Tuesday 31 January 2012

Memory Hacking: Anyone can do it!

More than four years ago I wrote a small tutorial on memory hacking. Even someone new to programming and computers is able to create simple "memory based hacks". Depending on the program/game you are targeting you can use it to change your score in a game, increase your ammunition, teleport yourself to another coordinate, etc. This was the first thing that really got me interested in computer security and reverse engineering, so I'm reposting the tutorial on this blog.

If you ever wondered how aimbots or unlimited ammunition hacks are made, then this post is a good foundation to learning how they work. It will only be a small introduction that can be followed by anyone! The goal is to show it's indeed easy and to motivate you to try it yourself on a few programs ;) In this post we will attempt to freeze the timer of Minesweeper.


Internally a computer works only with numbers, so every single thing on your computer is represented by a number. The smallest type of number one can directly access is called a byte. It can store the numbers between (and including) -128 and 127. We can then group 2 bytes togheter and can represent every number between -32768 and 32767. With 4 bytes we get -2147483648 and 2147483647. We can continue this with 8 bytes and so on.

It is the programmer that gives meaning to these numbers. For example, we can say that numbers 0 to 25 stand for each letter in the alphabet. In a different situation we can say that 0 to 11 stands for each month in the year. A number can stand for the amunition a player has, the coordinates of a player, the ID of a weapon he is holding, and so on. We can see that the “meaning” of these numbers indeed depends on where and how they are used.

Every byte has a so called "address". This address is again a number, and we use this number to access the byte. For example, say we have 2 bytes and want to add them together. Assume the first byte is saved at address 2345 and the second one at address 5345. We can then tell the computer to add the bytes at address 2345 and 5345 together (and optionally save this result at another address). Addresses are commonly written in hexadecimal notation.

For a more detailed explanation on how numbers are stored and represented on computers you can read “The Art of Assembly“.

Freezing the timer

It’s now our job to find where the number that represents the timer is saved. Once we know it’s location we can simply overwrite it with a new value and thus change the timer in Minesweeper. To find the address we will use the tool “Memory Hacking Software” (MHS).

The first thing we need to guess is how the timer is saved. Since the timer already is a number this is trivial (the number of the timer is saved directly without any conversion). We only need to determine the size of the number. Since a byte is not large enough to save the biggest possible value of the timer (999), we will guess the programmer of minesweeper used (at least) 2 bytes to save the timer.

  1. Start Minesweeper. Now launch MHS.
  2. Go to File -> Open Process, select Minesweeper and click on Open
  3. Then do Search -> Data-Type Search. Select Short as Data Type (Short is the same as 2 bytes) and Exact Value as evaluation type.
  4. Since we haven’t started the game in minesweeper yet, the timer is currently zero. In "Value to Find" type 0. Now click OK.
  5. It will say how many addresses (in the minesweeper process) had the value 0. There will probably be a lot of them! I had 1497378 results, and one of these (probably) is the timer.

Filtering the Results

We know that one of these address is the timer, however there are too many results and practically this list is still useless. What we need to do is shrink the list. And this will be done by doing a “sub search” on our previous results. In this case we can start playing minesweeper so the timer will start. We now know that the timer has increased, so we will search for an “increased value” in our current result list and thus shrink the list.
  1. Go to Search -> Sub Search so we can further “filter” our results of the previous search. We know the timer has increased so we select Increased as Search Type.
  2. I got 46 results. Still too much. I again do a sub search and again search for an increased number. Now I only get 3 results! Continue this until you only have a few results left. Once you have a small list, it should be easy to spot the timer by observing the Current Value field. This will always be equal to the timer in minesweeper. In my case the timer is saved at address 0100579C (this address can be different for you).
  3. Double click on the address in the “Found Addresses” list. It will be added to the “main address list”. Double click on the address in the main address list. We will now lock the value of the timer to zero. We do this by checking Locked and entering an Exact Value of zero.

And there you go, you froze the timer. Because of the way minesweeper was made it will actually display a time of 1 instead of 0, but nevertheless it’s frozen.


This was small and basic introduction to memory hacking. You can try this method on other programs (eg., on number of bullets left, current health, high score, etc). However you will notice that it doesn’t always work. You won’t be able to easily find the address or the address could change each time you play the game. To solve these problems more advanced techniques must be used.

An old article I read 6+ years ago on more advanced tricks was titled Dynamic Memory Allocation and Code Injection: DMA to static address. He still used SoftIce in those tutorial, but that program is now dead. Instead use OllyDbg, IDA Pro, or similar.