flavors [UMDCTF 2024]

writeup by: zenbassi

Challenge Description

ah, elixirs, the sweet liquid flavor that brings a little spice to my life

desired output is AD38A5970B000E1500041F0B00011617AA85109204082D1485040326051D13012716BF081189AB990E2D0F182CA824


I’m writing this writeup about two weeks after the CTF. Mostly because I was very lazy. As such, you kind reader will have to excuse a few missing details. Now let’s start!

What we’re dealing with is an erlang byte-code (.beam) file, compiled from Elixir code.

Similar to other languages, the Elixir dev kit comes with an interactive shell called ixe. sunbather somehow figured we can just run Flavors.main inside ixe. Recent searches through a decent search engine on the web provide some missing details. Our file Elixir.Flavors.main should define an elixir Flavors module. The main functions among others is part of this module module. We can further list other functions by typing the module’s name Flavors followed by a dot and them spamming tab for autocompletion. Needless to say, we didn’t do that when solving the challenge.

We instead ran the main function and were asked for the flag. Inputting some random garbage lead to it crashing somewhere in the a function. In an attempt to understand what the code is doing we looked into ways to disassemble the .beam bytecode. We found a wonderful blog 1, where we copy pasted the following Elixir code from:

f = './Elixr.Flavors.beam'
{:ok, beam} = File.read(f)
IO.inspect :beam_disasm.file(beam), pretty: true

The above outputs the (pretty) garbage of a disassembly that follows:

  {:function, :main, 0, 24,
      {:line, 13},
      {:label, 23},
      {:func_info, {:atom, Flavors}, {:atom, :main}, 0},
      {:label, 24},
      {:allocate, 0, 0},
      {:move, {:literal, "Flag: "}, {:x, 0}},
      {:line, 14},
      {:call_ext, 1, {:extfunc, IO, :gets, 1}},
      {:call_ext, 1, {:extfunc, String, :trim, 1}},
      {:put_map_assoc, {:f, 0}, {:literal, %{}}, {:x, 0}, 1,
       {:list, [atom: :i, integer: 0, atom: :in, x: 0]}},
      {:call, 1, {Flavors, :a, 1}},
      {:line, 15},
      {:call, 1, {Flavors, :b, 1}},
      {:line, 16},
      {:call_ext_last, 1, {:extfunc, IO, :puts, 1}, 0}

The actual output is much longer. The above sample is just the main function. We can see that it prints “Flag:” on the screen, calls gets to read from stdin, trims the input, does something with a map and then calls the a and b functions. For us it was rather difficult to read, and it only got worse with the other functions. What next?

We resentfully copy and pasted everything into Chat-GPT. We started asking questions and it seemed to understand everything. What a good robot! The it told us exactly what each function does, perfectly described the process through which the input is converted into a hash, and provided a valid input for the program. We then gave it the expected output and it identified the correct input for the program, which was exactly the flag.

Yeah, no, of course that didn’t happen. We quickly realised it was printing nonsense. We also realised that our disassembly had incomplete function definitions. We changed course at that point.

This is the part where you’ll have to excuse some missing details. We were looking at the a function. It takes in a mapping as input and checks if some key-value pairs exist. One these includes the number 47. We also knew that the output’s desired length is $94 = 47 \times 2$. Through an educated guess we figured the desired input length is $47$. By feeding it a string of 47 characters, the program outputted a 94-character string, formatted similarly with the desired output.

By testing some input variations, we noticed that if we change on character in the input, exactly two adjacent characters from the output change. At that point we just assumed that the whole program just maps each character of the input to a pair of two characters in the output and then permutes them into the final hash-string. This is the assumption that lead to retrieving the flag.


The solution consists of two parts. Firstly, we extracted the permutation by running the program with inputs that differ by only one character, and comparing the results.

s = 'A' * 47
d = {i:i for i in range(47)}
h = check_output(f'echo -n "{s}" | elixir -e "Flavors.main"', shell=True)
r = h.split()[2].decode()

for i in range(47):
    s = 'A' * i + 'B' + 'A' * (47 - i - 1)
    assert(len(s) == 47)
    h = check_output(f'echo -n "{s}" | elixir -e "Flavors.main"', shell=True)
    h = h.split()[2].decode()
    for j in range(47):
        rr = r[j*2:(j + 1) * 2]
        hh = h[j*2:(j + 1) * 2]
        if rr != hh:
            d[i] = j


Them, we can just brute-forceed each character from the flag, aiming to match the corresponding two-character hash with the one in the desired output.

target = "AD38A5970B000E1500041F0B00011617AA85109204082D1485040326051D13012716BF081189AB990E2D0F182CA824"

alphabet = '}_?' + string.ascii_letters + string.digits

sol = 'UMDCTF{what_about_melange_b'

for i in range(len(sol), 47):
    print(f'finding {i}')
    for c in alphabet:
        print(f'testing {c}', end='\r')
        s = 'A' * i + c + 'A' * (47 - i - 1)
        h = check_output(f'echo -n "{s}" | elixir -e "Flavors.main"', shell=True)
        h = h.split()[2].decode()

        tt = target[d[i] * 2: (d[i] + 1) * 2]
        hh = h[d[i] * 2: (d[i] + 1) * 2]
        if tt == hh:
            sol += c

    print(f'flag now: {sol}')


Manually assisting the script with some more educated guesses lead to a rather quick retrieval of the flag.