Reverse engineering, also called back engineering, is the processes of extracting knowledge or design information from anything man-made and reproducing it or reproducing anything based on the extracted information. The process often involves disassembling something (a mechanical device, electronic component, computer program, or biological, chemical, or organic matter) and analyzing its components and workings in detail.
The reasons and goals for obtaining such information vary widely from everyday or socially beneficial actions, to criminal actions, depending upon the situation. Often no intellectual property rights are breached, such as when a person or business cannot recollect how something was done, or what something does, and needs to reverse engineer it to work it out for themselves. Reverse engineering is also beneficial in crime prevention, where suspected malware is reverse engineered to understand what it does, and how to detect and remove it, and to allow computers and devices to work together (“interoperate”) and to allow saved files on obsolete systems to be used in newer systems. By contrast, reverse engineering can also be used to “crack” software and media to remove their copy protection, or to create a (possibly improved) copy or even a knockoff; this is usually the goal of a competitor.
Reverse engineering has its origins in the analysis of hardware for commercial or military advantage. However, the reverse engineering process in itself is not concerned with creating a copy or changing the artifact in some way; it is only an analysis in order to deduce design features from products with little or no additional knowledge about the procedures involved in their original production. In some cases, the goal of the reverse engineering process can simply be a redocumentation of legacy systems. Even when the product reverse engineered is that of a competitor, the goal may not be to copy them, but to perform competitor analysis. Reverse engineering may also be used to create interoperable products; despite some narrowly tailored US and EU legislation, the legality of using specific reverse engineering techniques for this purpose has been hotly contested in courts worldwide for more than two decades.