Reverse engineering is a term used to describe the process of getting information about the technical details of a human created device or system by analysing the structure and operation of the item. It can involve the dismantlement of an item and investigating each aspect of the components. The purpose is simply to once an understanding is gained about the item to create a better or more simplified alternative to the original item. Reverse engineering is not new. People have always taken inventions apart and studied them with the aim of improving on the inventions. In some forms reverse engineering is illegal and a form of technology theft. Countries, however, have taken apart weapons from opposition for the simple reason – to build better weaponry than that of the enemy. Today it forms almost an integral part of business and development. From computer software to toys are scrutinised in detail to learn how such work and how to create improved products.
Main reasons for using reverse engineering include:
- Finding a solution to a mechanical problem.
- When the documentation of how a circuit has been built is lost, reverse engineering may be the only option.
- Identification of the possibility of patent infringement by a competitor.
- To use the information for improving on a competitor’s products.
- Auditing of the security in the program.
- Harvesting of items.
- Learning from the mistakes of others.
Reverse engineering can be applied to protocols, military weapons, computer aided design programs, software applications, binary codes, and any item created by a human.