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OSU Cybersecurity Club’s CTF (Capture the Flag)

This weekend I participated in Ohio State’s Cybersecurity Club remote CTF. I was really lucky to work with three brilliant friends, who taught me a lot about CTFs and what kind of skillset I have to offer.

Hard Skills

0. (Tools and resources)

First and foremost, I picked up a lot of tools that I’ve never used before. I want to document them here (mostly for myself). So in no particular order:

1. SQL Injection

This was my first time doing any sort of SQL injection. The big thing for me was thinking about how the query was written, and how I can verify if a query is written a particular way. For example, if the query is written as:

query = "SELECT * FROM Employee WHERE name LIKE '%" + name + "%'"

Then I can put ' to finish the first '% and then whatever I want afterwards. Somethings I really liked to do:

  1. ' ORDER BY name DESC;--: This query just changes the order of the results. It was an easy way to confirm if comments (--) work, column names (name) and whether the quotes are single or double.
  2. To find the table names, there’s a different way for MySQL/SQL Server, Oracle databases, and SQLite. For each, you have a specialized table name to ask about:
-- Suppose our original query is
SELECT * FROM Employee WHERE name LIKE %name%;

-- we can any of the following after a quote:

-- Oracle
UNION SELECT table_name FROM all_tables

-- MySQL/SQL Server
UNION SELECT 1 FROM information_schema.tables

-- SQLite
UNION SELECT name FROM sqlite_master WHERE type LIKE 'table'

It’s also important to remember that UNION needs the same number of columns on both sides. Just keep adding columns to the UNION until it works. There might be more columns in the original SELECT than are showing on the webpage.

Then, because it was a SQLite database, I used the following query to find the SQL commands that created the tables:

UNION SELECT sql FROM sqlite_master WHERE name='CLASSES';

(@me: remember that each of these would need a leading quote (') and end with ;-- to make the rest of the query useless.)

2. Binary exploitations

Binary exploitations were also new for me. I understood the idea from my Systems I and II courses, but I’d never implemented it in practice. We ended up bruteforcing most of them since we were unable to reason about what was on the stack and in what order, but the base understanding was there.

One we had to overwrite a integer by overflowing a buffer. Not too difficult. The other we had to overwrite a ret address by overflowing a buffer. Both required some thought about how to spam the actual bytes into the program, but once we figured that out, it was very doable to find the right length sequence to set the bits we needed. Surprisingly, Radare was only useful for finding the new target address of the ret instruction. I wasn’t able to use the tool well enough to help further, but I could tell it was very powerful.

Soft Skills

Some of my teammates had done CTFs before, and knew what kind of thinking was needed. I often struggled to make the creative leaps needed to understand what the goal was, but once we had established how to solve the problem, I often wrote the Python script to solve the problem.

I guess the lesson is that I do much better with well-defined constraints and goals, which is something to keep in mind when I am setting goals and tasks for myself.

Wrapping Up

Big thanks to OSU Cybersecurity Club for hosting this CTF remotely, and to my teammates for explaining things to me all weekend!

Please email me if you have any comments or want to discuss further.


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Sam Stevens, 2020

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