I’m so sorry that it’s been such a long time since I’ve dropped an article here! I’ve been writing for my current company navisec.io @ delta.navisec.io and I’ve not had the chance to drop a good article for 0x00sec for a little while.
Today that is changing! Whoop!
In this article I’m going to discuss CTF methodology, really, this links in so closely to real life penetration methodology (if you were scoped down to an internal or to a single machine).
Specifically, we’re going to be discussing boot2root CTF’s, things such as HackTheBox.eu, and how I generally go about pwning a box.
The Basics - what is our objective?
Usually, the objective of these CTF’s is to obtain a shell, usually unprivileged, and then escalate your privileges to gain access to root. Occasionally this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to obtain a root shell, but be people to read/write files as root, (which with more time could be used to gain a root shell).
As per hackthebox, you usually have these two files known as flags stored on the machine. On Linux machines the “user.txt” flag denotes a user own, and is stored in /home/someusername/user.txt, and on Linux, the “root.txt” flag file is stored in /root/root.txt.
On windows boxes, these files are usually stored in C:\Users\Username\Desktop\user.txt, and C:\Users\Administrator\Desktop\root.txt respectively.
When you gain access to these files, you just need to view the contents (
type) and copy the code into the HackTheBox page for that box.
How do we even start?
Ok, so now you know what you’re trying to achieve, you need to know where to start.
I recommend now if you’re reading so far, and you are not familiar with basic networking, Linux or Windows basic usage, and scripting languages such as python/ruby, then you’re not ready for CTF’s. For networking watch this and for Linux watch this. Obviously, this is nowhere near enough to get started but it should provide some structure for absolute newbies!
The first stage of hacking is enumeration.
Enumeration is the stage where we attempt to collect as much information as we can from the host before even trying to exploit anything. I will easily spend 1-2 hours of enumeration on a medium box. Take your time with this step, never rush this. Go very slow, read everything, save anything and everything in your notes that might be relevant later.
For a quick reference containing everything here, read this.
Typically in a CTF, I will begin with a portscan.
This is the real nmap scan I use for SwagShop this weekend.
sudo nmap -v -sS -A -Pn -T5 -p- -oN swagshop.txt 10.10.10.140
Just to make sure you’re not missing anything a quick UDP scan, since this is so slow I generally won’t wait for it and will just go ahead while it’s running.
sudo nmap -v -sU -T5 -oN swagshop-udp.txt 10.10.10.140
You rarely will find UDP ports open & relevant in CTF’s, but they can catch you out (for example Access).
This command will return your nmap results, very often if it’s a Linux box, you’ll end up with a webserver on port 80, maybe 443, and port 22 open. Bruteforcing SSH is rarely fruitful and something I will only ever do if i’m scrabbling for access (I’ve never bruteforced successfully on a HTB before).
Now that you’ve done a network map, you need to enumerate each service. So in our case:
PORT STATE SERVICE VERSION 22/tcp open ssh OpenSSH 7.2p2 Ubuntu 4ubuntu2.8 (Ubuntu Linux; protocol 2.0) | ssh-hostkey: | 2048 b6:55:2b:d2:4e:8f:a3:81:72:61:37:9a:12:f6:24:ec (RSA) | 256 2e:30:00:7a:92:f0:89:30:59:c1:77:56:ad:51:c0:ba (ECDSA) |_ 256 4c:50:d5:f2:70:c5:fd:c4:b2:f0:bc:42:20:32:64:34 (ED25519) 80/tcp open http Apache httpd 2.4.18 ((Ubuntu)) |_http-favicon: Unknown favicon MD5: 88733EE53676A47FC354A61C32516E82 | http-methods: |_ Supported Methods: GET HEAD POST OPTIONS |_http-title: Home page
Now I will write down things such as the OpenSSH version, the distribution discovered via this fingerprint. I will also do the same for HTTP. Generally, to ensure I’m not missing anything dumb, I will search https://www.exploit-db.com/ for these version numbers.
(Tip, if you get a version like OpenSSH 7.2p2, search SSH 7.2, or OpenSSH 7 and look over the results. You might find that the description on the exploit is like “< 7.3”. )
Quite often, I will not find a full on RCE here, if I do spot an RCE, I’ll fire up metasploit and search the software as well. Sometimes there are exploits in here (and vice versa). You’re probably noticing the trend here is “just check in case”. As @cry0lit3 always says, leave no stone unturned.
If you’re on a Windows box, you might find that port 21 is open, port 139, 445 are open. If this is the case, try and connect to FTP (I use ncftp thanks to @guly), note down the version numbers, try and connect with the “Anonymous” user. For 139 and 445, try and enumerate SMB.
smbclient -L 10.10.10.140
This will return shares listed in SMB. Once you’ve got a few, use smbclient to try and connect to each one.
This will prompt you for a password, you can also specify a username with the -U flag. If your credentials are successful, you will be dropped into an interactive prompt similar to that of FTP and you’ll be able to navigate files and download files.
You can also use the SMB script that comes with nmap,
nmap -p445 -sV --script smb-enum-services 10.10.10.140
This script works ok, but it’s best to try both.
A crucial part of lots of hacktheboxes and CTF’s is HTTP enumeration. I love using Burpsuite for this, setup burpsuite and proxy all your requests, if you have pro, do an active spider. Click through the entire website and click everything, every link, the file structure will be populated in the left-hand side of the Burpsuite window. I strongly recommend flipping through each request and nothing things such as the request cookies, the response headers, and scanning through the web source. You might get lucky and find some comments containing a hint!
Now that you’ve completed some level of passive reconnaissance, go in hard with the active. I will generally begin this step before I do passive enum just for the sake of efficiency.
There are many different tools you can use here, but I really like gobuster.
gobuster -w SecLists/Discovery/Web_Content/big.txt -u http://10.10.10.140/
You can also chuck in the -x flag and supply some different extensions if the app has a lot of aspx pages I will chuck on
-x aspx. Focus this bit depending on what you’re dealing with, is it a NodeJS app? Try
-x js,json. It’s unlikely you’ll find a .php page on a NodeJS app.
For good measure, once I’ve run this and begin investigating further, I will chuck this at it:
gobuster -w SecLists/Discovery/Web_Content/raft-large-files.txt -u http://10.10.10.140/
Once I’ve gotten a list of different directories that have been discovered, I will visit them, curl them, and investigate further. Usually, on an easy box, you’ll find something you might be able to exploit here, or maybe just more hints!
What you find might happen is that the developer has been crafty and enabled wildcard directories. This is a common thing on harder boxes and you will often notice that this the developer’s way of telling you “its not by dirbusting!”. Sometimes, though, they might hide something inside this, maybe a comment or a page with a 404 not found status code, but with something inside the source, you can use burp intruder and examine the response lengths if you feel this might be the case.
Again - examine all of your traffic through Burp, its so invaluable to be able to read the source. Doing this would of gotten me a foothold on OneTwoSeven so much quicker!
Finding subdomains with SSL certs
If you find that port 443 is open, or an SSL port is open, you might be able to leverage this to get yourself some subdomains! You can either click on the cert and navigate and read all the information until you find some other valid certnames.
Or you can use this one-liner, (I recommend doing both though).
echo | openssl s_client -connect 0x00sec.org:443 | openssl x509 -noout -text | grep DNS | sed 's/,/\n/g'
Once you’ve got these, put them in your hosts file or try and request with curl:
curl -vv 'Host: yournewdomain.com' 10.10.10.40
You might get lucky! If you want to bruteforce these, you can use the
auxiliary/scanner/http/vhost_scanner module in Metasploit.
Now that you’ve enumerated a bunch, and hopefully organized this into a nice set of notes (I usually just use a text file), I recommend (taking your time), and going over the data you’ve collected. Focus on trying to use your current gathered information to gain and gather more information. Perhaps you read some text on the website that suggested the username or potential name of the fictional user of the system.
If you’ve obtained creds, try them everywhere! And note down that you’ve tried them. Noting down what you’ve tried and being methodical is so useful.
Now after you’ve reviewed your notes, you will likely find that something pops into your head; an “OH OF COURSE” moment. If you’ve done your enumeration well enough, you should see the path that has been laid out for you pretty clearly. Whether that is a vulnerable webapp, a wordpress instance located in a sub path, a status page giving you more information, an LDAP instance that is leaking hashes (that you can crack!), an LFI that you can get ssh private keys from!
Try and think through what the app does, what the system is, and how it works. Where is it communicating? How did the developer design this? How might this be vulnerable?
Once you’ve found this path, try and exploit it. Depending on the difficulty of the box, you might need to spend a little while on this. Google is your best friend! If you’re really struggling, you can look over some hints from the HackTheBox forums, but remember, if you’re planning on doing the OSCP, you won’t get the luxury of these hints. Usually, this involves getting a shell, for a quick shell reference this can be very helpful.
Getting the Root!
Now really, since this is not intended to be an exhaustive article on enumeration, but more of a quick overview of CTF methodology. I won’t go too deep into rooting and privesc. The metholodgy is exactly the same for me. Collect as much information as possible, organize your collected data and then the path should reveal itself.
If you want a privesc reference, check this out!
In conclusion, the methodology of gaining access to a CTF box contains a few steps:
- Information gathering
- More information gathering
- Review your collected information
- Exploit the path that you’ve been shown by the hacker gods
It’s dead easy when you think about it like this, and really taking your time is invaluable. If you don’t see a path, just keep enumerating. You’ll find something, it just might take a LOT of enumeration. In many ways, knowing the path to exploitation but just struggling on the actual exploitation execution is a really rewarding feeling, because finding that flaw to exploit is literally half the battle.
I hope this was helpful, and not too scrappy, this was thrown together in a mad blaze of creativity before my workday. If you spot any typo’s let me know and I’ll fix it.
What does your CTF methodology look like? Do you have a different approach or tips for others on this topic? Please let me know!