tp was an exploitation challenge consisting of two parts, in total woth 620 points. For PlaidCTF we (KITCTF) teamed up with StratumAuhuur as “Eat Sleep Pwn Repeat” and me and Stephen worked together to solve this challenge during the CTF.

So: here is our quick writeup.

First Contact reports all protections as beeing enabled. Running the binary results in no noticeable output and our input seems to be ignored as well. Time for some reversing.

Reverse Engineering

The binary does some interesting sandboxing setup. Here is what happens:

At first, the parent and child process set up a “trusted” code and stack region as follows:

  • After forking, the child mmaps a huge rwx memory region (0x10000000 - 0x700000000000)
  • The parent then (u)randomly chooses two regions inside that mapped region, one becomes the “trusted code”, the other the “trusted stack”
  • The parent sends the addresses of these two regions to the child by means of a process_vm_writev call
  • The child continues executing in the trusted code trough a swapcontext call
  • The child starts a second thread which will continue executing the “untrusted” code

At this point the parent’s job is done and it will wait for a timeout set via a call to alarm() and kill the child.

The child now sets up the sandbox:

  • It initializes a seccomp BPF sandbox, only allowing read, write, clone, exit, sigreturn, sigprocmask and any syscall from a specific “syscall” instruction in the trusted code region
  • If a syscall fails, control is transferred to a SIGSYS handler which communicates with the trusted thread trough two pipes. It will request execution of the failed syscall
    • The trusted code validates the syscall a second time, now allowing mmap, mprotect, munmap, brk, and mremap - probably in an effort to support memory allocation - then either aborts the process or executes the syscall on behalf of the untrusted thread. In the latter case execution continues in the untrusted thread as if the syscall suceeded the first time

The sandbox basically relies on the additional ASLR of the trusted code + stack that the parent process set up.

After this is done, the second thread begins executing the code the user interacts with. The binary implements a kind of note storage and uses a binary protocol. Notes can be created, updated, read and deleted and are stored in what looks like a c++ std::set.

Notes are stored in a structure similar to the following:

struct Note {
  int id;
  bool in_use;
  size_t size;
  char* content;

Lookup is performed by iterating over the set, looking for the note with the correct ID (yes, that’s not a very efficient way to do this).

Bug discovery

The “normal” control flow looks pretty solid, there don’t seem to be any overflows, UAFs, etc. However, there are some exception handlers in place, making sure the code can continue to run even after out-of-memory exceptions. This is interesting as it may lead to memory corruption if some data structure is in the process of being modified when an exception occurs. There is one specific exception handler, used when adding a new note, in pseudo c++:

void add_note()
    Note* note;
    try {
        Note* note = new Note;
    } catch {
        delete note;

    // ...

the build_and_insert_note() function is responsible for populating and inserting the passed note structure:

void build_and_insert_note(Note* note)
    note->id = note_counter++;
    note->in_use = 1;
    notes.add(note);        // global set of notes

    note->size = read_note_size();
    note->data = new char[](note->size);

    // ...

So, if we supply a large enough size, new/malloc will fail, throwing an exception and effectively causing a Use-After-Free condition as the freed note object is still in the set. Nice.

Exploitation, Part 1 (first flag)

For flag 1 we “only” need code execution inside the sandbox as the trusted code allows an open syscall if the path is “/home/tp/flag1”. After triggering the UAF we can update a previously allocated note so a new heap block is allocated to store the content – it will be placed in the same block that is still linked in the set. At this point we basically have an arbitrary read + write as we can set the id, size and pointer value of the victim chunk and then update/read the note with the new id, however, we do need an info leak as the binary is full PIE.

Constructing an info leak is possible in the following way: We can set the id of the victim chunk to some known value, set the size to 1 (or some other small value) and the pointer to 0 (so it can safely be free()’d by the application when reallocating more memory for the new note content), then update the chunk with that id, causing a heap pointer to be written into the chunk which we can subsequently leak. Afterwards we will find some pointers into the binaries .text at the end of the current page (I didn’t investigate why this is the case, but it seems to be very reliable).

To finish this part we can get the location of the “untrusted” stack from ld (__libc_stack_end), then directly overwrite saved EIP and put a little ropchain on the stack to map RWX memory (mmap is allowed by the userspace syscall filter) and execute our shellcode which then sends us the flag. 420 points.

Exploitation, Part 2 (second flag)

Escaping the sandbox basically boils down to learning the address of the trusted code and/or stack in memory. There seem to be at least two different ways to do this:

1 mmap

This is not perfectly reliable but works (and is what we did during the CTF). When we try to map a huge memory region, mmap finds the mapping we are looking for to be in the way and will then place the new mapping behind the existing one. So, with some luck, if we mmap a new region it will be some pages behind either the trusted code or the trusted stack region. From there we can go backwards in page steps and see if the current page is mapped by using mprotect.

2 mremap

The mremap syscall can be used to grow a mapping and potentially relocate it. When not specifying the MREMAP_MAYMOVE flag, mremap will fail when trying to grow a mapping if there is another mapping in the way. Using this we can find the location of the “trusted” reagions using a binary search:

  1. Allocate a page at the start of the search area (which in this case is 0x10000000 - 0x700000000000) using mmap
  2. Try to grow the mapping up to the middle of the current search area
    • if that fails than there is a mapping in the first half of the search area, set the upper bound to the middle
    • if it didn’t fail then the mapping we are looking for is in the upper half, set the lower bound to the middle
  3. Go back to 2 until we have found the mapping