Reversing a game implemented in a rom-to-eng translator in HackTM 2020


Solving a video game wrapped inside an obfuscated translation engine.

Challenge Description:

“The binary is still in development. The final version would have let you play boggle”

All the files for this chall, including my solve, can be found here.


After the first 24 hours of HackTM-20 playing with pwndevils, I was finished working on all the “Bear” reversing challenges with @fish. I decided it was time to confront my fears and finally reverse a Rust binary.

Overall Understanding

Within the first few seconds of getting this binary we do a simple file on the two files provided:

$ file hackdex hacktm.hdex
hackdex: ELF 64-bit LSB shared object, x86-64, version 1 (SYSV), dynamically linked, interpreter /lib64/l, for GNU/Linux 3.2.0, BuildID[sha1]=f97d38c4cea7bde09bc0e6367820b33a2ed8f7b6, not stripped

hacktm.hdex: UTF-8 Unicode text, with very long lines

Luckily it’s an ELF. Next we do a simple strace on the binary to understand how this binary is interacting with the provided “plaintext” file.

$ strace ./hackdex
read(3, "fitoare\nyeoman<br>razes; soldat "..., 8192) = 6861
read(3, "", 8192)                       = 0
close(3)                                = 0
write(1, "Welcome to HackDex. Your EN-RO d"..., 112Welcome to HackDex. Your EN-RO dictionary for HackTM CTF!

    1. Translation console
    *. Exit
) = 112
write(1, "hackdex> ", 9hackdex> )                = 9
brk(0x5573d4ea1000)                     = 0x5573d4ea1000

We get overwhelmed with output since it seems that the binary is reading in the ascii file line by line (and it has a lot of lines):

$ cat hacktm.hdex | wc -l

Playing with the binary we found out we have a translation program that converts English to Romanian by doing a table lookup in the ascii file. It’s easy to see this is true since they put a delimiter <BR> between each English and Romanian translation – also, the entire file was loaded into memory earlier. Time to jump into this binaries assembly code!

Discovering important functions

After about 0.01 seconds of looking at this binary in any decompiler, IDA Pro in my case, we see that this binary was compiled from the language Rust. That is unfortunate, seeing that rust includes all it’s library’s function code in the binary – making our binary bloated as hell.

$ readelf --syms hackdex | wc -l

Yeah we have around 2599 functions in this binary, so we want to figure out where to start static analysis by seeing where this binary does the important things in dynamic analysis. This is also possible by following calls to main.

$ gdb ./hackdex
Reading symbols from ./hackdex...(no debugging symbols found)...done.
gef➤  r
Starting program: /home/mahaloz/hacktm-20/hackdex/hackdex
[Thread debugging using libthread_db enabled]
Using host libthread_db library "/lib/x86_64-linux-gnu/".
Welcome to HackDex. Your EN-RO dictionary for HackTM CTF!

    1. Translation console
    *. Exit
hackdex> ^Z

──────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────── trace
[#0] 0x7ffff7af4081 → __GI___libc_read(fd=0x0, buf=0x555557055e20, nbytes=0x2000)
[#1] 0x5555555c9e34 → <std::io::buffered::BufReader<R> as std::io::BufRead>::fill_buf()
[#2] 0x5555555cb086 → std::io::stdio::Stdin::read_line()
[#3] 0x555555560268 → dex::get_input()
[#4] 0x555555560518 → dex::translate()
[#5] 0x555555562ea0 → dex::main()
[#6] 0x555555563a43 → std::rt::lang_start::()
[#7] 0x5555555d13a3 → std::panicking::try::do_call()
[#8] 0x5555555d36a7 → __rust_maybe_catch_panic()
[#9] 0x5555555d1d80 → std::rt::lang_start_internal()

Causing a keyboard interrupt in the middle of translation allows us to see some basic information about how the binary is getting it’s translations. We can see from the backtrace that the main package/class in this binary is the dex class. We can see the important functions dex::translate(), dex::main(), and dex::get_input(). Let’s take a look into dex::main function.

Taking a look at offset 0xEDD5:

.text:000000000000EDD5                 mov     rax, qword ptr [rsp+768h+var_748+8]
.text:000000000000EDDA                 cmp     rax, 1
.text:000000000000EDDE                 jz      loc_EE93
.text:000000000000EDE4                 cmp     rax, 9
.text:000000000000EDE8                 jnz     loc_EF56
.text:000000000000EDEE                 lea     rdi, [rsp+768h+var_720]
.text:000000000000EDF3                 call    _ZN3dex5extra17hc0d1779f7950f2c7E ; dex::extra::hc0d1779f7950f2c7

We see a data dereference loaded into rax and then compared against 9. If it is 9 then we enter the elusive extra function. Without 100% knowing where that data references, we just try a simple test:

$ ./hackdex
Welcome to HackDex. Your EN-RO dictionary for HackTM CTF!

    1. Translation console
    *. Exit
hackdex> 9
Only PRO users!

Yup, we found the secret mode of the binary. Recall the hint said we are dealing with a program that was not finished being developed, so we can assume that this area was not meant to be accessed yet. Our new target is the hex::extra function. Taking a look at it’s internals we see offset 0xC6C4:

.text:000000000000C6C4                 cmp     cs:_ZN3dex11PRO_VERSION17h62387400d9c485dbE, 1337h ; dex::PRO_VERSION::h62387400d9c485db
.text:000000000000C6CF                 jz      loc_C88C

This causes us to leave the function. Assuming that we will never be able to satisfy this with normal user input, we can just hex patch this section out by modifying the jz to a jnz. Now we can get to the pro mode:

$ ./hackdex
Welcome to HackDex. Your EN-RO dictionary for HackTM CTF!

    1. Translation console
    *. Exit
hackdex> 9

How do we get the flag?

Once we enter the PRO Mode, we can vaguely see that this is the right path to a flag since we see "HackDex!\n\n===> GG!" at offset 0xE453 – of course since this is rust, strings are not null terminated. From here on, it may be helpful to see the decompilation, so I will assume you have IDA Pro. If you don’t, Ghidra will have similar results for these sections. We continue!

Executing the binary in the pro-mode, we see a rejection for input:

$ ./hackdex.bak
Welcome to HackDex. Your EN-RO dictionary for HackTM CTF!

    1. Translation console
    *. Exit
hackdex> 9
hackdex(9)> Password

At offset 0xC813 we see the use of dex::get_input():

  dex::get_valid_words::hd122c9be5dc18ee7((__int64)&valid_words_1, 4LL, v10);

Along with the get_input(), we see that a get_valid_words is called with each instance of the get_inputs (for almost all of them). If this is the validation, we can assume we need to get valid words to get the flag.

We see the output of the valid words used in the contains_key map function for a series of condition checks:

if ( (unsigned

Using a similar method to patching the pro-edition check we can make this check pass each time. After patching we try the test again:

$ ./hackdex
Welcome to HackDex. Your EN-RO dictionary for HackTM CTF!

    1. Translation console
    *. Exit
hackdex> 9
hackdex(9)> pwndevils
hackdex(9)> pwndevils
hackdex(9)> pwndevils
hackdex(9)> pwndevils
hackdex(9)> pwndevils
hackdex(9)> pwndevils
===> GG!

As you can see, the check is run 6 times. We can confirm this by looking at the cross references to the function. So we need to input 6 “correct” words to get the flag. Now we need to understand what makes a word “valid.”

Valid Words

At this point, we need to explore the dex::extra function and find things that look interesting in mangling our input. We find two such functions at 0xE312 and 0xE46A:




Yup, a sha256 sum, and a chacha cipher. Let’s work from the latter first. With some google searching and some back tracking in the code, we discover that something we input is used as the key to the cipher. You can guess what the information is in the cipher text (the flag).

But notice we only make it to the chacha if we make it passed a check:

if ( _mm_movemask_epi8(
           _mm_loadu_si128((const __m128i *)&sha256_output_buff),
         _mm_cmpeq_epi8(_mm_loadu_si128((const __m128i *)&v171), (__m128i)xmmword_9A600))) == 0xFFFF )

I’ve annotated some of the variables in this, but it still looks terrible. Like actual trash. Before fully understand what this if statement is doing, let’s go back to the former mentioned sha256 digest.

Looking at the call to the sha256 Digest we can see an input buffer filled with “dynamic” looking strings before digesting:


From looking at this line, I realised that out input was SHA256ed then saved to the output buffer, then used in the former if statement:

if ( _mm_movemask_epi8(
           _mm_loadu_si128((const __m128i *)&sha256_output_buff),
         _mm_cmpeq_epi8(_mm_loadu_si128((const __m128i *)&v171), (__m128i)xmmword_9A600))) == 0xFFFF )

This if statement references the output of the SHA256 sum. If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, you are guessing the input to the SHA256 is our inputs, and you would be right! From the gruesome IDA code above, we can see the output of the sha compared to some hex string. Following the above psuedo operations by IDA, we use the below strings to get the expected sum:

.rodata:000000000009A600 xmmword_9A600   xmmword 87A296E16B40FC1059EB2A66660AEF13h
.rodata:000000000009A600                                         ; DATA XREF: dex::extra::hc0d1779f7950f2c7+1C7A↑r
.rodata:000000000009A610 xmmword_9A610   xmmword 0BFD7A92606149E66179C8D06A8BA50F5h
.rodata:000000000009A610                                         ; DATA XREF: dex::extra::hc0d1779f7950f2c7+1C82↑r
.rodata:000000000009A620 xmmword_9A620   xmmword 8C6A0F1FA2C44D42CD205662BBA3DC86h
.rodata:000000000009A620                                         ; DATA XREF: dex::extra::hc0d1779f7950f2c7+1CBC↑r
.rodata:000000000009A630 xmmword_9A630   xmmword 5890B9434E79F522DD1E5B5D08129995h
.rodata:000000000009A630                                         ; DATA XREF: dex::extra::hc0d1779f7950f2c7+1CC6↑r
.rodata:000000000009A640 xmmword_9A640   xmmword 247ECE8C303B4D2189EB6670A480547Eh
.rodata:000000000009A640                                         ; DATA XREF: dex::extra::hc0d1779f7950f2c7+1CD1↑r
.rodata:000000000009A650 xmmword_9A650   xmmword 42BBFB04117574ED3441492CB8B45AE3h

Following the operations, we get the expected sum as: 0xF550BAA8068D9C17669E140626A9D7BF13EF0A66662AEB5910FC406BE196A287.

To recap, we have six strings that are inputted from us, then are sha256 hashed. If the output of the hash is: 0xF550BAA8068D9C17669E140626A9D7BF13EF0A66662AEB5910FC406BE196A287 then we have inputted the correct strings and we decrypt the stored flag using the chacha cipher.

Playing some Boggle

After figuring all of that out, I was stumped for little since the input space of 6 strings was a little too large to bruteforce for an expected hash. Out of nowhere @fish, the reversing god himself, bestowed upon me that the call of every get_input looked like it was setting up an array in memory. That’s when he put together that these tables must be the boggle tables reference in the hint.

So I took a look at the initialization of the arrays, and he was damn right!

*(_QWORD *)v8 = 472446402657LL;
  *(_DWORD *)(v8 + 8) = 'n';
  *(_QWORD *)&input_buff = v8;
  _mm_storeu_si128((__m128i *)((char *)&input_buff + 8), _mm_load_si128((const __m128i *)&xmmword_9A5E0));
  v9 = _rust_alloc(12LL, 4LL);
  if ( !v9 )
    goto LABEL_201;
  *(_QWORD *)v9 = 0x6900000072LL;
  *(_DWORD *)(v9 + 8) = 'g';
  *(_QWORD *)(v6 + 16) = v148;
  *(_OWORD *)v6 = output_strings_2;
  *(_QWORD *)(v6 + 40) = v132;
  *(_OWORD *)(v6 + 24) = input_buff;
  *(_QWORD *)(v6 + 48) = v9;
  v11 = _mm_load_si128((const __m128i *)&xmmword_9A5E0);
  _mm_storeu_si128((__m128i *)(v6 + 56), v11);

This code may look a little confusing, but you can see that v9 is being used as the base of this array, and setup as a series of characters… as is v8 and v6. We have start breaking apart the memsets to discover a table being created:

z e l 
a n n
r i g

That’s a boggle table! SOOOOO, we must be playing boggle as inputs to our hashing algorithm. If you follow every call to get_input you will notice that something similar is happening before each call. Below are the tables from each call:

0: ["zel", "ann", "rig"],
1: ["tkl", "bui", "nrf"],
2: ["fri", "pen", "uad"],
3: ["emz", "bna", "xeh", "wtv"],
4: ["evo", "rux", "com", "gni"],
5: ["plz", "asi", "son"],

We finally approach the endgame! We need to find out what strings are possible for boggle table, then try every combination to the SHA256 sum. After trying this initially, and failing, I speculated that we needed to use one more piece of information to finish this boi… the hackdex dictionary file!

Getting that Flag

Here is the full recap of the rundown to solving for the flag:

  1. We discovered the pro version
  2. We needed 6 strings that sha to 0xF550BAA8068D9C17669E140626A9D7BF13EF0A66662AEB5910FC406BE196A287
  3. We discovered the boggle tables used to generate the strings
  4. The strings can only be strings located in the hacktm.hdex file.

After doing this, we get the final message:

As we all know, CTFs are not only about winning. They are also about learning, team work, overcoming yourself, passion and making friends. Have fun! HackTM{wh4t_4_cur10us_pow3r_w0rds_h4v3}

The main portion of the solve is below:

def sha256sum(s):
    sha256 = hashlib.sha256()
    return sha256.digest()
def main():
    ## ===== GENERATE BOGGLE WORDS ===== #
    for i in range(6):
        board = BOARDS[i]
        X = len(board[0])
        Y = len(board)
        grid = {}
        for x in range(X):
            for y in range(Y):
                grid[(x, y)] = board[y][x]
        neighbours = get_neighbours(X, Y, grid)
        dictionary, stems = get_dictionary()
        paths = []
        print_grid(X, Y, grid)
        words = get_words(grid, paths, stems, dictionary, neighbours)
        B[i] = [ w for w in words if len(w) > 1 ]

    ## ===== FILTER WORDS ===== #
    with open("hacktm.hdex", "rb") as f:
        data =
    lines = data.split(b"\n")
    words = set()
    for line in lines:
        if not line.strip():
        word = line[ : line.find(b"<br>")]
    for i in range(6):
        print(len(B[i]), "...")
        B[i] = list(set(B[i]).intersection(words))
    target = binascii.unhexlify("F550BAA8068D9C17669E140626A9D7BF13EF0A66662AEB5910FC406BE196A287")

    ## ===== FIND THE HASH ====== #
    for word_0 in B[0]:
        print(word_0 + "...")
        for word_1 in B[1]:
            for word_2 in B[2]:
                for word_3 in B[3]:
                    for word_4 in B[4]:
                        for word_5 in B[5]:
                            s = word_0 + word_1 + word_2 + word_3 + word_4 + word_5
                            if len(s) <= 31:
                            h = sha256sum(s)
                            if h == target:
                                print(h, word_0, word_1, word_2, word_3, word_4, word_5)
if __name__ == "__main__":

The full solve script can be found here

Thanks where thanks is due

Big thanks to @fish for the help in this solve!