CTF Team at the University of British Columbia

[TrendMicro CTF 2020 Finals] Wildcard-2: Yara exfiltration

22 Dec 2020 by - Arctic Wyvern

Maple Bacon qualified and participated in the TrendMicro CTF finals and placed a solid 5th place. One of the challenges used a popular malware analysis/antivirus tool called yara which was quite fun, so here’s a writeup.

Note: I almost never touch these sorts of binary problems, but I have some experience with yara so I took a stab at it. Bear with me when I explain obvious things :)

A quick primer on yara

What is yara? Yara is a tool developed by VirusTotal, a malware detection service which combines some custom analysis tools with many many third party antivirus tools.

Yara is a static analysis tool that works sorta like regex, but with the goal of identifying malware in mind. So like regex, yara lets you write rules and will tell you if a file matches the given rule.

Here’s an example rule, meant for detecting the silent_banker malware family

rule silent_banker : banker
        description = "This is just an example"
        threat_level = 3
        in_the_wild = true

        $a = {6A 40 68 00 30 00 00 6A 14 8D 91}
        $b = {8D 4D B0 2B C1 83 C0 27 99 6A 4E 59 F7 F9}

        $a or $b or $c

The challenge

The challenge is no longer accessible, so some of the details may be a bit wrong, but here are the important details

The binary generation works by filling in the following template with garbage and the gold_dust variable

#include <stdio.h>
#include <stdlib.h>

// GARBAGE, Encoded FLAG and KEY
char gold_dust[] = {}; // <-- gets filled before compilation

// <Garbage functions 1>

char *decode(char *enc, int enc_size, char *key, int key_size)
    char *dec;

    dec = (char *)malloc(enc_size + 1);
    if (!dec)
        return NULL;

    for (int i = 0; i < enc_size; i++)
        dec[i] = enc[i] ^ key[i % key_size];
    dec[enc_size] = 0;

    return dec;

// <Garbage functions 2>

int main(int argc, char **argv)
    char *flag;

    // <Garbage code>

    flag = decode(gold_dust + <flag offset>, <flag len>, gold_dust + <key offset>, <key len>);
    if (!flag)
        return -1;

    printf("FLAG is TMCTF{ %s }\n", flag);

    return 0;

// <Garbage functions 3>

where garbage functions are generated with

def generate_garbage_function(label, count):
    template = "void garbage_func_%s_%d() { return; }"
    return '\n'.join([template % (label, n) for n in range(count)])

and garbage code is generated with

def generate_garbage_code(min_size, max_size):
    count = generate_random_num(min_size, max_size)
    return '__asm__("{}");'.format('nop;'*count)

The most important part for us is the gold_dust buffer, where the flag will be encoded. It’s generated by:

  1. Generating a random key, with random length
  2. Encrypting the flag with repeating XOR
  3. Creating a random buffer with a length between 256 and 512 kb
  4. Putting encrypted flag and key at random offsets in the buffer
def encode_flag(flag, key):
    return bytes([flag[i] ^ key[i%len(key)] for i in range(len(flag))])
def generate_gold_dust(garbage, flag, flag_offset, key, key_offset):
    flag_size = len(flag)
    key_size = len(key)
    gold_dust = bytearray(garbage)
    gold_dust[flag_offset: flag_offset+flag_size] = flag
    gold_dust[key_offset: key_offset+key_size] = key
    return bytes(gold_dust)

Now that we have all that set up, you might be wondering ok what else? We can submit yara rules to random binaries, there has to be something else right?

No, there’s nothing else. We need to exfiltrate the flag just from what’s been mentioned.

At this point it was 2am, so I went to bed thinking this challenge had to be impossible.

Here’s one of the generated binaries (though I messed with the flag encoding a bit so don’t try to actually run the solution on it) tortoise.c

The solution

My first instinct was to try and figure out a way of guessing the flag and then generating a rule that pattern matches against the gold_dust, but the massive size, randomized data, and the fact that the flag is encrypted made that approach completely impossible.

Here’s a better way of exfiltrating the flag, one byte at a time

  1. Figure out how to read the ith byte of the plaintext flag
  2. Generate 255 rules where it only matches if the ith byte matches chr(b)
  3. Submit them all, and see which one hits

So steps 2 and 3 are easy, step 1 is the hard part.

How can we read the unencrypted flag? To read the first byte of the flag we need the following

How can we get these two addresses?

In the main function we see that the generated binaries have a call to decode, which has the two arguments that we want. How can we find where the call to decode is?

Well we have a very helpful set of “garbage code” right before the call to decode, so we know that the assembly in that area must be

90 - nop
90 - nop
90 - nop
... <hundreds of nops>
90 - nop
90 - nop
C7 44 24 0C <key len>    - loading the key_size arg
C7 44 24 08 <key_addr>   - loading the key arg
C7 44 24 04 <flag len>   - loading the flag_size arg
C7 44 24 <flag_addr>     - loading the flag arg
E8 <relative addr>       - call to decode

So we can make a yara string $nops = {90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 C7 44 24 0c}, which will match this pattern

With the yara @ and [1] operators we can get the address where the rule matched for the first time. Since this pattern is so distinct we can basically guarantee that this rule will only hit at the desired location. There are 16 90’s in the rule, so @nops[1] + 16 will be the start of the argument loading. Using the uint32 yara function we can read a 4 byte address from the binary at a given address. So to read the addresses we can do

uint32(@nops[1] + 16 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 3)

for the flag address and

uint32(@nops[1] + 16 + 8 + 4) 

for the key address

Now you would think we could then call uint8(uint32(@nops[1] + 16 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 3)) to read the first encrypted byte, but that doesn’t work because the address in the argument is a virtual address. It’s the address where gold_dust variable in .data will be loaded, not the raw address where the actual data is in the binary.

The binary will load .data to the executable’s image_base + the relative virtual address for .data, so what we can do is take our virtual address for flag and key, subtract the image base and subtract the RVA, leaving just the flag_offset and key_offset. Then we can just add on the raw offset to .data in the binary and we get an address which we can read flag/key data from. This can be easily done with the “pe” module from module, which pulls out the image_base, RVA of .data, and the raw data offset.

So with that we can read a single byte at those two locations, xor them, and then generate rules that check if that result is a given byte. Then all we need to do is generate all those rules for each index of the flag.

We can exfiltrate the flag length by sending rules to check the value of uint32(@nops[1] + 16 + 8 + 8 + 4), which is the flag_size argument for decode. Remember we also need to modulo cycle the key using the key_size variable, which we can read using uint32(@nops[1] + 16 + 4).

Here is the final rule template

template = """import "pe"
rule nopss {
        $nops = {90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 C7 44 24 0c}
        %s == 
                uint32(@nops[1] + 16 + 8 + 8 + 8 + 3) 
                - pe.sections[1].virtual_address 
                - pe.image_base + pe.sections[1].raw_data_offset
                + %d
            ) ^ 
                uint32(@nops[1] + 16 + 8 + 4) 
                - pe.sections[1].virtual_address 
                - pe.image_base + pe.sections[1].raw_data_offset
                + (%d %% uint32(@nops[1] + 16 + 4))

flag_size = 10
for i in range(flag_size):
    for guess in range(32,127):
        ch = chr(guess)
        rule = template % (str(hex(guess)), i, i)

And boom, flag! TMCTF{16d1eb767f}

Yara ends up being used as a simple string/hex search tool in the rare CTF challenge where it appears, but this one was definitely a lot more complicated and fun to figure out. A cool challenge for sure and one that shows off more of what yara can do.