interview

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

The ReactOS Project has published an interview with me, so if anyone’s interested in my work there, feel free to take a read.