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This is an msp430-alike emulator for Matasano/Square's #µctf (Microcorruption).

What can I do with it?

  • Use it to debug or solve Microcorruption puzzles offline
  • Use it to debug or emulate other trivial MSP430 embedded programs (with the same weird register and callgate behavior of Microcorruption...)
  • Embed it into something weirder and cooler! I don't even know.

Why not mspsim, mspdebug?

msp430-emu-uctf (that's a mouthful, isn't it) faithfully emulates the inaccurate flags and instruction decode behavior of the Microcorruption web emulator and debugger. This is useful on many #µctf levels. It also has enough of the callgate (0x0010) implemented to successfully debug and defeat all of the puzzles.

Without making any comparison to the speed of mspsim or mspdebug, msp430-emu-uctf is decently fast (emulates about 48 Million msp430 instructions per second on my Intel E3-1240v3), and is probably faster than any hardware MSP430 ever built (typically they are 25 MHz, with 2-3 cycles per instruction).


You will need glib and its development files (specifically, package config .pc files) installed. On Fedora, you can install these with yum install glib2 glib2-devel. On Ubuntu, use apt-get install libglib2.0-0 libglib2.0-dev.

On systems with older GCC (Ubuntu), use make NEWGCCFLAGS= EXTRAFLAGS=-lrt.

On newer systems, make will build the emulator, msp430-emu.

This is not packaged for installation at this time. Patches welcome.

Simple Emulation

Invoke msp430-emu <romfile>.


Use the -t=TRACE_FILE option to msp430-emu to log a binary trace of all instructions executed to TRACE_FILE. Use the -x flag to dump in hex format instead of binary.

GDB: Installing msp430-gdb

msp430-gdb is gdb with a set of patches applied from the mspgcc project.

Ubuntu or Debian:

apt-get install gdb-msp430


Install gdb-msp430 via pacman.


Install dev-embedded/msp430-gdb.

Fedora and others:

If you don't have it as a distro package, you can download the gdb-7.2a sources from a GNU mirror, apply the mspgcc-2012xxx-gdb patches against those sources, and configure with something like --program-prefix=msp430- --prefix=$HOME/.local for a msp430-gdb tool installed in your $HOME directory.

GDB: Debugging Emulated ROMs

Invoke msp430-emu -g <romfile> to wait for GDB on startup. The emulator binds TCP port 3713 and waits for the first client to connect. Use msp430-gdb from another terminal to connect (mspgcc patchset on top of gdb-7.2a) with:

msp430-gdb -ex 'target remote localhost:3713'

Supported commands are:

  • reading/writing registers
  • reading/writing memory
  • (instruction) stepping, reverse-stepping
  • breakpoints, continue


  • Memory watchpoints
  • reverse-continue

GDB: Reverse debugging

In gdb, you can use reverse-stepi (or rsi for short) to step backwards. For example (from Hanoi):

$ msp430-gdb -nx -ex 'target remote localhost:3713'

(gdb) x/i $pc
=> 0x4400: mov #17408, r1 ;#0x4400

The next instruction will put 0x4400 in r1 (SP).

(gdb) p $r1
$1 = (void *) 0x0

Do it...

(gdb) si
0x00004404 in ?? ()

(gdb) p $r1
$2 = (void *) 0x4400

Ok, it is set to 0x4400 now.

(gdb) rsi
0x00004400 in ?? ()

Go back one instruction.

(gdb) p $r1
$3 = (void *) 0x0

It's no longer set!

Symbolic Emulation

make msp430-sym will build the symbolic emulator.

Caveat: symbolic execution is much, much slower than direct emulation.

To run a level in symbolic mode, invoke the emulator like so:

msp430-sym <romfile> <input length>

This mode is less tested. On some levels you will see that register or PC loads are dependent on symbolic inputs -- that means your input controls register contents or code flow (exploitable!).

On Hollywood, with the right input size, this will emit gibberish. But that gibberish is not too far from the truth. I recommend using the tracing mode to defeat Hollywood, rather than trying to parse the symbolic output.


msp430-emu-uctf is released under the terms of the MIT license. See LICENSE. Basically, do what you will with it.


Try it out! Let me know what you don't like; send me patches, or file issues. I can't promise I'll fix anything quickly, but I'd rather know what's wrong.

Style: The C sources attempt to follow BSD's style(9). Style fix patches are welcome.

Most of the emulator (including symbolic mode) lives in main.c. Most of the GDB remote stub lives in gdbstub.c. There are instruction emulation and symbolic mode optimization unit tests in check_instr.c.


msp430 emulator for uctf (with remote GDB debugging, reverse debugging, and optional symbolic execution)







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