On Redis & AES Encryption in the 9447's CTF

During this last weekend, the 9447 CTF took place. One of the misc problems was called NoSQL and had the following description, together with an attachment with three files:

    Hey, I don't understand how SQL works so I made my own NoSQL startup. And OpenSSL is bloody crap.

    port: 4479

The Client File

The first file was a script client.py, where, by using Python's socket library, showed how a connection to the server could be made:

import os, socket, struct, sys
from Crypto.Cipher import AES

class EncryptedStream(object):
  key = 'this is not the flag nor the key'[:16]
  def __init__(self, host, port):
    self.sock = socket.socket()
    self.sock.connect((host, port))
  def send(self, msg):
    while len(msg) % 16:
      msg += '\0'
    iv = os.urandom(16)
    aes = AES.new(self.key, AES.MODE_ECB, iv)
    enc = aes.encrypt(msg)
    self.sock.send(struct.pack('<I', len(enc)))
  def recv(self, nbytes):
    return self.sock.recv(nbytes)

client = '''\
SET example This tiny script is basically a RedisStore...
GET example
SET brucefact#1 Bruce Schneier can break elliptic curve cryptography by bending it into a circle
SET brucefact#2 Bruce Schneier always cooks his eggs scrambled. When he wants hardboiled eggs, he unscrambles them
SET brucefact#3 Bruce Schneier could solve this by inverting md5 hash of the flag
MD5 flag

stream = EncryptedStream(sys.argv[1], int(sys.argv[2]))
while 1:
  data = stream.recv(1000)
  if not data: break

This client script simply makes AES encrypted packets for a given host and port (the arguments), with the class EncryptedStream. It then sends the packets and prints out any received stream.

The snippet also shows an example of a client packet, with some request options (which we will see the response later in the network dump).

The Server File

The second file was the server.py script, which is basically a Redis like database (hence, the nosql title). Unlike SQL databases, Redis maps keys to types of values. In this challenge, the idea was to recover an entry that had the key flag returning the value of the flag.

In the script below, besides creating this database, functions such as: AES decrypting (encryption), MD5 (hashing), and hex (enconding) are implemented using Python's library:

import hashlib, os, signal, struct, sys
from Crypto.Cipher import AES

key = 'this is not the flag nor the key'[:16]
db = { }

def md5(data):
  return hashlib.md5(data).digest()

def decrypt(data):
  iv = os.urandom(16)
  aes = AES.new(key, AES.MODE_ECB, iv)
  data = aes.decrypt(data)
  return data.rstrip('\0')

def reply_plain(message):
  sys.stdout.write(message + '\n')

def reply_hex(message):
  # This is totally encrypted, right?
  sys.stdout.write(message.encode('hex') + '\n')

def main():
  global db
  reply = reply_plain

  datalen = struct.unpack('<I', sys.stdin.read(4))[0]
  data = ''
  while len(data) != datalen:
    s = sys.stdin.read(1)
    if not s:
    data += s
  data = decrypt(data)

  commands = data.split('\n')

  for cmd in commands:
    if not cmd:
    if ' ' in cmd:
      cmd, args = cmd.split(' ', 1)

    if cmd == 'HELLO':
    elif cmd == 'SHOW':
      if args == 'VERSION':
        reply('NoRedisSQL v1.0')
      elif args == 'KEYS':
      elif args == 'ME THE MONEY':
        reply("Jerry, doesn't it make you feel good just to say that!")
        reply('u w0t m8')
    elif cmd == 'SET':
      key, value = args.split(' ', 1)
      db[key] = value
    elif cmd == 'GET':
      reply(args + ': ' + db.get(args, ''))
    elif cmd == 'SNIPPET':
      reply(db[args][:10] + '...')
    elif cmd == 'MD5':
      reply(md5(db.get(args, '')))
    elif cmd == 'ENCRYPTION':
      if args == 'HEX':
        reply = reply_hex
      elif args == 'OFF':
        reply = reply_plain
        reply('u w0t m8')
      reply('Unknown command %r' % (cmd))

if __name__ == '__main__':
  signal.signal(signal.SIGALRM, lambda a,b: sys.exit(0))

This script pretty much gives away all the requests that you can issue to inspect the database.

In addition, a crucial detail is to understand how the client encrypts the commands using the electronic codebook (ECB) block cipher type. In this type of operation the message is divided into blocks that are encrypted separately (PyCryptos's AES.MODE_ECB).

The PCAP File

The last file was a pcap dump. When opening it with Wireshark, I verified it was really short, and the content was simply a TCP handshake. Right-clicking some packet and selecting Follow TCP Stream returned the dump of the connection suggested by the client.py script:

However, we see that the database has already an entry for flag:

['flag', 'example']

The response 4f4b is OK in ASCII, meaning that the switch ENCRYPTION HEX was on (it's good to keep in mind that the "encryption" is actually just an encoding in hex, i.e, completely reversible).

Finally, our MD5 for the flag was printed as b7133e9fe8b1abb64b72805d2d97495f.

As it was expected, searching for this hash in the usual channels (for example here, here, or here) was not successful: brute force it is not the way to go.

Solving the Challenge

It's pretty clear from our server.py script that we could craft a direct request to the server to get our flag before it is hashed to MD5. For example, if the request GET flag,

    elif cmd == 'GET':
      reply(args + ': ' + db.get(args, ''))

is exactly like MD5 flag, without the hashing:

    elif cmd == 'MD5':
      reply(md5(db.get(args, '')))

However, we do not have the AES key used by the server, only an example of communication given by the PCAP file. How do we get to send a GET flag message?

The first thing that comes to our minds is to use the network dump to replay the message, re-shaping it somehow to have a GET flag. Remember that the blocks have a size of 16, and we see two blocks that are particularly interesting:

MD5 flag



Now we check how the oracle responds to several types of responses:

$ python client.py 4479

We are able to learn that if we send a command without arguments or an invalid command, the argument variables (args) is not overwritten: it gets the same args value from the previous valid request! That's wonderful!

Now the solution is clear:

  1. We send the invalid command and a valid command with the argument that we will keep: ION HEX\nMD5 flag.
  2. We send the invalid command and a command without an argument: edisStore...\nGET (this will get the last valid argument (flag), returning us the flag!).