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Blackbox protobuf is a Burp Suite extension for decoding and modifying arbitrary protobuf messages without the protobuf type definition.

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BlackBox Protobuf Burp Extension


This is an extension for the intercepting proxy Burp Suite ( that allows encoding and decoding arbitrary protocol buffer ( messages which may be contained in an intercepted request. It is designed to work without a protobuf definition file (.proto) which may not be available or may be unusable with existing Burp extensions.

The BlackBox Protobuf library can also be used independently as a Python module to convert protobuf messages to either JSON or a Python dictionary. It can be found under the


Library documentation, background information on Protobuf decoding and a breakdown of the type system and possible type corner cases may be found at



  1. If Burp Suite is not already installed, download it from
  2. Download/Install Jython 2.7+ and configure Burp with the location. See
  3. Clone this repository and then run
    git submodule update --init
    to install dependencies.
  4. Within Burp, navigate to Extender -> Extensions and select "Add".
  5. Set "Extension Type" to Python and select the
    file in the git repository.
  6. Click Next and the extension should load.
  7. Note: gRPC is supported, but you'll have to enable Burp's HTTP/2 support (under Project Options->HTTP). Also, currently only uncompressed gRPC payloads are supported. If the first byte of the payload is not
    , it's compressed and you'll have to modify the en/decoding code to account for that.

Editing Messages

A new tab will be added to every message window with a content type of "x-protobuf" or "application/protobuf" (this can be modified, see below). The protobuf message will be parsed to a JSON dictionary with numbered fields as the key. The values can be modified as long as the new value is of the same type. At the moment, fields may be removed, but not added. Fields will be reencoded with the same type as it was decoded.

The "Validate" button verifies that the JSON can be reencoded before switching away from the protobuf tab. If you switch away from the tab with an invalid payload, it will raise an error and reset.

The "Save Type"/"Load Type" buttons allow message types to be saved/loaded across editing tabs.

The "Edit Type" brings up a window for editing the current message's type definition in JSON form. The current message will be decoded with the new type upon saving.

The "Reset" button will revert the protobuf message to the original decoded value.

Editing Types

The type definition for a message can be modified to make protobuf messages easier to work with. This allows you to change how a message is decoded (eg. decode a field as an

instead of the default
) and allows you to assigned names to fields to improve readability.

Field numbers should not be modified and types should only be changed to types within the same wire type. A full list of wiretypes and sub-types can be found below.

Type Reference

  • Varint - Variable length integers (up to 8 bytes)
    • uint
      - unsigned, represents positive numbers efficiently, can't represent negative numbers
    • int
      - (default) signed, but represents negative numbers inefficiently
    • sint
      - Zig-zag encoding to map unsigned space to signed
  • Fixed32 - Always 32 bits
    • fixed32
      - (default) unsigned integer
    • sfixed32
      - signed integer
    • float
      - floating point number
  • Fixed64 - Always 64 bits
    • fixed64
      - (default) unsigned integer
    • sfixed64
      - signed integer
    • double
      - floating point number
  • Length Delimited - Prefixed by length representing varint
    • bytes
      - (default) Plain data, used for strings as well
    • message
      - (detected) Protobuf message. Can contain a nested type definition ('
      ') or labeled type name ('
    • string
      - Similar to bytes, but will return a string python type
    • bytes_hex
      - Output binary data as a string of hex characters rather than an escaped string
    • packed_*
      - Repeated fields of the same type packed into a buffer. Can be combined with any Varint, or fixed wiretype (eg.
  • Group (Start/End)
    • group
      - Deprecated way to group fields. Replaced with nested Protobuf Messages

Type Definition Persistence

By default, the extension will remember changes to a type definition and attempt to reuse the type definition for the same requests. This is currently based on the HTTP path and whether it is a request or response. This behavior can be modified with the

function in
. For example, basing the message type on a URL parameter or header value. These remembered types will be forgotten if they fail to decode a message.

Types can be explicitly saved/named through the "Save Type" button or in the type definition editor tab. Named type definitions can then be applied to any message. These types are not persisted and will disappear when Burp is closed.

Finally, types can be exported to JSON files from the type definition editor tab for longer term backup or storage.

Protobuf Detection/Extraction

The plugin currently attempts to detect a protobuf message using the "Content-Type" header and retrieve the binary from the message body. However, the use of the protobuf format is not standardized and the location/encoding of the protobuf data may change from application to application.

Users can write custom functions for detecting protobufs, retrieving protobuf data from an HTTP message, and setting the re-encoded protobuf data in the HTTP message. These functions, along with several examples, can be found in

. The extension must be reloaded after modifying the file.

Future Work

  • Persistent message type definitions
    • Save across sessions
    • Import/export to proto files

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