Category Archives: Tips

Just enough cryptography for better securing your apps

I’m not a cryptographer myself but I have always admired their work because literally they make the Internet a better place by creating technology that allows us our right to privacy and cybersecurity plus I enjoy playing basic crypto CTF challenges. At my current job I’m a weird mixture between Software developer and Information Security guy (finally the best of two worlds) that means I work a lot with security and crypto related matters and I’m also very fortunate for  being able to work very close to a real cryptographer, so a couple months ago we were talking about security and I asked him if he could share some resources about cryptography but focusing on Software Engineers, meaning people without a heavy background in mathematics, this is what I learned.

If you are a Software Engineer curious about Information Security chances are you have crossed paths with a task that involves adding some kind of security mechanisms to protect data in your application, my friend explained me that in practice, cryptography is about choosing the right tool for the job and as a Security Software Engineer the most common tasks you will face are:

  • Encrypt a data blob or data stream
  • Exchange a secret key with a peer
  • Verify that some data blob or data stream is not modified
  • Verify that some data blob or data stream has been produced by someone specific.
  • Generate a secret key from another secret key
  • Generate a secret key from a (low-entropy) value – e.g. password

There are out there many cryptographic mechanisms that will make our lives easier when it comes to software engineering and we need to learn how to pick the right tool for the job

I’m not saying you should completely ignore the theory and jump directly into the practice, theory is important and you should learn it or at least be aware of the different types of cryptographic primitives, the most important classes/types are:

  • Pseudo-Random Permutation (PRP) – e.g. AES
  • Pseudo-Random Function (PRF) – e.g. ChaCha
  • Random Oracle (RO) – e.g. SHA-256

Modern cryptographic algorithms usually follow a more theory-based approach when it comes to achieve its goals and test its security, they usually do that by reducing the security relative to the primitives they use, it’s very common to read things like: 

The scheme X achieves the security goals A, B and C if the underlying primitive Y is in-fact a K.

Primitives usually have a condition in the form of a mathematical proof or very hard problems to solve e.g. prime-factor representation for RSA asymmetric primitive or the discrete logarithm problem for the Diffie-Hellman key exchange algorithm, therefore If you want to break a cryptographic scheme you will first need to break the assumptions used by its primitives, if no one can do that then it’s safe to assume the cryptographic scheme is secure.

My point here is you need to understand what are the goals you want to achieve first, what is your requirement, that’s the only way you can pick the right cryptographic scheme based on the primitives that will solve your problem.

Key Derivation

Let’s say you have an application that calculates the hmac-sha256 signature of a message using the password provided by a user as a key:

This works but there’s a problem with this approach, calculate hmac-sha256 signatures its trivial, with the help of a good dictionary an attacker can easily brute force the user password and if he succeed on obtaining the original secret he can impersonate the user in your application

Therefore, in order to make the job of the attacker more expensive in terms of time, computation and memory resources, the recommended approach is to use a Key-derivation function (KDF) or password-based key derivation function (PBKDF) when deriving a key from a password 

When I learned this concept from my friend it was mind-blowing, In general you have to distinguish between deriving a secret key from a high-entropy source, like a cryptographic key, or from a low-entropy source, like a password. PBKDF usage is about trade-offs, try to hit a parameter such that the PBKDF is relatively cheap to compute for you in your scenario but expensive for the attacker that tries to brute-force the secret password.

func deriveKey(key []byte, salt []byte) string {
	derivedKey := pbkdf2.Key(key, salt, 4096, 32, sha1.New)
	return base64.StdEncoding.EncodeToString(derivedKey)

func main() {
	message := []byte("hello world")
	key := []byte("super secret key")
	fmt.Println(string(key), deriveKey(key, message))
	// super secret key UJS9n/48gSEHyVK8UZPcC6vKGpsyI6mNrWexmvdtCB4=

Data Integrity

Preserving data integrity is a crucial part when working with information, the easiest way to achieve data integrity is by encrypting the data, however sometimes you don’t want to do that because encrypting and decrypting data it’s an expensive operation and you only want to preserve data integrity, then the most straightforward solution is HMAC with a RO – like SHA-256.

func computeHmac256(message []byte, key []byte) string {
	h := hmac.New(sha256.New, key)
	return base64.StdEncoding.EncodeToString(h.Sum(nil))

func main() {
	message := []byte("hello world")
	key := []byte("super secret key")
	messageHmac := computeHmac256(message, key)
	fmt.Println(string(message), messageHmac)
	// hello world yFgx2zBmFCpq9N6JuGAMRnTBN5cUwTkHBtqcAyGR2bw=


Symmetric cryptographic schemes are better for encrypting a data blob or data stream vs asymmetric schemes due to performance advantages, the recommendation is to use Authenticated Encryption (AE) or Authenticated Encryption with Associated Data (AEAD). There are two main AEAD schemes used in practice: AES-GCM and ChaCha20-Poly1305. Both belong to the same class of cryptographic objects: AEAD.

func encryptAES_GCM(key []byte, message []byte) string {
	block, _ := aes.NewCipher(key)
	nonce := make([]byte, 12)
	if _, err := io.ReadFull(rand.Reader, nonce); err != nil {
	aesgcm, err := cipher.NewGCM(block)
	if err != nil {
	ciphertext := aesgcm.Seal(nil, nonce, message, nil)
	return base64.StdEncoding.EncodeToString(ciphertext)

func main() {
	message := []byte("hello world")
	key := []byte("super secret key")
	fmt.Println(string(message), encryptAES_GCM(key, message))
	// hello world gBoJuHdAm5PjNGFdr+B/8Eq58IFZKcrzz6JQ

Github example:

Happy hacking 🙂

Docker images are just TAR files!

I have been using Mac OSX for development for half a decade now, I love the macbook pro design, the operating system and that everything works out of the box, but I’ve always struggled with the fact that once you got your mac you “cannot” upgrade its components, that is a problem if you are a distributed systems engineer and the projects you are working on increase in complexity (ie: adding new services), of course you can always rent a big machine on the cloud but sometimes you just don’t have an Internet connection.

Anyway this blog post it’s about how can you transfer docker images between docker registries on different machines, currently I’m using a 15 inches 2019 Macbook pro with 16GB of Ram and when I open a couple of Chrome windows, IntelliJ and run a couple of services everything start to run very slow. I need more power.

So a couple of weeks ago I got the Lenovo X1 Extreme Gen 2 with 6 cores and 64GB of Ram, powerful enough, this laptops come with Windows preinstalled and you can even play videogames on them, but the main goal was to leverage the resources to the Macbook pro and I was not planning on switching machines right now, I love Linux, I use it every day but I still think the Linux desktop experience isn’t great yet, so the first thing I did was to install PopOS a distro based on Ubuntu.

In previous blog post I’ve explained how to enable SSH, add the public key of your clients to the authorized_keys file and create ssh configs in Linux box, you will need all of that

Once you have ssh access enabled, and docker installed with a couple lines of bash you can start transferring docker images between your machines.

Let’s say you have a docker image called minio/minio:edge in your local registry and want to use it in your remote machine (and you don’t want to use the docker public registry for that), first you will need to export the image as a TAR file:

docker save -o /tmp/minio.tar minio/minio:edge

Next is transfer the file to the remote machine using scp.

scp /tmp/minio.tar [email protected]:/tmp/minio.tar

Finally load that image in the remote docker registry via ssh.

ssh [email protected] "docker load -i /tmp/minio.tar"
rm -rf /tmp/minio.tar

It’s a simple trick but it’s very useful and allowed me to have this dual laptop setup.

You can put all of this on a simple script, I called it dockerc.

set -x

if [ $# -eq 0 ]; then
    echo "Usage: dockerc minio/minio:edge"
    exit 1

echo "Copying container: $1"





docker save -o $LOCAL_PATH$IMAGE_TAR_FILE $1
ssh [email protected]$REMOTE_HOST "docker load -i $ABS_REMOTE_IMAGE && rm -rf $ABS_REMOTE_IMAGE"

And just do.

./dockerc minio/minio:edge


If you wish to run more commands apart of docker load (in my case I’m using kubernetes kind) you just keep adding more after the &&, ie:

docker load -i $ABS_REMOTE_IMAGE && kind load docker-image $1 && rm -rf $ABS_REMOTE_IMAGE

Happy Hacking 🙂

CTF OverTheWire: Natas10

Continuing with the CTF Natas series, now is the turn for natas10

Natas Level 9 → Level 10
Username: natas10

Using the flag obtained in the previous challenge, we go to the URL showed in the description and we will see the following screen.

It’s a simple web page with a basic input form, very similar to the previous one but they have added a character filter, we proceed to click the View sourcecode and we are redirected to index-source.html

This is supposed to be the backend code of the html form.

$key = "";

if(array_key_exists("needle", $_REQUEST)) {
    $key = $_REQUEST["needle"];

if($key != "") {
    if(preg_match('/[;|&]/',$key)) {
        print "Input contains an illegal character!";
    } else {
        passthru("grep -i $key dictionary.txt");

The preg_match(‘/[;|&]/’,$key) function will make sure to drop any search request that contains the ; or & characters so we cannot execute additional commands like we did on the previous level, but instead of trying to bypass this filter there is an easier way to solve this level, the grep command supports search for a pattern in multiple files so we are going to exploit that, the goal is to execute something like this:

grep -i '' /etc/natas_webpass/natas11 dictionary.txt 

Since ” /etc/natas_webpass/natas11 doesn’t contains any of the filtered characters we can just send this payload through the form.

The flag for the next level, natas11, is: U82q5TCMMQ9xuFoI3dYX61s7OZD9JKoK

In this challenge we exploit a command injection vulnerability that essentially allow us to execute arbitrary commands on the server, this time there was a security mechanism in place but the fundamental problem was still there. Depending on the privileges of the user running the web server we might read, write or delete files.

Happy hacking 🙂

CTF OverTheWire: Natas9

Continuing with the CTF Natas series, now is the turn for natas9

Natas Level 8 → Level 9
Username: natas9

Using the flag obtained in the previous challenge, we go to the URL showed in the description and we will see the following screen.

It’s just a simple web page with a basic input form, if we type nonsense nothing happens, we proceed to click the View sourcecode and we are redirected to index-source.html

This is supposed to be the backend code of the html form.

$key = "";

if(array_key_exists("needle", $_REQUEST)) {
    $key = $_REQUEST["needle"];

if($key != "") {
    passthru("grep -i $key dictionary.txt");

The vulnerability in this code happens when calling the passthru function, we are reading user input directly from the needle request parameter, then saving it into the $key variable and using it without any kind of sanitization when calling the function, that’s essentially command injection. We are going to try to execute commands in the web server by exploiting this vulnerability.

Sending ;ls -la;

Results in all files on the current directory to be listed

I was a little bit lost at this point but then I remember the CTF instructions.

Each level has access to the password of the next level. Your job is to somehow obtain that next password and level up. All passwords are also stored in /etc/natas_webpass/. E.g. the password for natas5 is stored in the file /etc/natas_webpass/natas5 and only readable by natas4 and natas5.

So we do ;cat /etc/natas_webpass/natas10;

The flag for the next level, natas10, is: nOpp1igQAkUzaI1GUUjzn1bFVj7xCNzu

As mentioned before, this challenge we exploit a command injection vulnerability that essentially allow us to execute arbitrary commands on the server, depending on the privileges of the user running the web server we might read, write or delete files.

Happy hacking 🙂

Commands and Code Snippets I usually forget

Some commands and code snippets I use rarely during CTFs or my daily work, but still I need them from time to time and I’m very lazy to remember them. This note may grow over time.


Playing with dec, hexa and bin (not really) in JS
String.fromCharCode(0x41) // 'A'

parseInt('0xf', 16) // 15

var n = 15

n.toString(16) // 'f'
n.toString(2) // '1111'
n.toString() // '15'

var n = 'A'
n.charCodeAt() // 65
// dec to hex
n.charCodeAt().toString(16) // '41'
// dec to bin
n.charCodeAt().toString(2) // '1000001'
// dec to hex
parseInt(255).toString(16) // 'ff'
// dec to bin
parseInt(5).toString(2) // '101'
Simple HTTP GET request using nodejs
const https = require('https');

https.get('', (resp) => {
  let data = '';
  resp.on('data', (chunk) => {
    data += chunk;
  resp.on('end', () => {
    //DO something with data
}).on("error", (err) => {
  console.log("Error: " + err.message);
Simple HTTP POST request using nodejs
const https = require('https')

const data = JSON.stringify({
  todo: 'Buy the milk'

const options = {
  hostname: '',
  port: 443,
  path: '/todos',
  method: 'POST',
  headers: {
    'Content-Type': 'application/json',
    'Content-Length': data.length

const req = https.request(options, res => {
  res.on('data', d => {

req.on('error', error => {


Extract content between regular expression patterns using JS
const message =  data.match(/<p>([^<]+)<\/p>/)[1];
const lat =  data.match(/name="lat" value="([^<]+)" min=/)[1];
const long =  data.match(/name="lon" value="([^<]+)" min=/)[1];
const token =  data.match(/name="token" value="([^<]+)"/)[1];


Mount NTFS on Linux
mount -t ntfs [FILE] [PATH]
mount -t type device directory
Extract extended attributes from NTFS disk
getfattr --only-values [FILE] -n [ATTR-NAME] > file
Parsing file with awk and run xargs
cat [FILE] | awk '{print $1 .. $n}' | xargs


Start Simple HTTP server with Python
python -m SimpleHTTPServer
Inline Python commands
python -c 'print "\x41" * 20'


Run PHP interactive mode
php -a