• Points: 1200


To ensure a good Christmas we implemented some diagnostic tools. This one checks that the time to a destination is within an acceptable range. The flag is in /flag.txt.

Visit https://12.adventofctf.com to start the challenge.

Finding the vulnerability

Upon opening the challenge website we’re greeted with an input field and a check button. Let’s enter some text in the input and press the check button. Initially, nothing happens but after a few seconds we get a result: 1607956922.306628 Destination check was OK. As the page didn’t reload there is probably some javascript in play. Indeed there is, when opening the source, we find a script tag with the following javascript function:

function send() {
  let place = $("#place")[0].value;
  if (place.length > 0) {
    $.post("/", { place: place }, function (data) {
      $("#result")[0].innerHTML = "<b>" + data + "</b>";
  return false;

If we analyze this function a bit we find that it executes a POST request to / and puts the result in an HTML element with this selector: '#result'.

Let’s try some more inputs. Just plain text doesn’t seem to change the result much besides the number before “Destination check”. If we, however, enter a quote ("), we get a different result back:

Something happened: /bin/bash: -c: line 0: unexpected EOF while looking for matching `"'
/bin/bash: -c: line 1: syntax error: unexpected end of file

And inputting a backtick (`) returns this error:

Something happened: BusyBox v1.31.1 () multi-call binary.

Usage: nslookup [-type=QUERY_TYPE] [-debug] HOST [DNS_SERVER]

Query DNS about HOST

QUERY_TYPE: soa,ns,a,aaaa,cname,mx,txt,ptr,any


I spend quite some time trying to find a way to get out of this command but I could not get anything to work so I took a break.


When I came back, I tried inputting a redirect character (>) and it gave a result!

Getting some output

After entering a redirection character (>) we get the following result:

Something happened: /bin/bash: -c: line 0: syntax error near unexpected token `newline'
/bin/bash: -c: line 0: `./check &gt;'

This means we can redirect output and thus get arbitrary code execution by putting a sub-command as the output like so:

> $(ls)

But entering this gave an error:

Something happened: /bin/bash: $(ls): ambiguous redirect

This means that, while it does work, it does not work directly as the output isn’t valid. If we, however, put a sub-command inside a sub-command (> $($(ls))), the inner output will be printed:

Something happened: /bin/bash: app.py: command not found
/bin/bash: $($(ls)): ambiguous redirect

As we can see, there seems to be an app.py file but we don’t care about it now. Let’s try to cat the flag from the location specified in the challenge description (/flag.txt) by entering the following input: >$($(cat /flag.txt)). This return the following result:

Something happened: /bin/bash: Congratulations,: command not found
/bin/bash: $($(cat /flag.txt)): ambiguous redirect

As we can see, it did read the file. Sadly, however, it only returned the first line…

At this point, I didn’t really know what to do but just as I was about to take another break, @credmp posted a hint on Twitter. It said the following: “Hint: all error messages are printed on stderr.”.

Redirecting the output

After reading this tweet, I tried the following input: >$(cat /flag.txt>/dev/stderr) and it immediately worked! I felt pretty stupid for not having thought about that 😐.


So redirecting the output to stderr worked and we got the flag: NOVI{we_are_halfway_to_christmas!}.

This flag can then be submitted for the challenge.