R2con 2020 Review

By |Published On: November 16th, 2020|Tags: , |

The first international congress for Radare was held in 2016 to mark the ten year anniversary of the project. Although this was supposed to be a one-time event, the Radare community has a very “why not” attitude–as in “why not” have another one (a thought likely spurred on by someone like Pancake). So, each year the congress has gotten bigger and better; last year, the event was so successful the “why nots” stopped altogether. It was then unofficially announced that there would surely be an r2con 2020. As if late to all the other “why not” meetings, however, 2020 ran into the room screaming “because of a pandemic!” 

So what does r2con do? Makes the congress free and online! The announcement came in April that the congress would happen online and would be free for everyone. Workshops, talks, CTFs, r2wars, and Chiptune parties would all be included. 

This was a big decision. Online conferences are harder to run. The difficulty of stage setup is multiplied by the number of speakers and complicated by the number of operating systems. You can’t just do one mic check on stage; you have to test each speaker’s streaming setup to ensure compatibility with the conference stream. I understand this conference nearly did not happen, and it’s no wonder. 

A big thank you goes out to all those who put in effort to make it happen–to the speakers, the conference staff (just two people, I think), Chiptune artists, and CTF organizers. The conference was great, and I learned a ton. 

The talks

All of the talks and workshops are available online at YouTube. As of this writing, they are segmented by day. They may be split into individual talks in the future.

The talks this year were amazing. It is difficult to sum them up in a paragraph because the topics varied so much. I often use conferences as a way to find out what is in the air: what new tech is coming up, and what old tech am I missing out on. This year I felt like the big topics were ESIL, SMT, and r2Frida. None of these are brand new, but various speakers discussed how they put them to use in new and exciting ways. 

r2wars

If you don’t know what r2wars is, you should check out the “r2wars for Noobs” talk by @CAPTNBANANA

In short, two bots–written in assembly–battle in a shared memory space. The last bot standing wins. This is made possible by r2’s own intermediate language ESIL. Each bot tries to push ESIL as far as it can to get an advantage. This results in bugs being discovered and the ESIL VM being improved. 

This year, the bots were pushing things so far that the staff decided the game itself had to be changed. The cost calculation to certain operations had to be adjusted to keep things fair, which may have resulted in ARM being the winning architecture. The top 3 winners all used ARM in their bot (ARM32 and ARM64). This year there was a 4th winner who received special recognition: a bot named Niku–which was submitted by a participant identified only as Kurt–exploited a vulnerability in ESIL to insta-kill the competition. In r2wars, hackers are not banned; they are rewarded and celebrated. Great find, Kurt!

Chiptune

After r2con 2019, I had been listening to a lot of Chiptune. It fits so well with the conference and with nerds who love low-level CPU stuff. This year’s r2con would not be the same without it. So, like last year, Chiptune was played between all talks, during r2wars, and at the afterparty. 

The last day of the conference ended with an online Chiptune party by @alexwiklund, @the4Dboy, @Klirre8bit, @0x3D63 and @neuroflip. At the moment, you can see the whole thing here.

CTF

There was also a CTF that focused mostly on reversing with a bit of exploitation. All of the challenges had to be solved with r2–it’s an r2 conference, after all. Even though I didn’t look too deeply into the challenges, they all looked interesting. Only two challenges were not solved. I might try my hand at one of the unsolved challenges and post a blog about it.

Wrap up

Overall the conference was great. It is amazing things went as well as they did considering the circumstances. Thanks again to all for making this great conference happen!

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