Suramya's Blog : Welcome to my crazy life…

February 13, 2018

Explaining HTTPS using carrier pigeons

Filed under: Interesting Sites,Security Tutorials,Techie Stuff — Suramya @ 7:07 PM

HTTPS is something that a lot of people find hard to explain without going into a lot of technical jargon which frankly just confuses most people and causes them to zone out. However it is an essential service/protocol so understanding it is a good idea. To address this issue Andrea Zanin who is a student created the following primer that explains how HTTPS works using carrier pigeons as the messengers.

Below is an explanation on how HTTP would work with carrier pigeons:

If Alice wants to send a message to Bob, she attaches the message on the carrier pigeon’s leg and sends it to Bob. Bob receives the message, reads it and it’s all is good.

But what if Mallory intercepted Alice’s pigeon in flight and changed the message? Bob would have no way of knowing that the message that was sent by Alice was modified in transit.

This is how HTTP works. Pretty scary right? I wouldn’t send my bank credentials over HTTP and neither should you.

Check out the link for the full writeup.

Well, this is all for now. Will write more later.

– Suramya

February 7, 2018

Hacking the Brainwaves Cyber Security CTF Hackathon 2018

Earlier this year I took part in the Brainwaves Cyber Security Hackathon 2018 with Disha Agarwala and it was a great experience. We both learnt a lot from the hackathon and in this post I will talk about how we approached the problems and some of our learning’s from the session.

Questions we had to answer/solve in the Hackathon:

  • Find the Webserver’s version and the Operating system on the box
  • Find what processes are running on the server?
  • What fuzzy port is the SSH server running on?
  • Discover the site architecture and layout.
  • Describe the major vulnerability in the home page of the given website based on OWASP TOP 1. Portal Url:
  • Gain access to member area and admin area through blind sql, or session management.
  • Dump all user account from member area. [SQLi]
  • [Broken Validation] Demonstrate how you can modify the limit in order management.
  • [Open Redirect] Redirect site/page to
  • List any other common bug came across while on the site
    • After logging into the member area, perform the following functions:
    • Find the master hash & crack it
    • Dump all user’s
    • Find the email ID and password of saved users

Information Gathering:

In order to find the services running on the server, the first thing we had to do was find the IP/hostname of the actual server hosting the site which was a bit tricky because the URL provided is protected by CloudFlare. So, any scans of took us to the CloudFlare proxy server instead of the actual server which was a problem.

We figured this out by trying to access the IP address that translated to in the browser.

suramya@gallifrey:~$ host has address 

Since the site homepage didn’t do anything except display text that refreshed every 15 seconds we needed to find other pages in the site to give us an a attack surface. We checked to see if the site had a robots.txt (It tells web crawlers not to index certain directories). These directories are usually ones that have sensitive data and in this case the file existed with the following contents:

# robots.txt
User-agent: *
Disallow: images
Disallow: /common/
Disallow: /cgi-bin/

The images directory didn’t have any interesting files in it but the /common/ directory on the other hand had a file named embed.php in it which basically ran a PHP Info dump. This dump has a lot of information that can be used to attack the site but the main item we found here was the IP address of the actual server where the services were running (

Using this information we were able to initiate a nmap scan to get the services running on the site. The nmap command that gave us all the information we needed was:

nmap -sV -O -sS -T4 -p 1-65535 -v

This gave us the following result set after a really really long run time:

23/tcp   filtered telnet
25/tcp   open     smtp?
80/tcp   open     http          This is not* a web server, look for ssh banner
81/tcp   open     http          nginx 1.4.6 (Ubuntu)
82/tcp   open     http          nginx 1.4.6 (Ubuntu)
137/tcp  filtered netbios-ns
138/tcp  filtered netbios-dgm
139/tcp  filtered netbios-ssn
445/tcp  filtered microsoft-ds
497/tcp  filtered retrospect
1024/tcp open     kdm?
1720/tcp open     h323q931?
2220/tcp open     ssh           OpenSSH 6.6.1p1 Ubuntu 2ubuntu2.8 (Ubuntu Linux; protocol 2.0)
2376/tcp open     ssl/docker?
3380/tcp open     sns-channels?
3389/tcp open     ms-wbt-server xrdp
5060/tcp filtered sip
5554/tcp filtered sgi-esphttp
8000/tcp open     http          nginx 1.4.6 (Ubuntu)
8080/tcp open     http          Jetty 9.4.z-SNAPSHOT
8086/tcp open     http          nginx 1.10.3 (Ubuntu)
9090/tcp open     http          Transmission BitTorrent management httpd (unauthorized)
9996/tcp filtered palace-5
19733/tcp filtered unknown
25222/tcp filtered unknown
30316/tcp filtered unknown
33389/tcp open     ms-wbt-server xrdp
33465/tcp filtered unknown
34532/tcp filtered unknown
35761/tcp filtered unknown
35812/tcp filtered unknown
35951/tcp filtered unknown
37679/tcp filtered unknown
38289/tcp filtered unknown
38405/tcp filtered unknown
38995/tcp filtered unknown
40314/tcp filtered unknown
44194/tcp filtered unknown
47808/tcp filtered bacnet

For some reason the results from the nmap scan varied so we had to run the scan multiple times to get all the services on the host. This was possibility because the server was setup to make automated scanning more difficult.

Once we identified the port where the SSH server was running on (2220) we were able to connect to the port and that gave us the exact OS Details of the server. We did already know that the server was running Ubuntu along with the kernel version from the PHP Info dump but this gave us the exact version.

Discovering Site architecture:

Since we had to discover the URL to the members & admin area before we could attack it, we used dirb which is a Web Content Scanner to get the list ofall the public directories/files on the site. This gave us the URL’s to several interesting files and directories. One of the files identified by dirb was When we visited the link it gave us a list of other URL’s on the site of interest (we had to replace the hostname to including the members area ( and siteadmin (

After a long and fruitless effort to use SQL Injection on the siteadmin area we started to explore the other files/URL’s identified by dirb. This gave us a whole bunch of files/data that seem to be left over from other hackathons so we ignored them.

SQL Injection

The main site appeared to be vulnerable to SQL at the first glance because when we visit’ (note the trailing single quote) it reloads the page. This meant that we could write queries to it however since it didn’t display a true or false on the page a SQL injection wasn’t easily possible. (We could have tried a blind injection but that would require a lot of effort for a non-guaranteed result.

As we explored the remaining URL’s in sitemap.xml one of the links ( was interesting as it appeared to give a dump of data being read from the site DB. Opening the site while watching the Developer Toolbar for network traffic identified a URL that appeared to be vulnerable to SQL injection ( and once we tested the url we found that the variable id was indeed vulnerable to injection.

We used blind sql to gain access by executing true and false statements and see that it returns different results for true(displays ‘1’ on the webpage) and false (displays 0) . We checked whether a UNION query runs on the site which it did and using other queries we identified the DB backend to be a mysql database ( version). Then we found out the table name (members) which was an easy guess since the website had an add customer field. After identifying the number of columns in the table we got stuck because any statements to list the available tables or extract data were failing with an error about inconsistent column numbers.

Finally, we ran sqlmap which is an open source tool for automating SQL injection. It took us a few tries to get the software running because initially any attempt to scan the site was rejected with a 403 error message. Turns out that the connections were being rejected because the site didn’t like the useragent the software was sending by default and adding a flag to randomize the useragent resolved the permission denied issue.

Once the scan ran successfully we tried to get access to the MySQL usertable but that failed because the user we were authenticating as to the MySQL server didn’t have access to the table required.

sqlmap -u '' --random-agent -p id --passwords

So, then we tried getting an interactive shell and an OOB shell both of which failed. We finally ran the command to do a full dump of everything that the system allowed us to export using SQL injection via SQLMap. This included the DB schema, table schema’s and a dump of every table on the database server which the mysql user had access to. The command we used is the following:

sqlmap -u '' --random-agent -p id  --all --threads 3

This gave us a full dump of all the tables and the software was helpful enough to identify password hashes when they existed in the table and offered to attempt decryption as well. In this case the password was encrypted with a basic unsalted MD5 hash which was cracked quite easily. Giving us the password for the first two accounts in the database (admin & demo).

Looking at the rest of the entries in the users table we noticed that they all had funny values in the email address field, instead of a regular email address we had entries that looked like the following:

,,,"0000-00-00 00:00:[email protected]509a6f75849b",1

As we had no clue what this was about the first thing we attempted was to access the URL. This URL gave us a message that told us that the email addresses in the DB were obfuscated by CloudFlare to protect them from Bots. A quick Google search gave us a 21 line python script which we tweaked to convert all the hash to email address and passwords. (The code is listed below for reference)

#! /usr/bin/env python 
# -*- coding: utf-8 -*- 
# vim:fenc=utf-8 
# Copyright © 2016 xl7dev  
# Distributed under terms of the MIT license. 


import sys 
import re 
fp = sys.argv[1] 
def deCFEmail(): 
   r = int(fp[:2],16) 
   email = ''.join([chr(int(fp[i:i+2], 16) ^ r) for i in range(2, len(fp), 2)]) 
   print email 
if __name__ == "__main__":                                                                                                                                                                       

This gave us the email addresses and passwords for all the users on the site. Since the accounts appeared to be created by SQL injection a bunch of them didn’t have any passwords but the remaining were valid accounts for the most part and we verified a couple by logging in manually with the credentials.

OWASP TOP 10 Vulnerability

To find the vulnerabilities in the home page we tried various manual techniques at first but drew a blank so we decided to use the owasp-zap. This tool allows you to automatically scan for vulnerabilities in a given URL along with a whole other stuff.

At first the scan failed because of the same issue as earlier with the user-agent. This time we took a different approach to resolve the issue by configuring owasp-zap as a proxy server and configuring Firefox traffic to use this proxy server for all traffic. This gave us the site in the software and we were then able to trigger both an active scan and spider scan of the site.

This gave us detailed reports that highlighted various issues in the site which we submitted.

Redirecting HomePage

The redirection of the home page was quite simple. We tried inserting a customer name with javascript tags in it and were able to do so successfully. So we inserted the following into the DB and the system automatically redirected the page when the Customer list section was accessed.

Other Interesting Finds

The nmap scan told us that in addition to port 80 a web server was listening on ports 81, 82, 8000, 8080 and 8086.

Ports 82, 8000 and 8086 were running standard installs of nginx and we didn’t find much of interest at these ports even after we ran dirb on all of them. Port 8080 appeared to be running a proxy or a Jenkins instance.

Port 81 was the most interesting because it was running a nginx server that responded to any queries with a 403 error. When we tried accessing the site via the browser we got an error about corrupted content.

We were unable to identify what the purpose of this site was but it was interesting.

SSH Banner / PHP Shell

The webserver instance running on port 80 had the version set to the following text “This is not* a web server, look for ssh banner Server at Port 80” so we went back and investigated the SSH Banner from the ssh server on port 2220. The banner was encrypted and to decrypt the SSH banner, we continuously converted the cipherText from its hex value to ASCII value . It gave us the following results on each conversion


 37333733363832303632363136653665363537323230363636663732373736313732363432303733366336313733363832303633366637353663363432303663363536313634796f75to a #

ssh banner forward slash could lead you to a #sh3ll.php

Once we got the full decrypted text we knew that there was a potential webshell on the server but it wasn’t apparent where the shell was located. After hit and try failed we turned back to our old faithful dirb to see if it could find the shell.

dirb allows us to specify a custom word list which is used to iterate through the paths and we can also append an extension to each of the words to search for, so we created a file called test with the following content:

suramya@gallifrey:~$ cat test 

and then ran the following command:

suramya@gallifrey:~$ dirb test  -X '.php'

This gave us the location of the shell.

Accessing the link gave us a page with a message “you found a shell, try pinging google via sh3ll.php?exec=ping”

Accessing the URL with the additional parameter gave us a page with the following output:

February 5, 2018

Is it a good idea to stop reading news?

Filed under: My Thoughts — Suramya @ 5:40 PM

Earlier today I was browsing the web and ended up on this HackerNews Thread where one of the users had posted the following comment:

I have recently stopped reading any kind of news. As a result I find that my mind is lot less cluttered. I have realized that once you give it up, you don’t really miss it a lot.

This made me think and I was wondering what the benefits are if we stop reading the news and what the downsides are of the same.

A little while ago a lot of the news items from around the world were pretty depressing and I found that if I read my news feed first thing in the morning as I normally did I ended up feeling a bit out of sorts for a while. Not depressed per se but with more of a bleah attitude for a while in the morning. After I figured this out I stopped reading general news first thing in the morning as I figured the issue was caused due to the fact that I was reading the news while half asleep when a lot of my brain was still struggling to wake up making it harder for my usual snark from kicking in. Instead of reading all news first thing in the morning I switched to reading only the tech news feeds early in the morning and then catch up with the world news later in the day (usually in the evening on the way back home). I found that this worked best for me for a while, but after a bit I changed my reading habits again and now I read the news (both tech and general) on the way to work and am fine with it. Plus another good development is that I get out of the house sooner if I am not cocooned in bed catching up with the news. 🙂

So, is it a good idea to stop reading any news? I don’t think so even after my experience. Knowing what is going on in the world is important and shutting yourself off from the world is not an answer. There are a lot of issues in the world and the first step in fixing them is to know about the issues. I mean if you don’t even know a problem exists then how are you going to even think about a solution for it? There is a quote from Isacc Asimov that seems relevant here:

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
― Isaac Asimov

So the question becomes, how do I scrub my windows to the world? The answer is quite simple, read about what is happening in the world. There might be new discoveries, events etc happening that will challenge your thinking and maybe result in a complete change in your thought process. Don’t get put down by the constant negative news in the media. The fact is that it’s not all bad out there and there are good things happening all over the world but that doesn’t sell so the media focuses on the negative aspects to sell paper (or user views etc). Bill Gates wrote about this recently as well. In a recent study folks took 15 different measures of progress (like quality of life, knowledge, and safety) and found that the world is actually getting better inspite of the mess we keep seeing in the news all the time.

All that being said it is quite possible that you end up getting down/depressed after reading & watching so much negative news in the press. This is a normal reaction. John Scalzi who is one of my favorite authors had the following advise on how to deal with this scenario (It was published about a year ago but is still valid):

3. Disconnect (temporarily). Especially now, it might be useful for a “hard reset”: taking a week (or two! Or more!) away from most news and social media in order to give your brain the equivalent of a few deep, cleansing breaths and the ability to switch focus away from the outside world and back into your internal creative life.

It’s often hard to do this — social media in particular is specifically designed to make you feel like if you’re not constantly attached to it then you’re missing something important. But here’s the thing: Even if it were true (which it usually is not), there are millions of other people out there to deal with it while you take a week off from the world to get your head right. Let them.

What are your thoughts about this topic? Do you feel that stopping to read news is a good idea? Let me know via comments below (or via email).

This is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

February 1, 2018

Viewed the Lunar Eclipse + Blue Moon + Super Moon last night and it was awesome!

Filed under: My Life — Suramya @ 12:04 PM

As I mentioned in my previous post, yesterday was the Lunar Eclipse + Blue Moon + Super Moon combination that last happened 150 years ago. Initially I wasn’t sure that I would be able to make it home in time to view the eclipse but things worked out in the end and I was able to make it. To make things more fun a few friends who knew that I have a telescope invited themselves over (after asking me 🙂 ) so we had a mini get together/eclipse watching session up on the roof. The eclipse started being visible in Bangalore at 6:21pm but thanks the building around my place (and the bright lights at Leela Palace) I couldn’t really see the moon till almost 6:45pm. Most of the people arrived at my place by 7 so we went upstairs at 7 and were there till the end of the eclipse at about 8:30pm. A lot of other folks from DD were also there on the roof but we were the only ones with a telescope so got a lot of envious looks 😉

At first it was hard to get the moon in focus during the eclipse as it was very dim but after a few failed attempts we managed to get it in focus which allowed us (Anirudh) to take the pic of the moon through the telescope. (See below)

Full Lunar Eclipse (PC: Anirudh)

Near the end of the total eclipse. (PC: Anirudh)

About half way through the end of the partial eclipse (PC: Anirudh)

The banner at the bottom of the pic was added by Anirudh so even though I personally feel that it is ugly 🙂 I decided to keep in so that the credit is properly given.

Anirudh checking out the eclipse with Ananya, Josefine and Priyank waiting for their turn at the telescope.

Once the eclipse was over we all went back down to my place to hang out for a bit. Some of the folks had to leave early because of other commitments (and because we had work the next day) but Anirudh, Sharukh, Jani and me were up till almost 1am talking about all sorts of random stuff from Computer security to feminism.

Group pic at my place

Overall it was a fun evening. If I had known for sure that I would make it home for the eclipse I would have asked more friends to come over but since that wasn’t the case I wasn’t able to… But there is always the next time.

This is all for now. Will post more later.

– Suramya

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