Crackme 16: BinaryNewbie’s Tr1cky Cr4ckm3

Mar 21, 2021

Check out the page for this crackme on, or download the binary here.

First challenge: a password for $USER

Running the program without arguments or a $USER environment variable makes it print an error message. If we set a value for $USER and try hello as the password, it runs without issues but reports that the password is incorrect:

$ export USER=binod
$ ./tricky-crackme hello
[+] Welcome to this tricky crackme.
[+] Find the correct password to unlock the next step.
[+] I'm waiting for solutions...
[+] Have fun.
[+] Developed by Binary Newbie

Wrong password :/

This is a pretty small executable at only 18,320 bytes but it seems to be written in C as it depends on and contains symbols referencing C stdlib functions:

$ readelf -a ./tricky-crackme
000000201fa8  000c00000007 R_X86_64_JUMP_SLO 0000000000000000 strtol@GLIBC_2.2.5 + 0
000000201fb0  000d00000007 R_X86_64_JUMP_SLO 0000000000000000 gnu_get_libc_version@GLIBC_2.2.5 + 0
000000201fb8  000e00000007 R_X86_64_JUMP_SLO 0000000000000000 perror@GLIBC_2.2.5 + 0
000000201fc0  000f00000007 R_X86_64_JUMP_SLO 0000000000000000 exit@GLIBC_2.2.5 + 0
000000201fc8  001000000007 R_X86_64_JUMP_SLO 0000000000000000 fwrite@GLIBC_2.2.5 + 0
000000201fd0  001100000007 R_X86_64_JUMP_SLO 0000000000000000 __fprintf_chk@GLIBC_2.3.4 + 0

The ELF header says the entry point is at 0xd30 and Hopper names this section EntryPoint, but running the program in GDB with a breakpoint at 0xd30 just fails immediately without printing anything. Instead we can put a breakpoint on puts, which will eventually be called to print the welcome message. Then with a backtrace (bt) we’ll get the actual entry point for the program:

$ gdb ./tricky-crackme
gdb$ b puts
Breakpoint 1 at 0x950
gdb$ r
Starting program: ./tricky-crackme

Breakpoint 1, __GI__IO_puts (str=0x555555555288 "[+] Welcome to this tricky crackme.\n[+] Find the correct password to unlock the next step.\n[+] I'm waiting for solutions...\n[+] Have fun.\n[+] Developed by Binary Newbie\n") at ioputs.c:35
35	ioputs.c: No such file or directory.
=> 0x00007ffff7e79910 <__GI__IO_puts+0>:    push   r14
   0x00007ffff7e79912 <__GI__IO_puts+2>:    push   r13
   0x00007ffff7e79914 <__GI__IO_puts+4>:    mov    r13,rdi
   0x00007ffff7e79917 <__GI__IO_puts+7>:    push   r12
   0x00007ffff7e79919 <__GI__IO_puts+9>:    push   rbp
   0x00007ffff7e7991a <__GI__IO_puts+10>    push   rbx
   0x00007ffff7e7991b <__GI__IO_puts+11>    call   0x7ffff7e2a130 <*ABS*+0x88070@plt>
   0x00007ffff7e79920 <__GI__IO_puts+16>    mov    r12,QWORD PTR [rip+0x149621]        # 0x7ffff7fc2f48
   0x00007ffff7e79927 <__GI__IO_puts+23>    mov    rbx,rax
gdb$ bt
#0  __GI__IO_puts (str=0x555555555288 "[+] Welcome to this tricky crackme.\n[+] Find the correct password to unlock the next step.\n[+] I'm waiting for solutions...\n[+] Have fun.\n[+] Developed by Binary Newbie\n") at ioputs.c:35
#1  0x0000555555554aad in ?? ()
#2  0x00007ffff7e2c09b in __libc_start_main (main=0x555555554a80, argc=0x1, argv=0x7fffffffed48, init=<optimized out>, fini=<optimized out>, rtld_fini=<optimized out>, stack_end=0x7fffffffed38) at ../csu/libc-start.c:308
#3  0x0000555555554d5a in ?? ()

In this stack trace we see __libc_start_main which is the libc function that run before main itself and then the breakpoint on __GI__IO_puts. The main parameter tells us that the program starts at 0x555555554a80, with the following instructions:

$ x/20i 0x555555554a80
0x555555554a80:	push   rbp
0x555555554a81:	push   rbx
0x555555554a82:	mov    ebx,edi
0x555555554a84:	lea    rdi,[rip+0x7fd]        # 0x555555555288
0x555555554a8b:	mov    rbp,rsi
0x555555554a8e:	sub    rsp,0xb8
0x555555554a95:	mov    rax,QWORD PTR fs:0x28
0x555555554a9e:	mov    QWORD PTR [rsp+0xa8],rax
0x555555554aa6:	xor    eax,eax
0x555555554aa8:	call   0x555555554950 <puts@plt>      ; the call to puts()
0x555555554aad:	cmp    ebx,0x2
0x555555554ab0:	je     0x555555554af6

In Hopper we can navigate to address 0xa80 and use Modify > Change File Base Address from 0x00 to 0x555555554000, which will make it match GDB.

Note the cmp ebx, 0x2 followed by a je: ebx is set above to what was in edi. This register is set by __libc_start_main and stores the number of arguments passed to the program. If it’s 2 then a single password parameter was passed in and we jump, otherwise we continue and there are instructions that mention stderr and Usage %s <password>\n.

The code that follows is executed when we do have a parameter. It looks very unusual:

$ x/26i 0x555555554af6
0x555555554af6:    movdqa xmm0,XMMWORD PTR [rip+0x852]        # 0x555555555350
0x555555554afe:    lea    rbx,[rsp+0x1e]
0x555555554b03:    mov    rdi,QWORD PTR [rbp+0x8]
0x555555554b07:    mov    edx,0xa
0x555555554b0c:    xor    esi,esi
0x555555554b0e:    movaps XMMWORD PTR [rsp+0x60],xmm0
0x555555554b13:    mov    DWORD PTR [rsp+0x1e],0x4d5a4c4a
0x555555554b1b:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0x22],0x1f
0x555555554b20:    movdqa xmm0,XMMWORD PTR [rip+0x838]        # 0x555555555360
0x555555554b28:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0xa0],0x1b
0x555555554b30:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0xa1],0x5f
0x555555554b38:    movaps XMMWORD PTR [rsp+0x70],xmm0
0x555555554b3d:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0xa2],0x45
0x555555554b45:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0xa3],0x57
0x555555554b4d:    movdqa xmm0,XMMWORD PTR [rip+0x81b]        # 0x555555555370
0x555555554b55:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0xa4],0x75
0x555555554b5d:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0xa5],0x7f
0x555555554b65:    movaps XMMWORD PTR [rsp+0x80],xmm0
0x555555554b6d:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0x50],0xe3
0x555555554b72:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0x51],0xc6
0x555555554b77:    movdqa xmm0,XMMWORD PTR [rip+0x801]        # 0x555555555380
0x555555554b7f:    mov    BYTE PTR [rsp+0x52],0xcc
0x555555554b84:    movaps XMMWORD PTR [rsp+0x90],xmm0
0x555555554b8c:    movdqa xmm0,XMMWORD PTR [rip+0x7fc]        # 0x555555555390
0x555555554b94:    movaps XMMWORD PTR [rsp+0x40],xmm0
0x555555554b99:    call   0x5555555549c0 <strtol@plt>

Many of these are double-quadword instructions, moving 128 bits at a time. MOVDQA is “Move Aligned Double Quadword”, and MOVAPS is “Move Aligned Packed Single-Precision (floating-point values)”.

But let’s start with first two mov followed by a xor. These set rdi, edx, and esi. The first mov sets rdi to the value at rbp + 0x08: rbp is the frame pointer, so at +8 this is our first argument to main. Indeed we can verify this with a breakpoint at 0x555555554b03:

gdb$ b *0x555555554b03
Breakpoint 1 at 0x555555554b03
gdb$ r hello
Starting program: ./tricky-crackme hello
[+] Welcome to this tricky crackme.
Breakpoint 1, 0x0000555555554b03 in ?? ()
=> 0x0000555555554b03:	48 8b 7d 08	mov    rdi,QWORD PTR [rbp+0x8]
gdb$ printf "%s", *(char**)($rbp+8)

Then edx is set to 10, and esi is zero’d. These are the 3 parameters for the call to strtol at 0x555555554b99, meaning our input password is being read as a number in base 10, not a string. This is important and dramatically reduces the potential number of values that would be accepted. It also tells us that the input string "hello" is not going to work here.

If we continue after the call to strtol:

0000555555554b9e    mov    esi, 0x5            ; argument #2 for method sub_e40
0000555555554ba3    mov    rdi, rbx            ; argument #1 for method sub_e40
0000555555554ba6    mov    rbp, rax
0000555555554ba9    call   sub_e40             ; sub_e40
0000555555554bae    mov    rdi, rbx            ; argument "__name" for method j_secure_getenv
0000555555554bb1    call   j_secure_getenv     ; secure_getenv
0000555555554bb6    test   rax, rax
0000555555554bb9    je     loc_555555554caf

Recall that we had a lea rbx,[rsp+0x1e] above, so the value of rbx is just rsp + 0x1e; we’re putting this in the first parameter rdi, then 5 in the second parameter esi, and we call this mysterious sub_40 function that we haven’t seen yet.

The flow chart for this sub_40 shows a sequence of simple code blocks doing a single xor between a value in r9 and successive bytes pointed by rdi:

Flow chart for sub_e40

Zooming in, we can see the sequence of blocks for increasing values of `i`:

movzx      eax, byte [r9]
xor        byte [rdi+`i`], al
cmp        edx, `i+1`
je         right_branch

where right_branch is

mov        eax, `i+1`
jmp        further_down

Highlighted in pairs: Detail of flow chart for sub_e40

Which is an unrolled version of:

for (i = 0; i != edx; i++) {
  rdi[i] = rdi[i] ^ r9;

Note: we’ll see in the rest of the article that loops that go over a buffer XOR-ing each byte with a hardcoded byte value is a common pattern used in this program to obfuscate strings.

With this in mind, let’s look at rbx at the start of this function call. It points to an address containing a few bytes:

$ x/5b $rbx
0x7fffffffebae:    0x4a    0x4c    0x5a    0x4d    0x1f

At the top of sub_e40 we start with esi set to 5 (it’s the second parameter in the function call), and compare it with 0x12 which is the maximum length of strings the function can decode. We also make r9 point the esi - 1th byte in the string (in our case, 0x1f), with these two instructions where rdx is also the length and rdi also points to the same string as rbx:

0000555555554e4e    lea    rax, qword [rdx-1]     ; rdx is also the length, 5
0000555555554e52    lea    r9, qword [rdi+rax]    ; rdi also points to the string to decode, so r9=str[4]

We jump to a simple loop that XORs each value of rdi with the byte at r9:

0000555555554ff0    movzx  eax, byte [r9]     ; <―――╮
0000555555554ff4    xor    byte [rdi], al     ;     │
0000555555554ff6    add    rdi, 0x1           ;     │
0000555555554ffa    cmp    rdi, rdx           ;     │
0000555555554ffd    jne    555555554ff0       ; ――――╯ loop back up
0000555555554fff    ret 

These bytes are updated in place but rdi keeps incrementing. Recall that we had saved a pointed to the start of the buffer in rdx, and indeed when we ret from sub_e40 this value is used as the first parameter to secure_getenv. Let’s just compute this value: rbx starts with 4A 4C 5A 4D 1F and each byte is XOR’d in place with the byte at r9 which is 0x1f:

>>> ''.join(map(lambda c: chr(c ^ 0x1F), [0x4A, 0x4C, 0x5A, 0x4D]))

So this is where our USER environment variable is coming from, despite not appearing in clear in the output of strings. With the environment variable in rax (the return value of secure_getenv), we place it in rdi (the register often used for the first parameter of a function call) and call sub_10f0. The function starts with a short loop to compute the size of the input string:

0000555555555104    mov    rax, rdi             ; rax points to first byte of input
0000555555555107    nop    word [rax+rax]       ; not sure what this is about

0000555555555110    add    rax, 0x1             ; increment counter rax
0000555555555114    cmp    byte [rax-1], 0x0    ; reached null byte at end of string?
0000555555555118    jne    loc_555555555110     ; if not, loop

000055555555511a    sub    rax, rdi             ; then compute rax = (rax - start of string)
0000555555555125    lea    rdx, qword [rax-1]   ; and store rax-1 into rdx.

We end up with the string length in rdx, not including the terminating null byte.

This is followed by ecx and eax being cleared, and then a loop that goes over the input and XORs all the bytes together and each with its offset and 0x0f:

0000555555555168    movsx  rsi, byte [rdi+rcx]      ; rsi takes the i_th byte at offset rcx       <―――╮
000055555555516d    add    rax, rsi                 ; we add it to rax (which started at zero)        │
0000555555555170    xor    rax, rcx                 ; we XOR this value with the current offset rcx   │
0000555555555173    add    rcx, 0x1                 ; increment rcx                                   │
0000555555555177    xor    rax, 0xf                 ; XOR the value again with 0xf this time          │
000055555555517b    cmp    rdx, rcx                 ; have we reached the end of the string?          │
000055555555517e    jne    loc_555555555168         ; if not, jump back to top of the loop         ―――╯

Translated to pseudo-C:

int rax = 0, rcx = 0, rdx = length;
do {
    rax = rax + input[rcx];
    rax = rax ^ rcx;
    rax = rax ^ 0xf;
} while (rcx != rdx)

Applied to the user name taken from $USER, this gives us the first password.

In Python:

>>> user = 'binod'
>>> reduce(lambda acc, cur: (acc + ord(cur[0])) ^ cur[1] ^ 0xf, zip(user, range(len(user))), 0)

Let’s try it:

$ USER=binod ./tricky-crackme 123
[+] Welcome to this tricky crackme.
Wrong password :/

$ USER=binod ./tricky-crackme 529
[+] Welcome to this tricky crackme.
Enter the password:

But as the welcome message says, “Find the correct password to unlock the next step”, so let’s continue with the second password.

Enter the password: hunter2
Invalid charset

After the password for $USER is validated, we jump to 0x555555554bf7 and land on some tricky moves of large constants before calling again the sub_e40 function which XORs its string input in place with its last byte. We can tell the length is 13 this time, from the mov esi, 0xd:

0000555555554bf7    lea    rbx, qword [rsp+0x23]         ; rbx points to rsp+0x23
0000555555554bfc    movabs rax, 0xb8e6afa5a4a8aeb8       ; copies 8 bytes into rax
0000555555554c06    mov    esi, 0xd                      ; argument #2 for method sub_e40
0000555555554c0b    mov    qword [rsp+0x23], rax
0000555555554c10    mov    dword [rsp+0x2b], 0xaeacaabf  ; copies 4 bytes
0000555555554c18    mov    rdi, rbx                      ; argument #1 for method sub_e40
0000555555554c1b    mov    byte [rsp+0x2f], 0xcb         ; copies 1 byte
0000555555554c20    call   sub_e40

We can put breakpoints on the call instruction and just after it to see its input and what it produces:

gdb$ b *0x0000555555554c20
Breakpoint 1 at 0x555555554c20
gdb$ b *0x0000555555554c25
Breakpoint 2 at 0x555555554c25
gdb$ r 529
Breakpoint 1, 0x0000555555554c20 in ?? ()
=> 0x0000555555554c20:	e8 1b 02 00 00	call   0x555555554e40
gdb$ x/14b $rdi
0x7fffffffebb3:	0xb8	0xae	0xa8	0xa4	0xa5	0xaf	0xe6	0xb8
0x7fffffffebbb:	0xbf	0xaa	0xac	0xae	0xcb	0x0
gdb$ c

Note that we could have reconstructed this from the code alone: we have rbx pointing to rsp + 0x23, then the two copies. First, the 8 bytes at rsp + 0x23, then the 4 bytes at rsp + 0x2b, and then the last byte at rsp + 0x2f:

First copy (8 bytes)Second copy (4 bytes)Third copy (1 byte)
Destinationrsp + 0x23rsp + 0x2brsp + 0x2f
Bytesb8 ae a8 a4 a5 af e6 b8bf aa ac aecb
Instruction address0x555555554bfc0x555555554c100x555555554c1b

If we dump $rbx after returning from the call, we get the decoded string second-stage:

Breakpoint 2, 0x0000555555554c25 in ?? ()
=> 0x0000555555554c25:	48 89 de	mov    rsi,rbx
gdb$ x/14b $rbx
0x7fffffffebb3:	0x73	0x65	0x63	0x6f	0x6e	0x64	0x2d	0x73
0x7fffffffebbb:	0x74	0x61	0x67	0x65	0x0	0x0
gdb$ printf "%s", $rbx

Let’s double-check using the same XOR-based decryption function as earlier, the last byte being 0xcb this time:

>>> ''.join(map(lambda c: chr(c ^ 0xCB), [0XB8,0XAE,0XA8,0XA4,0XA5,0XAF,0XE6,0XB8,0XBF,0XAA,0XAC,0XAE]))

Seeing a recognizable value after a decoding function tells us that we’re on the right track.

A few instructions then prepare the arguments for a system call (rbx points to the string "second-stage" and 0x13f is 319):

0000555555554c25    mov    rsi, rbx
0000555555554c28    xor    eax, eax
0000555555554c2a    mov    edx, 0x1
0000555555554c2f    mov    edi, 0x13f                   ; argument "__sysno" for method j_syscall
0000555555554c34    mov    qword [rsp+0xc8+var_C8], rbx
0000555555554c38    mov    qword [rsp+0xc8+var_C0], 0x0
0000555555554c41    call   j_syscall

Here the syscall number is not in rax but in edi, and 0x13 is identified by Hopper as the __sysno parameter, or system call number. This system call is memfd_create (man page), which “creates an anonymous file and returns a file descriptor that refers to it”.

After this file is created, a call to write copies 0x2008 or 8,200 bytes into it and jumps if all went well. Here Hopper recognizes that the buffer being copied starts with 0x7F and ELF, which are the first 4 bytes in an ELF binary. It seems highly likely that we just created a new binary that we’ll end up executing.

0000555555554c52    lea    rsi, qword [aElf]   ; argument "__buf" for method j_write, "?ELF"
0000555555554c59    mov    edx, 0x2008         ; argument "__n" for method j_write
0000555555554c5e    mov    edi, eax            ; argument "__fd" for method j_write
0000555555554c60    call   j_write             ; write
0000555555554c65    cmp    rax, 0x2008
0000555555554c6b    je     loc_555555554cbe

And indeed this is followed by a call to fexecve:

0000555555554cbe    mov    rdx, qword [__environ]    ; argument "__envp" for method j_fexecve, __environ
0000555555554cc5    mov    rsi, rsp                  ; argument "__argv" for method j_fexecve
0000555555554cc8    mov    edi, ebx                  ; argument "__fd" for method j_fexecve
0000555555554cca    call   j_fexecve                 ; fexecve

Let’s extract these 8,200 bytes into a file to start analyzing it.

The second (hidden) binary

Running the extracted binary, we can already observe the same behavior as in the parent program:

$ ./extracted-8200.bin
Enter the password: hunter2
Invalid charset

readelf reveals a broken ELF header:

# readelf -a ./extracted-8200.bin
ELF Header:
  Magic:   7f 45 4c 46 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00
  Class:                             none
  Data:                              none
  Version:                           0
  OS/ABI:                            UNIX - System V
  ABI Version:                       0
  Type:                              DYN (Shared object file)
  Machine:                           Advanced Micro Devices X86-64
  Version:                           0x0
  Entry point address:               0xbd0
  Start of program headers:          0 (bytes into file)
  Start of section headers:          64 (bytes into file)
  Flags:                             0x0
  Size of this header:               0 (bytes)
  Size of program headers:           0 (bytes)
  Number of program headers:         0
  Size of section headers:           0 (bytes)
  Number of section headers:         0
  Section header string table index: 0
readelf: Warning: possibly corrupt ELF file header - it has a non-zero section header offset, but no section headers

There are no sections to group in this file.

There are no program headers in this file.

There is no dynamic section in this file.

As a result, GDB doesn’t recognize the binary and can’t run it:

$ gdb ./extracted-8200.bin
"./extracted-8200.bin": not in executable format: file format not recognized

By going over the ELF header, we can find a few missing fields to add back:

OffsetFieldOriginal valueNew valueNew meaning
4e_ident[EI_CLASS]000264-bit format
5e_ident[EI_DATA]0001little endian
6e_ident[EI_VERSION]0001Constant (1 for ELF)
20e_version00 00 00 0001 00 00 00Constant (1 for ELF)

These few changes are simple enough that they can be made with a hex editor, but we could also use the Lepton library:

from lepton import *
from struct import pack

with open("extracted-8200.bin", "rb") as fin:
    elf_file = ELFFile(fin)

    ident = bytearray(elf_file.ELF_header.fields['e_ident'])    # update header
    ident[4] = 2
    ident[5] = 1
    ident[6] = 1
    elf_file.ELF_header.fields['e_ident'] = bytes(ident)
    elf_file.ELF_header.fields['e_version'] = pack("<L", 1)

    binary = elf_file.ELF_header.to_bytes() + elf_file.file_buffer[64:]    # write back
    with open("extracted-8200-fixed.bin", "wb") as fout:

With these few changes saved to a new binary, readelf is a bit more helpful and we get at least the entry point which is at 0xbd0. If we disassemble this section in Hopper, we see a few lea instructions before a call and hlt:

0000000000000bdf    lea    r8, qword [EntryPoint+2048]  ; 0x13d0
0000000000000be6    lea    rcx, qword [EntryPoint+1936] ; 0x1360
0000000000000bed    lea    rdi, qword [0xa50]           ; 0xa50
0000000000000bf4    call   qword [0x201fe0]             ; 0x201fe0
0000000000000bfa    hlt

We don’t have symbols at this point, but if this is similar to the first binary this could be a call to __libc_start_main, which would mean that 0xa50 is our main function. There, we see a couple of call instructions to functions that immediately jump somewhere else (could be external functions), followed by the now-familiar instructions manipulating large values that likely encode messages:

0000000000000a83    movabs rax, 0xc2de8ad8cfdec4ef
0000000000000a8d    mov    qword [rsp+0x20], rax
0000000000000a92    movabs rax, 0xc5ddd9d9cbda8acf
0000000000000a9c    mov    dword [rsp+0x30], 0x8a90ced8
0000000000000aa4    mov    qword [rsp+0x28], rax
0000000000000aa9    mov    byte [rsp+0x34], 0xaa
1st copy (8 bytes)2nd copy (4 bytes)3rd copy (8 bytes)4th copy (1 byte)
Offsetrsp + 0x20rsp + 0x30rsp + 0x28rsp + 0x34
Bytesc2 de 8a d8 cf de c4 ef8a 90 ce d8c5 dd d9 d9 cb da 8a cfaa

Once again we encounter code that XORs a sequence of bytes with the one it ends with:

0000000000000ad0    movzx      ecx, byte [rsp+0x34]     ; we've just put 0xaa there  <―――╮
0000000000000ad5    xor        byte [rax], cl           ; XOR the current character      │
0000000000000ad7    add        rax, 0x1                 ; increment the pointer          │
0000000000000adb    cmp        rsi, rax                 ; have we reached the end?       │
0000000000000ade    jne        0xad0                    ; if not, loop back up.      ――――╯

Let’s decode it:

>>> bytes = []
>>> bytes += 'c2 de 8a d8 cf de c4 ef'.split(' ')[::-1]
>>> bytes += 'c5 dd d9 d9 cb da 8a cf'.split(' ')[::-1]
>>> bytes += '8a 90 ce d8'.split(' ')[::-1]
>>> bytes += ['aa']
>>> ''.join(map(lambda h: chr(int(h, 16) ^ 0xaa), bytes))
'Enter the password: \x00'

We can safely assume this is followed by a call instruction to write out this string, likely with these instructions:

0000000000000ae0    lea    rsi, qword [EntryPoint+2068]
0000000000000ae7    mov    edi, 0x1                      ; presumably this is fd=1 (stdout)
0000000000000aec    xor    eax, eax
0000000000000aee    lea    rbx, qword [rsp+0x40]
0000000000000af3    call   0x9c0

This call instruction is followed almost immediately by a second call. One thing to notice here is the lack of a new line at the end of the decode string, and how the program presents a prompt for the password on the same line as the “Enter…” string. To achieve this, this second call would likely have to be for fflush(). Once this is printed, we can assume that a read of fgets will follow to receive the password:

0000000000000b13    call   0x970        ; gets/fgets?
0000000000000b18    test   rax, rax     ; check if empty
0000000000000b1b    mov    rdx, rbx
0000000000000b1e    je     0xb96        ; jump somewhere else if input was empty
0000000000000b20    add    rdx, 0x1
0000000000000b24    cmp    byte [rdx-1], 0x0
0000000000000b28    jne    0xb20
0000000000000b2a    sub    rdx, rbx
0000000000000b2d    mov    rdi, rbx
0000000000000b30    mov    byte [rsp+rdx+0x3e], 0x0
0000000000000b35    call   EntryPoint+960 ; call to some unknown function
0000000000000b3a    test   al, al
0000000000000b3c    jne    0xb8a
0000000000000b3e    mov    rsi, qword [qword_202040]
0000000000000b45    movabs rax, 0x2064696c61766e49  ; this is the string "Invalid "
0000000000000b4f    mov    rdi, rsp
0000000000000b52    mov    qword [rsp], rax
0000000000000b56    movabs rax, 0xa74657372616863 ; the string "charset\n"

We did observe the “Invalid charset” error message with our "hunter2" input earlier, and we can see here that this is due to a non-zero return value from the call made at 0x0b35.

At this point it would be very useful to have a way to debug this program and trace its steps with GDB. Unfortunately a ptrace(PTRACE_TRACEME) call prevents this: it returns -1 when GDB is already tracing the execution. Hopper can’t find symbols for this binary but Binary Ninja does, identifying the call to ptrace at offset 0x0a2e:

0000000000000a2e    call   0x9b0                     ; calls ptrace()
0000000000000a33    cmp    rax, 0xffffffffffffffff   ; compares return value to -1
0000000000000a37    je     0xa3e                     ; jumps to exit if it matches
0000000000000a39    add    rsp, 0x8
0000000000000a3d    ret                              ; returns from the call
0000000000000a3e    mov    edi, 0x1                  ; exit code 1
0000000000000a43    call   0x9e                      ; calls exit()

As in a previous challenge, we can just NOP the CMP and JE instructions and just disregard the return value from ptrace. We change these 6 bytes into 0x90 and produce a new binary that we can try in GDB. Here is the same section after the change:

0000000000000a2e    call   0x9b0              ; calls ptrace()
0000000000000a33    nop                       ; the CMP call above took 6 bytes,
0000000000000a34    nop                       ; added here as 6 individual one-byte NOPs
0000000000000a35    nop                       ; ...
0000000000000a36    nop                       ; ...
0000000000000a37    nop                       ; ...
0000000000000a38    nop                       ; ...
0000000000000a39    add    rsp, 0x            ; and we continue as if nothing had happened.

After this second change to the extracted binary, we can finally start this new program in GDB and break on one of the magic values used to print strings:

gdb$ starti
Starting program: ./extracted-8200-fixed-no-ptrace.bin
Program stopped.
0x00007ffff7fd6090 in ?? ()
=> 0x00007ffff7fd6090:	48 89 e7	mov    rdi,rsp
gdb$ watch $rax == 0xc2de8ad8cfdec4ef
Watchpoint 1: $rax == 0xc2de8ad8cfdec4ef
gdb$ c

Watchpoint 1: $rax == 0xc2de8ad8cfdec4ef

Old value = 0x0
New value = 0x1
0x0000555555554a8d in ?? ()
=> 0x0000555555554a8d:	48 89 44 24 20	mov    QWORD PTR [rsp+0x20],rax

This gives us our file offset 0x0000555555554000 which we can change in Hopper as earlier. With GDB and Hopper addresses now matching, this makes comparing the two much easier.

Two other symbols found by Binary Ninja are time and srand, called here:

0000555555554a65    xor    eax, eax       ; presumably the parameter to time()
0000555555554a67    call   0x555555554980 ; time
0000555555554a6c    mov    edi, eax       ; moves the return value of time() into the parameter for srand()
0000555555554a6e    call   0x555555554960 ; srand

Calling srand(time(NULL)) is a classic way to initialize a PRNG before generating random numbers; let’s hope that the program is deterministic and that the password is not time-dependent.

After reading the input with fgets, we compute the input length and then jump to 0x0000555555554f90. From there we call __ctype_b_loc, a function which returns a table describing traits associated with each character. We are presumably going to use it to validate the input string.

Indeed this is followed by a loop (starting at 0x0000555555554fd1) which goes over the input and looks up each character in the array returned by __ctype_b_loc:

                                                   ;    ╭───── (jump from above to 0000555555554fd1)
0000555555554fc8    add    rax, 0x1                ;<───┼──╮
0000555555554fcc    cmp    rax, rbx                ;    │  │  have we reached the end?
0000555555554fcf    je     EntryPoint+103          ;    │  │  if so, jump to the cmp below.
0000555555554fd1    movsx  rdx, byte [rbp+rax]     ;<───╯  │  entry point: rdx is our current character
0000555555554fd7    test   byte [rcx+rdx*2+1], 0x8 ;       │  compare array[chr*2+1] with the value 8
0000555555554fdc    jne    EntryPoint+1016         ;―――――――╯  if they don't match, go to the top
0000555555554fde    cmp    rbx, rax                ;         check if we're at the end of the string
0000555555554fe1    sete   al                      ;         if so, set al to 1, otherwise 0.
0000555555554fe4    add    rsp, 0x8
0000555555554fe8    pop    rbx
0000555555554fe9    pop    rbp
0000555555554fea    ret

Which is something like:

rbx = length;
rcx = __ctype_b_loc(input, rbx); // returns an array describing each character, in rcx
for (rax = 0; rax < rbx; rax++) {
  rdx = input[rax]; // take current character
  if (rcx[rdx * 2 + 1] != 8) { // check in ctype array (note the access using odd offsets)
if (rax == rbx) {
  al = 1; // return success

In ctype.h, the definition of _ISdigit reveals the purpose of this loop:

_ISdigit = ((3) < 8 ? ((1 << (3)) << 8) : ((1 << (3)) >> 8))

_ISdigit is (1 << 3) << 8, or 2048. In hex this is 0x0800 so since each entry is 2 bytes we first need to multiply the index by 2 and then add 1 to get the upper byte, giving us rdx * 2 + 1. This loop is simply checking that the input is composed only of valid digits. Note that isdigit(3) (man page) also relies on the character traits table returned by __ctype_b_loc.

After this call we return to an expected test al, al and if al not zero we jump to 0x0x555555554b8a and call 0x0000555555555130.

We start with yet another manual strlen:

0000555555555134   mov     r12, rdi          ; save our input in r12
000055555555514d    mov    rax, rdi           ; rdi is out input, move it to rax
0000555555555150    add    rax, 0x1           ; increment pointer
0000555555555154    cmp    byte [rax-1], 0x0  ; check whether we're 1 byte past the end of the string
0000555555555158    jne    0x0000555555555150 ; if not, go back 2 lines up
000055555555515a    sub    rax, r12           ; subtract from saved pointer
000055555555515d    mov    rbx, rax           ; at this point rax and rbx are length + 1
0000555555555160    lea    rdi, qword [rax-1] ; save rax-1 or length to rdi
0000555555555164    lea    rax, qword [rax-3] ; save rax-3 or length-2 to rax

After this loop rax is now input length - 2, e.g. 4 for the password “12345”, and rdi is the exact input length. We follow with two comparisons to 0xe (14) and 1, before calling malloc if the length falls in the expected range:

0000555555555168    cmp    rax, 0xe         ; if rax > 14
000055555555516c    ja     call_puts+522    ; jump somewhere
0000555555555172    test   dil, 0x1         ; if dil & 1 != 0
0000555555555176    jne    call_puts+465    ; jump somewhere else
000055555555517c    shr    rdi, 0x1         ; shift rdi right by 1
000055555555517f    mov    r13d, edi        ; save it to r13d
0000555555555182    shl    rdi, 0x2         ; shift left by 2
0000555555555186    call   0x555555554990   ; (call malloc)

Or approximately:

rax = len - 2;
if (rax <= 14 && (len % 2 == 0)) {
    rdi = len >> 1;  // that's len / 2
    r13d = edi;
    rdi <<= 2;       // and we multiply by 4 this time
    malloc(rdi);     // so the allocated buffer size is 2x the length

This gives us a maximum input length, and we continue with more comparisons:

000055555555518b    test   rax, rax               ; check rax (the return value from malloc)
000055555555518e    mov    rbp, rax               ; save rax to rbp
0000555555555191    je     call_puts+470          ; if rax is zero, jump off somewhere
0000555555555197    sub    rbx, 0x2               ; rbx -= 2 (we had rbx equal to length + 1 until now)
000055555555519b    xor    eax, eax               ; reset eax to zero
000055555555519d    shr    rbx, 0x1               ; rbx >>= 1 (so rbx is now 2 * (length - 1))
00005555555551a0    lea    rsi, qword [rbx+1]     ; rsi = rbx+1
00005555555551a4    nop    dword [rax]            ; multi-byte NOP
00005555555551a8    cmp    r13d, eax              ; if r13d <= eax
00005555555551ab    jle    call_puts+349          ; then jump out
00005555555551ad    movsx  cx, byte [r12+rax*2]   ; move and sign-extend the byte at r12 + rax * 2 into cx (r12 points to our input)
00005555555551b3    sub    ecx, 0x30              ; ecx -= 0x30 (0x30 is the ascii code for '0')
00005555555551b6    cmp    cx, 0x2                ; if cx > 2
00005555555551ba    ja     call_puts+457          ; then jump below to a free call
00005555555551c0    movsx  dx, byte [r12+rax*2+1] ; select the next byte, copy into dx this time
00005555555551c7    sub    edx, 0x30              ; again take the difference with '0'
00005555555551ca    cmp    dx, 0x3                ; compare to 3
00005555555551ce    ja     call_puts+457          ; jump if it's strictly greater, also to free
00005555555551d0    mov    word [rbp+rax*4], cx   ; copy this first character into our malloc'd buffer
00005555555551d5    mov    word [rbp+rax*4+2], dx ; then the second
00005555555551da    add    rax, 0x1               ; increment rax, which we now see is an offset
00005555555551de    cmp    rax, rsi               ; compare to rsi
00005555555551e1    jne    0x00005555555551a8     ; if we're not there yet, loop back up to cmp r13d, eax


eax = 0;
while (eax < length/2) {
  cx = input[eax * 2];      // read one byte as cx
  if (cx <= 2) {
    dx = input[eax * 2 + 1];  // read the next as dx
    if (dx <= 3) {
      output[rax * 4] = (short) cx;       // copies cx into output at offset rax * 4
      output[rax * 4 + 2] = (short) dx;   // and dx at offset rax * 4 + 2
// ...

So we go from zero to length/2 reading two bytes at a time, the first needs to be between '0' and '2' and the second between '0' and '3', copying them into a buffer at 4 * i and 4 * i + 2 with i++ at each turn.

Once we’re done with this initial loop writing to the allocated buffer, a second one goes over the data we just wrote:

0000555555555200    movsx  rcx, word [rbp+rax*4]    ; read the cx byte
0000555555555206    movsx  rdx, word [rbp+rax*4+2]  ; read the dx byte
000055555555520c    lea    rcx, qword [rsi+rcx*4]   ; set rcx to rsi (the constant "G0B04JD\x00NP " + 4*cx)
0000555555555210    movzx  edx, byte [rcx+rdx]      ; and add dx
0000555555555214    test   dl, dl                   ; check whether it's zero
0000555555555216    mov    byte [rdi+rax], dl       ; copy into rdi using offset rax
0000555555555219    je     call_puts+414            ; jump out
000055555555521b    add    rax, 0x1                 ; increment offset
000055555555521f    cmp    r13d, eax                ; compare to length/2
0000555555555222    jg     call_puts+378            ; loop back to start

Here rsi points to a set of bytes that start with G0B04JD\x00NP (the last byte is a space).

With rax used as a cursor, at each iteration we take the two bytes cx and dx computed above (which are just the input digits taken in pairs) and copy the one in rsi at offset (cx * 4 + dx) into rdi at offset rax. We break only if the byte is zero or if we’ve reached the end of the input string:

rax = 0;
rsi = "G0B04JD\x00NP ";
while (rax < length/2) {
  cx = output[rax * 4];     // same two bytes as
  dx = output[rax * 4 + 2]; // in the previous loop
  offset = cx * 4 + dx;     // compute offset into constant string
  dl = rsi[offset];         // copy byte
  rdi[rax] = dl;            // into buffer for puts()
  if (!dl) break;

At the end of this loop, the buffer at rdi that was populated with these individual bytes copies is sent to puts, then the buffer is free’d and the program exits. No error message is reachable from this point, so based on this logic we can predict what string will be constructed depending on the digit pairs that are typed in.

If we enter just 12 then cx is 1 and dx is 2, so cx * 4 + dx is 6 and only the character D will be produced:

Enter the password: 12

We can therefore create the following table:

Pair of digitsOffset into rsiCharacter produced

Note that multiple digit pairs produce the same output character, so all the 01 input pairs could also use 03.

If we want to print G00D J0B, we can type in 0001011222110102 (or 0003031222110302):

Enter the password: 0001011222110102
G00D J0B
Enter the password: 0003031222110302
G00D J0B

There is no code past this point that attempts to validate the password, so we can assume the challenge ends here since we control the output:

Enter the password: 0001011222201021
G00D N4P
Enter the password: 0210122220010102
B4D N00B

Closing thoughts

The crackme was ranked as a level 4 (“hard”) on, and it was probably the most challenging one featured here so far. There were multiple layers of obfuscation and counter-measures, from ELF header changes to using __libc_start_main to extracting a new binary before calling fexecve and even preventing ptrace from being called.

Breaking the ELF header made the reverse-engineering process much harder, mostly because it took me a long time to find the real entry point address in the second binary.