Bf [N00bz CTF 2023]

writeup by: zenbassi

Challenge Description

Mal sehen, ob Sie dieses Mal Ihren Verstand in den Griff bekommen.
Author: Heith


We did not solve this challenge during this CTF. This writeup is just a descirption of the thought process we went through while attempting to solve this, and ultimately how we solved it based on this writeup 1 by matthw. So credits to him.


Clearly you can’t read brainfuck. And this one was particularly hard to read.
Snippet from the challenge:


What we tried was to convert this to C, with the hope that the transpiler used would optimize (and deobfuscate as a consequence) the code. After some research and many tries, the we got the best results using esotope-bfc2, which specifically . This yielded some pretty clean c code that could be further cleaned up as there were some pretty big chunks of repeating code. Despite this, we couldn’t figure at all from the code how the input was transformed.

Other things we tried, were to take the generated code and compiler it with the highest levels of optimization (-O3) and try to open the resulted binary in ghidra with the hopes that the compiler would be able to abstract away the confusion. That didn’t work either, as the decompilation looked just as bad as the original code.

Also, we tried to fuzz the input, but didn’t manage to draw any significant conclusions from these experiments.

The Solution

In his writeup, the OP used callgrind3 to count the instructions executed on different inputs. The inputs are given incrementally one character at a time, with byte-values in increasing order. What we notice is a drop in the instruction count when a prefix of the flag is given as input. We can use this to build the flag character by character.

Why this works

I don’t know. But intuitively, the instruction count goes up as the values of the given bytes goes up because of the way brainfuck works and because the compilers aren’t able to get rid of every set of inefficient operations. Also, it drops because (maybe) the checks for a matching character require less operations.

The author’s solution 1 was a mix of python and shell script. I rewritten it entirely in shell, which anecdotally makes it faster.

As a side note, the author had a prefix of ____{ given to the script, which in my case was not necessary. No clue why.



while :; do
    for i in {30..127}; do
        hex="\x$(printf "%x" $i)"
        result=$(echo -ne ${s} | \
            valgrind --tool=callgrind ./ccode 2>&1 | \
            grep -Eo ": [0-9]+$" | \
            cut -c 3-)

        echo -en "\rtrying: $s"
        if [ "$result" -lt "$prev" ]; then
            echo -e "\n$f"

        rm -r callgrind* 2>/dev/null
        rm -r vgcore* 2>/dev/null