Patching binary in order to debug child process

I sometimes stumble into binaries that use CreateProcess, CreateProcessInternal, CreateThread or any functions like that. In this case, the binary is using CreateProcess function. When debugging with xdbg, we cannot follow the code excution. In order to debug the binary, I often patch it, then run it and hook to it. I am not an expert in reverse engineering and I am pretty confident that there might be as good or even better ways to do it.

TLDR: patch the binary with 0xebfe, execute and attach it.

Hooking CreateProcess

I have a binary that will create child process using CreateProcessA. I knew this function was called using Process Monitor from sysinternals (and from Imports in IDA), so I ran xdbg with debug.exe, put a breakpoint using bp CreateProcessA. I executed it until it hit the breakpoint.

Breakpoint on CreateProcessA

We don’t really want to debug CreateProcessA function, so we can step until we get back to the user code (F4). From there, we can see the stack (or look at registers for x64 binaries) and take a look on how the process was created with its arguments.

After CreateProcessA

Stack before CreateProcessA

As it is not a post on how to reverse engineer and find functions in binary, I won’t go in details on how I found the function called when the binary is calling itself with arguments. One could look at the arguments, find the string in the binary and go from there and find where that string is used (xref in IDA).

When I found where it all led, the function looked like:

Function called when CreateProcessA is used

And that infinite loop

0xebfe is 2-byte instruction that creates and infinite loop. Patching the first bytes with 0xebfe with cause the function to run infinitely and that’s perfect for use. We will want to attach the binary as soon as the function is being executed to be able to debug everything.

In IDA, we can patch bytes using Edit > Patch program > Change Byte. Save the first bytes and instructions that will be overwritten somewhere with EB FE. The call graph should change to:

Breakpoint on CreateProcessA

We were lucky this time that the first instructions were 1-byte long. If you encounter a multi-byte instructions, you can fill it with 0x90, which is a NOP instruction.

Attach the patched binary

Next thing, run the original binary without xdbg and check at the processes list with Process explorer.

Breakpoint on CreateProcessA

If we right-click, select Properties..., we should see the same Command line as in xdbg.

Now, launch xdbg, attach the binary being ran, File > Attach, and find the function we earlier modified: CTRL + G, and we should see our EB FE bytes.

Breakpoint on CreateProcessA

From there, we can patch again the binary; click on the instruction and press Space. Change instruction to the orignals one and the function should be as it was at first:

Breakpoint on CreateProcessA

And you can now debug your function as it was originally.


We saw how patching a binary with 2 bytes can help us debugging a binary when it creates a child process:

  • Find where the CreateProcessA is used
  • Find what it calls
  • Replace the first bytes of the function with 0xebfe
  • Run the binary, attach to it
  • Find our patched function, patch it again to the original instructions
  • Debug it.

Using this technique can also bypass some anti-debuggers and might be useful when dealing with malware. However, run malware in a sandbox/virtual machine only!