This is an unsanitised account of how I solved the GCHQ challenge at http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/. According to the BBC the competition began in secret on the 3rd of November 2011 and will continue until the 12th of December. I was going to hold back this publication until the contest ended but a solution has just made it to the front page of slashdot so I think the jig is up!
This writeup includes the wrong turnings I took and the bad assumptions I made along the way so any reader can see the kind of thought processes necessary. I very deliberately did no searching on the Internet about the puzzle so all the work below (and the mistakes) are mine alone!
The programs linked to in the article are the final versions, I didn't keep the intermediate versions which I talk about in the text, so you'll have to imagine what they looked like.
The challenge opens showing a single image with a load of hex digits in and a form to submit your answer. The image looks like this:
The first thing I did was to decode the hex data. Using a python program of course! I played around with trying to get it to display an image. It is obviously low entropy but what is it? Not an image anyway.
I used cyber.py to save it to a binary file and ran the unix "file" utility on it which told me it was x86 code:
$ file cyber.bin cyber.bin: DOS executable (COM)
Interesting. A disassembly was required cyber.disassembly.asm:
x86dis -r 0 160 -s intel < cyber.bin > cyber.disassembly.asm
The code appeared to be linux flavour, exiting politely with the correct
int 0x80 call.
The obvious next step is to run the code. It is bare code which you
can't just run on any modern OS. I could have added headers to it but I
decided to write cyber.c to load it
into memory instead. I used
mmap to map a padded version of the code
so I could get the code and the stack under my control and examine it
after the code had exited:
gcc -g -m32 -Wall -static -o cyber cyber.c
Running the code, it seemed to be early terminating - needing 0x42424242 or "BBBB" on the end to continue according to this bit of code:
0000004A 58 pop eax 0000004B 3D 42 42 42 42 cmp eax, 0x42424242 00000050 75 3B jnz 0x0000008D ; exit
I tried padding with "BBBB" and it core dumped this time. After studying the disassembly some more and experimenting I noted that it needed "BBBB" and a 4 byte length. Running that it appears to decrypt something on the stack this time, so I'm getting somewhere.
But what to decrypt? I needed a string starting with "BBBB". I recursively downloaded the entire website and grepped it for "BBBB" without success. However on really close examination of a hex dump of cyber.png I discovered this:
00000050: 1233 7e39 c170 0000 005d 6954 5874 436f .3~9.p...]iTXtCo 00000060: 6d6d 656e 7400 0000 0000 516b 4a43 516a mment.....QkJCQj 00000070: 4941 4141 4352 3250 4674 6343 4136 7132 IAAACR2PFtcCA6q2 00000080: 6561 4338 5352 2b38 646d 442f 7a4e 7a4c eaC8SR+8dmD/zNzL 00000090: 5143 2b74 6433 7446 5134 7178 384f 3434 QC+td3tFQ4qx8O44 000000a0: 3754 4465 755a 7735 502b 3053 7362 4563 7TDeuZw5P+0SsbEc 000000b0: 5952 0a37 386a 4b4c 773d 3d32 cabe f100 YR.78jKLw==2....
That string "QkJCQj...78jKLw==" with upper and lower case letters,
'+' and '/' and the trailing '==' screams base64
encoding to me. I decoded it in
python and it decodes to
BBBB2\x00\x00\x00\x91... -hooray a string
starting with "BBBB" and a sensible looking length! I then modified
cyber.py to add that on the end of
the code and ran the cyber.c binary.
After it had ran I examined the stack in the
originally written by
cyber.py. I saw this:
00002c0: 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 47 45 54 20 2f 31 ..........GET /1 00002d0: 35 62 34 33 36 64 65 31 66 39 31 30 37 66 33 37 5b436de1f9107f37 00002e0: 37 38 61 61 64 35 32 35 65 35 64 30 62 32 30 2e 78aad525e5d0b20. 00002f0: 6a 73 20 48 54 54 50 2f de e6 fb 2f ef ae 5d aa js HTTP/.../..].
Which looks very like an HTTP transaction, ie a coded instruction to fetch a file, so I did:
$ wget http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/15b436de1f9107f3778aad525e5d0b20.js
The downloaded file 15b436de1f9107f3778aad525e5d0b20.js is a description of a VM with an initial state, but no code to implement the VM. It has a very realistic and amusing initial commment! It also says "stage 2 of 3" which is the first indication how long this challenge is going to be.
Otherwise it seems a reasonably straightforward job to implement the VM and I got cracking on vm.py after reading that. Note that it has 8 bytes of 'firmware' which don't seem to fit in anywhere which is a bit puzzling.
Wasted a lot of time trying to get the VM to work. Tried poking the firmware in various imaginitive places. Found a few bugs then finally re-read the doc again - Ah-ha it is 16 byte segment size, not a 16 bit register... Duh!
Fixed that and it runs much better now actually decrypting stuff and halts properly.
Found this in the memory in
vm.py had run:
00001c0: 47 45 54 20 2f 64 61 37 35 33 37 30 66 65 31 35 GET /da75370fe15 00001d0: 63 34 31 34 38 62 64 34 63 65 65 63 38 36 31 66 c4148bd4ceec861f 00001e0: 62 64 61 61 35 2e 65 78 65 20 48 54 54 50 2f 31 bdaa5.exe HTTP/1 00001f0: 2e 30 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 .0..............
That seems like an instruction to fetch something from the web site again:
$ wget http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/da75370fe15c4148bd4ceec861fbdaa5.exe
Haven't used the firmware - wonder where that fits in...
I looked in da75370fe15c4148bd4ceec861fbdaa5.exe
crypt()function. It has a string in it which looks exactly like a DES password crypt "hqDTK7b8K2rvw". I then set John the Ripper and crack off on it for good measure to find the encrypted password.
John the Ripper found the password
cyberwin in 2 hours. The easy one
was my test to make sure it was working:
Loaded 2 password hashes with 2 different salts (Traditional DES [128/128 BS SSE2-16]) easy (trivial) cyberwin (test) guesses: 2 time: 0:02:01:42 (3) c/s: 1537K trying: cufqnm5! - cyberwen Use the "--show" option to display all of the cracked passwords reliably
And double checking with python:
>>> crypt("cyberwin", "hq") == "hqDTK7b8K2rvw" True
Meanwhile I tried running the exe on windows but it doesn't run without that dll.
After installing cygwin with the "crypt" package which has the correct
dll in, I copied
cygwin1.dll into my working
directory. The exe now runs and gives:
>da75370fe15c4148bd4ceec861fbdaa5.exe keygen.exe usage: keygen.exe hostname >da75370fe15c4148bd4ceec861fbdaa5.exe localhost keygen.exe error: license.txt not found
I then tried it with "cyberwin" in license.txt:
>da75370fe15c4148bd4ceec861fbdaa5.exe localhost keygen.exe error: license.txt invalid
Hmm, I was expecting that to work.
Looking through the keygen.edit.asm (my annotated version) I discovered that the password should be prefixed with "gchq". The first hint as to who set this puzzle! :
cmp [ebp+var_38], 71686367h ; gchq jnz short invalid_license
Putting "gchqcyberwin" into the
license.txt and running the program
goes better this time. It fetches a page this time, but it is a 404 not
found. Note that this isn't the normal 404 page because the exe uses
HTTP/1.0 rather than HTTP/1.1:
>da75370fe15c4148bd4ceec861fbdaa5.exe www.canyoucrackit.co.uk keygen.exe loading stage1 license key(s)... loading stage2 license key(s)... request: GET /hqDTK7b8K2rvw/0/0/0/key.txt HTTP/1.0 response: HTTP/1.1 404 Not Found Content-Type: text/html; charset=us-ascii Server: Microsoft-HTTPAPI/2.0 Date: Sat, 03 Dec 2011 09:29:29 GMT Connection: close Content-Length: 315 <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01//EN""http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/strict.dtd"> <HTML><HEAD><TITLE>Not Found</TITLE> <META HTTP-EQUIV="Content-Type" Content="text/html; charset=us-ascii"></HEAD> <BODY><h2>Not Found</h2> <hr><p>HTTP Error 404. The requested resource is not found.</p> </BODY></HTML>
Trying the above in the web browser gives the normal 404 message. Trying with telnet see that it needs HTTP/1.0. HTTP/1.1 with host header gives normal page. Trying "GET / HTTP/1.0" gives the same message so probably a red herring to do with the server (or not see later!).
The fact that the page isn't found means that there is something missing. But what? The code is executing the equivalent of this to make the GET string to fetch the page:
sprintf(buffer, "GET /%s/%x/%x/%x/key.txt HTTP/1.0\r\n\r\n", crypted_string, key1, key2, key2);
However key1, key2 and key3 are all 0 which doesn't look right. I tried some things for those missing %x parameters:
>>> t = "gchqcyberwin" >>> from struct import * >>> [ "%x" %x for x in unpack(">iii", t) ] ['67636871', '63796265', '7277696e'] >>> [ "%x" %x for x in unpack("<iii", t) ] ['71686367', '65627963', '6e697772']
wget http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/hqDTK7b8K2rvw/71686367/65627963/6e697772/key.txt wget http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/hqDTK7b8K2rvw/67636871/63796265/7277696e/key.txt
But no luck.
More study of the keygen.edit.asm
disassembly reveals that key1, key2, key3 come from the end of the
license.txt file after "gchqcyberwin". So that makes 24 bytes of
secrets read from the licence file which is the size of the buffer the
Ah-Ha! The clue is in the "loading stageX license key(s)..." messages.
This bit of assembler code gives it away (annotations by me):
loc_4011A5: ; "loading stage1 license key(s)...\n" mov [esp+78h+var_78], offset aLoadingStage1L call printf mov eax, [ebp+var_2C] ; copy 4 bytes of the licence file mov [ebp+var_48], eax mov [esp+78h+var_78], offset aLoadingStage2L ; "loading stage2 license key(s)...\n\n" call printf mov eax, [ebp+var_28] ; ...and another 4 bytes mov [ebp+var_44], eax mov eax, [ebp+var_24] ; ..and another 4 bytes mov [ebp+var_40], eax
It prints "loading stage1 license keys(s)..." loads 4 bytes, then "loading stage2 license key(s)..." and loads 8 bytes. Stage 1 is the first stage of the puzzle - need 4 bytes from this - how about the unused 4 bytes at the start of the code that is jumped over "af c2 bf a3". Stage2 is the second stage from which we need 8 bytes - the mysteriously unused firmware seems appropriate.
I wrote keyfetch.py to fiddle with the endianess and after a bit of trial and error it worked:
GET 'http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/hqDTK7b8K2rvw/a3bfc2af/d2ab1f05/da13f110/key.txt' Pr0t3ct!on
HTTP/1.1 and the
GET program. Which looks like it
could be the password! But it doesn't work :-(
The headers showed nothing interesting. I then tried using
with a corrected license file - it didn't work as I expected as the
webserver doesn't support HTTP/1.0 (or maybe I did something wrong).
However trying it by hand using telnet and
HTTP/1.0 does do something
$ telnet www.canyoucrackit.co.uk 80 Trying 18.104.22.168... Connected to www.canyoucrackit.co.uk. Escape character is '^]'. GET http://www.canyoucrackit.co.uk/hqDTK7b8K2rvw/a3bfc2af/d2ab1f05/da13f110/key.txt HTTP/1.0 HTTP/1.1 200 OK Content-Type: text/plain Last-Modified: Wed, 26 Oct 2011 08:40:14 GMT Accept-Ranges: bytes ETag: "bc46bae1ba93cc1:0" Server: Microsoft-IIS/7.5 Date: Sun, 04 Dec 2011 11:14:54 GMT Connection: close Content-Length: 37 Pr0t3ct!on#cyber_security@12*12.2011+Connection closed by foreign host. $
I reworked keyfetch.py to make
the fetch using
HTTP/1.0 to double check.
Pr0t3ct!on#cyber_security@12*12.2011+ as the key does indeed
work and produces this page:
So you did it. Well done! Now this is where it gets interesting. Could you use your skills and ingenuity to combat terrorism and cyber threats? As one of our experts, you'll help protect our nation's security and the lives of thousands. Every day will bring new challenges, new solutions to find -- and new ways to prove that you're one of the best.
I'm not going to apply for a job as I'm rather fully employed elsewhere, but it was a fun challenge!
I didn't see this until the 1st December 2011 when a colleague at work (thanks Tom!) mentioned it to me and I didn't have time to work on it until Friday the 2nd of December. It took me one very late night on Friday and intermittent hacking on Saturday and Sunday to complete the challenge - about 12 hours in total. I spent 3 hours tracking down that mis-understanding in vm.py about 16 byte segments and 2 hours trying to work out what the missing 12 bytes were in the URL in stage 3.
I think Stage 1 was very hard - perhaps deliberately so. Stage 2 was much easier - there was a defined goal and any competent computer scientist would be able to knock up the VM code. Stage 3 involved an awful lot of reading C compiler created x86 assembler which was painful. I suspect I could have done it a lot quicker if I'd had some better tools. An interactive disassembling debugger would have been useful - I used to have such a thing when I did 68000 programming and it was a wonder.
I note that I didn't actually have to crack the encrypted password in Stage 3. I could have just changed one byte and have it ignore the check but I was expecting that the code would actually need to use it. Alas no and so much for John the Ripper!
Finally thanks to GCHQ for making the challenge - it was a good one!