Hi infosec people, hope you’re healthy! I just got enough time to write a blog on the topic which I really wanted to write, “You can also create your own CTF challenge” but I changed this name to the current one because it doesn’t sound that interesting/cool as it does with the current name of the blog. By far, this will be my finest blog till date and if you really want to see the creator mindset while creating the challenge, I encourage you to read the blog till the end in order to learn how to create…

Okay so, as of my personal experience while playing CTFs on platforms like TryHackMe, HackTheBox, VulnHub, I really enjoy playing them but with a mindset of hacking/breaking them and moving forward till I get root/administrator access in linux/windows boxes. But this breaking stuff was all exciting until I start making a box of my own, and trust me on this, when you create things on your own, your perspective changes. You tend to see the things with a new eyes, brain and have broader sense of mindset when trying to break down the things.

I always used to think how creators create the box? How do they know what configurations are used to make a box vulnerable to something? How can I make mine? What’s the process? So I started researching about this. I have been working on the box I’m making as of now, so I don’t mind sharing the methodology with you all. Although, this blog will not focusing on creating a box having X vulnerability, but just to give idea about the box creation. And if you are more curious about making box, do your research, understand what you’re trying to make and start building. And at the end of this blog, I’ll also provide you the notes (in case anyone forgot the steps later, just like I forgot every time)!

Let’s quickly take a look at the contents of this blog :

Create Virtual Machine in VirtualBoxUbuntu Server InstallationBox CreationExporting ApplianceNotes

Also, before starting creating a box, we need a kali linux and an ubuntu server 20.04 which we’ll be using.

Enough of my insights on box, let’s start making one (I truly hope you’re excited).

NOTE: I will be making this box on Virtual Box because of .ova file supported on Virtual Box. You can go ahead with making a box on VMWare, if you guys want to (I already made it).

Let’s start by visiting Ubuntu website to download the Ubuntu Server 20.04 image,

Click on the Green button to download the Ubuntu Server 20.04 image

After the download gets completed, we have to make the new virtual machine in Virtual Box. I will show how to create a new virtual machine (in case if anyone doesn’t know how to create a new virtual machine).

Create Virtual Machine

Click ‘New’ button to open a dialog. Type a name for the new virtual machine. Since I am planning to install Ubuntu Server 20.04, so I’ll name it as Ubuntu Server,Click Next. We are presented with a Memory size window. The memory size depends on your host machine memory size (I have set it to 1 Gigs, if you want more, you can freely add as per your system specs),Click Next. Accept the default ‘Create a virtual hard drive now’,Click Create. Continue to accept the default ‘VDI’ drive file type,Click Next. Allocate physical hard disk dynamically,Click Next. This will create the new virtual machine for us. Now, select our newly created machine and click on Settings icon on Virtual Box,Virtual machine settings will open. From there, navigate to Network tab and select NAT Network (please refer to this article on How To Create And Use NAT Network In VirtualBox if you don’t know how to create one),Click OK. Our Virtual machine is now created. Let’s start it by clicking green arrow Start button. Then it’ll ask to select the iso, navigate to the folder/directory where you downloaded iso file and select it. Then click on Choose button. With this, our Ubuntu Server is ready to start.

Ubuntu Server Installation

Now, we will proceed with installation of Ubuntu Server. So when server starts up, we will first see this window where a language is need to be selected. Let’s proceed with English.

Pressing enter and we will see the installer update available. But let’s continue without updating it,Press enter and next will come Keyboard Configuration. Leave it as it is,Press enter and we will see the Network connections window. So let the server use DHCP to self assign IP address to the machine,Press enter and now we will be presented to configure proxy but we’ll skip it by pressing enter,Now, we will be presented with Storage configs. We will use the entire disk for our box,After selecting the storage layout, press enter,we don’t have to make changes here so pressing enter again,It will prompt a confirmation box and start the installation. Go for Continue. It’ll then ask to enter the device name and a username and it’s corresponding password, so let’s make one,I’ve entered the hostname (name of the server) as test and username & password as hellfire.Press enter after providing name, username and password. Then it’ll ask us if we want to install OpenSSH Server, and since we want to, so we’ll select it by taking cursor to the area and pressing spacebar,Press enter and it’ll ask us to install snap features, let’s skip these,Pressing enter for the last time to finish with this configurations and ubuntu will start the installation process,

After getting to this point, you will get an option to Reboot Now. Go ahead and reboot this machine and now our machine is ready.

Box Creation

Now that we’re done with our installation of the ubuntu server, let’s quickly start the process of box creation (I know some of you are already excited, so I am). We can now log in to the server using credentials we have (hellfire:hellfire, in my case). Let’s see the information,

id
whoami
hostname

The id the command will show us the ID of hellfire user, whoami command will show us that who we currently are and hostname command will show us the name of the system. Issuing ls -la command and we can see the directory contents (nothing useful at this moment).

Now, to perform some major tasks, we need to have root user access and for that, let’s first enable root user login,

sudo -i passwd root
su root
id

The first command sudo -i passwd root enables the root user login by asking us to set the root user password. The second command su root helps us to switch to root user and id command checks the ID of root user.

Now that we’re in root user directory, let’s create root user flag,

echo ‘root_flag’ | md5sum > root.txt
ls -la
chmod 600 root.txt
ls -la

The first command echo ‘root_flag’ | md5sum > root.txt echoes the root_flag string and pipes it into md5sum command to generate a alphanumeric value which is directed straight into root.txt file. Issuing ls -la , we can see that our root.txt file is created but having reading permissions for others and groups as well (and we need to take these permissions away as you don’t want the low level user to read information of root user files). So to take the reading permissions of others and groups away, the third command chmod 600 root.txt helps us (files have r-w-x permissions with value of 4–2–1 respectively), and making sure that no one else but root user can read this flag. Again issuing ls -la and we can clearly see that file permission is changed.

To verify if low level user can read this flag or not, simply type exit command and try to read the root.txt file as low level user (hellfire, in my case) and we can see the Permission denied message which verifies that no one but root user can read the root.txt file.

We are good here. (:

Now, let’s switch back to root user again with su root command and create the flag for low level user,

echo ‘user_flag’ | md5sum > /home/hellfire/user.txt
ls -la
chown hellfire:hellfire user.txt && chmod 660 user.txt
ls -la

The first command echo ‘user_flag’ | md5sum > /home/user/user.txt helped us to create the user flag. Issuing ls -la command to view the permissions of the user.txt file and we can see that groups and others can read the user.txt file. So here, what we can do is that we can make this file owned by hellfire user and changing its permissions so that only owner and group members can read this user.txt file. We can achieve both tasks by combining two commands chown hellfire:hellfire user.txt && chmod 600 user.txt as this command will only work if 1st command is correct (that’s because of && operator). Again issuing ls -la , we can see that our file is now owned by hellfire and has suitable permissions.

Moving forward towards interesting things like configuring FTP server, apache2 webserver, openssh server, etc etc. Now that we are done with creating flags, let’s actually start the work. To enable traffic via any port on this server, we need ufw (Uncomplicated Firewall) tool. Let’s install it on our server,

apt install ufw
ufw status
ufw enable
ufw status

The first apt install ufw command installs the uncomplicated firewall on our server. The second ufw status command checks the status of firewall to see if it’s active or inactive. The third ufw enable command enables/starts the firewall and the fourth command again checks the status of firewall (which is now active).

After downloading and setting up the uncomplicated firewall, let’s install the FTP server,

apt install vsftpd
cp /etc/vsftpd.conf /etc/vsftpd.conf.orig
nano /etc/vsftpd.conf

The first apt install vsftpd command installs the vsftpd server on our machine. The second cp /etc/vsftpd.conf /etc/vsftpd.conf.orig command makes backup of the configuration of vsftpd.conf file. The third nano /etc/vsftpd.conf command opens up the text editor to edit the vsftpd.conf file.

Now, we all like anonymous user login enable while solving CTFs because it makes our work easier, right? We are going to configure the same anonymous user access to our FTP server (YAY!). Since our configuration file is already running, we have to make changes into this file. To enable anonymous user to login into ftp,

We changed the Anonymous Login enabled from NO to YES as this will allow anonymous user to login to FTP. Next, we defined a directory for the ftp in /var/ftp. And lastly, we have disabled the login password for anonymous user; what this will do is that when an anonymous user tries to login, ftp won’t ask for password while authentication.

So now that we’re done with vsftpd.conf configuration, let’s bake some things on terminal as well,

cd /var
mkdir ftp
chown nobody:nogroup ftp/
cd ftp && echo ‘Hello Hellfire’ > file.txt && chown nobody:nogroup file.txt

Okay so, we’ll navigate to /var directory using the first command and then using second command, we’ll create a directory of name ftp. After creating a directory, let’s do some magic, shall we? First, let’s change the onwership of this ftp directory to nobody:nogroup using chown nobody:nogroup ftp command. Read more about Nobody group. Alas, we first navigate to the directory we made, created a file named file.txt having content “Hello Hellfire” and then changing the ownership of the file file.txt. After issuing ls -la command, we can see that file permissions are set as the way we want.

We are done with this and now, all there left is to enable traffic for ftp,

ufw allow 20/tcp
ufw allow 21/tcp
ufw status

The above 2 commands ufw allow 20/tcp and ufw allow 21/tcp will allow traffic to be flown from these 2 ports. Read more about why FTP uses 2 ports. Checking the firewall status again to verify if these ports are allowed by firewall or not.

Here, we will now use kali machine to access the ftp service,

ftp 10.0.2.27
get file.txt

Okay so with first ftp 10.0.2.27 command, we connect to ftp service using ftp client installed on the kali machine, providing it the IP address of the ubuntu server. Then it will prompt us for login, so provide Anonymous username and press enter but it won’t prompt us for password (remember we disable for password prompt in vsftpd.conf file?) and we’ll get logged in straight. We can list the directory content and see that there is a file named file.txt (which we create before). Then, we’ll download this file on our local system using get file.txt command and then exit from this server. Reading the content of the file.txt will show that our FTP service is working fine!!

Now, coming to Webserver part, apache2 is not installed in ubuntu server 20.04 so I had to manually installed, but it’s really easy. We just need to type out the following command,

sudo apt update
sudo apt install apache2

First command updates the installed packages in the system and second command will actually install the apache2 server on our ubuntu.

Now, if we visit http://10.0.2.27 in our browser, we will see the default webpage for Ubuntu (this means that our webserver is up and running),

Now that we know that our webserver is up and running, let’s install PHP language on our system to make it more fun! To install PHP on our system, we first need to add repository on our ubuntu system,

apt install software-properties-common
add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/php

The first command allows to easily manage the distribution. You can read more information on software-common-properties. The second command actually adds the ondrej PHP repository on ubuntu system. Well in case if you’re wondering now what is ondrej? Here’s the look at the screenshot,

screenshot from google

Now, we need to issue 2 more commands to install php on our system,

apt update
apt install -y php7.4

First command as usual, will update packages in our system and second command will install PHP7.4 on our system.

Well, I hope you’re still following me till now. As you can think by now, how much I have to type, document all of this stuff because before organizing them, they were just scattered and making my mindset to write an article on this topic (I knew it will be going to be a lengthy one), is not easy, but I am really enjoying it so that what matters to me!! Also, if you need a break, you can drink water, relax your shoulders by rolling them backwards, relax your neck and spine, and start the creation process, again! ((:

Okay, now that we have installed PHP7.4 on our system, we will first create a test php file to see if it’s working or not. I’ll follow up with the most basic code of php,

echo ‘<?php phpinfo(); ?>’ > test.php
ls -la
chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/html
ls -la

With the first command, we will redirect the basic php code (contains a phpinfo() function which is used to output a large amount of information about PHP installation and can be used to identify installation and configuration problems) into test.php file. Then viewing the content of the directory and we saw that both of the files are having root user ownership, and since we know that files in webserver should have ownership of www-data user (think about a scenario where webserver gets compromised and files having root user ownership will lead to full system compromised). So we will change the ownership of all files to www-data user in /var/www/html directory (root directory for webserver!). Again viewing the content of directory and now we can see that files have www-data user ownership!

We’re all set! Let’s navigate to http://10.0.2.27/test.php, and we can see the PHP info page,

We can see this page because this test.php file exist in /var/www/html directory and we can’t see any file outside of this directory from browsing action. So we’re all set!! I won’t be implementing Command Injection vulnerability or LFI vulnerability on this box. As I already mentioned, this blog is just a base for everyone who’s thinking to developing/creating a box but don’t really know how to get started, you got my point. However, I highly encourage you to stop here, at least try to do some research on those mentioned vulnerabilities (these 2 are few of many!!) and try to implement it on your own. Play with it, until it start working and you shall see the wonder.

Okay, so we’re done with setting up FTP server and Web server, now all that left is to set up SSH server. Start by checking the version of ssh installed on the system,

sshd –version

This command checks the version of the ssh installed on the system or if it’s even installed or not on the system. Read more about SSHD.

Since it is installed, let’s move forward by enabling traffic from port 22 (default port for SSH service),

ufw allow ssh
ufw status

The first command will allow traffic from port 22 and second command will check the status of the firewall and we can see that our rules are correctly added. Our job with this configuring SSH server is done.

Let’s try to access hellfire user with ssh client on kali box,

ssh kali@10.0.2.27

SSH client will prompt us for user password, provide that and we’ll get logged in! So this means our user can login via ssh as well (HURRAYYY). Now, I encourage you to try to create 2–3 users and try to login on your own to get the feel of the developer (even if it’s a little bit!) or you can even configure SSH Key-Based Authentication for your user (try it! It is really fun, believe me on this!).

Exporting Appliance

Now, this will gonna be an easy process as you only have to export your system to a .ova file and you can send it over internet across or maybe your hacker friend to pwn it. Shutdown your ubuntu system now as we need to export it. Now, follow the steps below to export the system,

File → Export Appliance → Virtual Machines to export (select your ubuntu machine you just configured) → Appliance Settings (Format should be Open Virtualization Format 1.0 and then save the file with desired name and location. Leave the check boxes as they’re) → DONE!!!!

Notes

P.S. So here are the notes which I forgot to attach at the end of the blog,

## Change root user password
– sudo -i passwd root## Switch to root user
– su root## add root user flag
– echo ‘root_flag’ | md5sum > /root/root.txt
– chmod 600 /root/root.txt## add user flag
– echo ‘user_flag’ | md5sum > /home/user/user.txt
– chmod 660 /home/user/user.txt### You can create other users like testuser1, testuser2
– adduser testuser1
– adduser testuser2## Install uncomplicated firewall (ufw)
– apt install ufw
– ufw enable
– ufw status## Install FTP server
– apt install vsftpd
– cp /etc/vsftpd.conf /etc/vsftpd.conf.orig #(use sudo before the command if not root)### add these lines in the /etc/vsftpd.conf file:
– anonymous_enable=YES #Allow anonymous login FTP (Disabled by Default)
– anon_root=/var/ftp #Directory for FTP
– no_anon_password=YES #Stop prompting password-> save file and exit.- mkdir /var/ftp #Now make a ftp directory in /var
– chown nobody:nogroup ftp/ #changing owner of ftp dirctory to nobody:nogroup
– cd ftp; touch file.txt; chown nobody:nogroup file.txt #change directory; create a new file; assign new permissions
– ufw allow 20/tcp; ufw allow 21/tcp #allow ftp traffic for tcp port 20,21### enable vsftpd service
– sudo service vsftp start #enable vsftp service
– service vsftpd start #if running as root-> Now login as anonymous user on ftp user and see that there will be a file named file.txt present.## Configure Apache HTTP server
– ufw allow http (or)
– ufw allow 80/tcp #allow ftp traffic for tcp port 80
– ufw status #check status of firewall
– apt update #update packages before installing apache2
– apt install apache2 #install apache2 on server### install PHP
– apt install software-properties-common #configure repository on system
– add-apt-repository ppa:ondrej/ppa #adding ondrej php repo on ubuntu system
– apt update #update packages before installing
– apt install -y php7.4 #install php7.4 on ubuntu system-> Navigate to http://$IP and you will be presented with Apache2 Ubuntu Default Page. Now to create a test.php page, do:- echo ‘<?php phpinfo(); ?>’ > test.php #simple php page to run on web pages
– chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www/html #webserver files must belong to user and group www-data:www-data not the root:root user-> Now visit http://$IP/test.php and you’ll presented with PHP info page. From there you can set RCE if you want.## Configure SSH
– sshd –version #check if openssh is installed by checking it’s version
– ufw allow ssh (or)
– ufw allow 22/tcp #allow ftp traffic for tcp port 22-> Now test if you can login as testuser1/testuser2/root user via ssh service.## Export the VM to an OVA format- Now after machine is tested and working as intented we can export it into OVA format in Virtual Box.
– Go into:
—- File > Export Appliance
—- Then select your vulnerable machine in this case mine is Ubuntu 20.04 Server
—- Choose Open Virtualization Format 1.0
—- Name the file you want to save
—- Click ‘Export’=> You just made your first CTF box.

So, how are you feeling right now, you amazing Hacker+Creator? It took me many hours to write down this blog, and if I be honest, took me around 9–10 hours. I hope this blog will be a starting point for some of you who are trying/thinking to create a box. As you get experience while playing CTFs, you will eventually start to know how to implement X vulnerability on the box, but that doesn’t mean you will become expert at implementing them on the box, but the truth is, it requires patience and research to implement on the box. Just like I did my research and I have never given a serious thought that I’ll be making a box one day (which I dreamed of in the past), but you know, that’s that. It took me (and my friend) two and a half months to create the box. All of my stress, difficulties in researching various things, this blog is the summation of all.

As of me writing this blog, the time here is 3.33 AM and am really tired so I’ll put my pen down for now. Alright mates, take good care of yourself, stay hydrated, stay healthy and I will see you soon. Bye. Good day. (:

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