Reverse-engineering Flash

A complete introduction to reverse-engineering SWFs on Linux, using open-source tools.

, 17 May 2014

Flash has always intimidated me. Websites usually use it to evade inspection (together with minified JS) or to make use of specific features (clipboard, memory, …).

Turns out, in practice Flash helps in reverse-engineering. This is because there are few Flash obfuscators and people don’t think anyone is ever going to look inside their SWFs, so they don’t use them. Sometimes I even find additional debug info, like the complete filename of each source file, line numbers, etc.

Flash is high-level assembly, like Java. You get function names, parameter names, class names, field names and the assembly is easy to understand once you’re accostumed to it. That, plus the fact it runs in a sandboxed environment (just like Java applets) makes it really easy to deal with.

There’s open-source, high quality software out there that allows for precise manipulation of SWFs. But before we dive in, let’s talk briefly about the SWF.

Small Web Format

I don’t know much about the format, but every SWF consists of a header (indicating, among other things, Flash version and compression) and then a series of tags. A tag can contain other tags, text, controls, multimedia, vector paths, compiled ActionScript or arbitrary binary content, to name a few.

If you have never programmed in ActionScript, there’s an important thing to note. In Flash, classes “reference” objects on the SWF if the name matches and they extend the correct class.

For example, if the SWF has a button named example.Submit and the ActionScript declares a class named Submit on package example that extends flash.display.Button, then adding event listeners on that class will add them onto the original button, and so on.

Similarly for binary tags, declaring a class named Payload that extends flash.utils.BinaryArray allows ActionScript to access the binary content of a binary tag with the same name, that could be a hidden resource or a compressed asset.

ActionScript ByteCode (ABC)

ActionScript source is compiled to bytecode, that is run by the ActionScript Virtual Machine. I strongly recommend you to read an overview of the AVM now, to be able to understand the assembly better.

ActionScript bytecode is placed into a DoABC tag on the SWF. An SWF can contain multiple DoABC tags. When such a tag is found, the player loads the bytecode, verifies it1 and runs it.

Setting up

We’re going to install the software that will allow us to see inside SWFs.

Basic things

We need a working D compiler. Better download it from the official site, since the APT version often causes trouble. Then, install it:

sudo dpkg -i <path to the .deb>

Make sure flashplugin-installer is installed (not adobe-flashplugin):

sudo apt-get install flashplugin-installer

Git, the JDK, and LZMA development files are also needed:

sudo apt-get install git openjdk-7-jdk liblzma-dev


git clone && cd RABCDAsm
rdmd build_rabcdasm.d
sudo install {abc,swfbin}{export,replace} rabc{d,}asm swf{7z,lzma,de}compress /usr/local/bin

RABCDAsm contains utilities for:

The code also allows for programmatic parsing and manipulation of SWFs and their tags, as well as deep parsing and manipulation of ActionScript blocks. The disassembler can be easily tuned to modify the formatting of the disassembly.

RABCDAsm is fast and resistent to any obfuscations applied to the bytecode. It’s typically used like this:

abcexport file.swf # will create,,, etc.
rabcdasm # disassemble!

Which disassembles each block in the directories file-0, file-1, file-2, … After editing, to assemble the ABC and update the SWF:

rabcasm file-0/file-0.asasm # assemble!
rabcasm file-1/file-1.asasm
rabcasm file-2/file-2.asasm
abcreplace file.swf 0 file-0/file-0.asasm # replace the blocks
abcreplace file.swf 1 file-1/file-1.asasm
abcreplace file.swf 2 file-2/file-2.asasm


git clone --recurse && cd redasm-abc
rdmd build_redasm.d
sudo install redasm /usr/local/bin

redasm-abc is a simple assistant to RABCDAsm. It aims to remove the tedious workflow you just saw. To use redasm-abc, put the SWF in an empty directory, then just run:


And it will disassemble all the blocks at block-0, block-1, block-2, … When you have made changes and want to update the SWF, run again:


And it will reassemble the files that have changed. It will work from everywhere inside the directory of the SWF. It also creates a backup of the SWF, just in case.

redasm-abc is especially useful in SWFs with lots of blocks, and it doesn’t create intermediate files so it’s more comfortable to use. Sometimes though, RABCDAsm utilities need to be used directly.

Flash Player debugger

tar xzOf flashplayer_11_plugin_debug.i386.tar.gz >
sudo install -m 644 /usr/lib/flashplugin-installer
sudo update-alternatives --install "/usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/" "mozilla-flashplugin" /usr/lib/flashplugin-installer/ 50

# only if you are running 64-bit
sudo apt-get install libnss3:i386 nspluginwrapper
sudo nspluginwrapper -i /usr/lib/flashplugin-installer/
sudo mv /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins/ /usr/lib/flashplugin-installer/

The Flash Player content debugger is essential if you’re going to modify your SWF. You get a nice error box showing the error instead of the player stopping abruptly.

To switch between the regular Flash player and the debugger, do:

sudo update-alternatives --config mozilla-flashplugin

And restart the web browser to use it. Edit: Chromium recently dropped support for NSAPI, so the flash debugger won’t work in it. Use another browser instead. If someone knows a way to debug with PepperFlash, please post a comment!

Visit about:plugins to verify that the correct plugin has loaded.


To install, download the ZIP for Linux and extract it.

Vizzy is a small tool to display the Flash Player logs. You just run the JAR and it shows highlighted real-time logs, allowing you to filter by keywords.

This is handy when you want to get some values from the SWF at runtime. To see them in the logs, just trace() them:

findproperty        QName(PackageNamespace(""), "trace")
  ; (push the value to the stack)
callpropvoid        QName(PackageNamespace(""), "trace"), 1

SWFTools (optional)

sudo apt-get install swftools

They have some interesting utilities, namely:

I won’t go into their usage, that’s out of the scope of this post. But the dump should be minimally intuitive to read, especially if you have worked with Flash before.

Intercepting proxy

Requests made by Flash aren’t usually logged on the Developer Tools console (even though they’re cached by the browser) so you’ll often need a good MITM proxy to save SWF files, see what other SWFs are being loaded and serve the reassembled copy instead.

I’ve been using MITMProxy (which works with HTTPS out of the box, and with IPTables you can do transparent proxying) together with a hand-written Node proxy server, but I find that too low-level.

Fiddler also has an alpha build for Linux that looks promising, but it isn’t open-source.

Other software

There are some other open-source utilities for SWFs, but I don’t consider them to be of much use in reverse-engineering. The Ming library, swfmill, swfc (part of SWFTools), the Flex toolkit, JPEXS —that one might be useful, but I haven’t tried it against obfuscated files— Flasm, MTASC.

Some tips

Put the SWF in his own directory and add the files to a Git repository just after disassembling it:

git init && git add -A
git commit -m "disassemble SWF"

Always run these commands when getting on an SWF, even if you’re only planning to read the assembly. You’ll thank me later.

Save this page as a reference for the AVM instructions. Also, the syntax used in the disassembly is explained in the README.


While it’s a bit tedious to read the disassembly, these tools really give us a lot of control over the SWF, and the fact they’re open-source gives you the ability to tune them or build on top of them (like I did with redasm-abc).

  1. “Verification” means the code is checked for overflows, invalid jumps or other illegal operations. At any point is the SWF checked for a signature from the publisher, which can be done in Java.