BSidesSF 2022 Writeups: Apache Challenges (mod_ctfauth, refresh)

Hey folks,

This is my (Ron's / iagox86's) author writeups for the BSides San Francisco 2022 CTF. You can get the full source code for everything on github. Most have either a Dockerfile or instructions on how to run locally. Enjoy!

Here are the four BSidesSF CTF blogs:

Refreshing - Reverse proxy mischief

The Refreshing challenge implements a reverse proxy that checks the query string for mischief, and attaches a header if it's bad. If the PHP application with a blatant vulnerability sees that header, it prints an error and does not render.

This was actually based entirely on CVE-2022-1388 (the name "Refreshing" is a nod to F5) - you can see my Rapid7 writeup on AttackerKB.

This was absolutely new to me when I worked on that vuln: the Connection HTTP header can remove headers when proxying. That means if you set Connection: Xyz while proxying through Apache, it will remove the header Xyz when forwarding. This worked out of the box on Apache! I initially tried Nginx, and it did not work there - not sure why, maybe they don't implement that header the same?

Anyway, to solve this, all you have to do is set the header Connection: X-Security-Danger on the request, then take advantage of the path traversal on the PHP site:

$ curl -H 'Connection: X-Security-Danger' ''

mod_ctfauth - A custom Apache authentication module

mod_ctfauth is a fairly simple Apache authentication plugin. It checks a username and token, then decides whether to grant access. I wrote it at the very last minute, because at work I was reverse engineering some Apache plugins and thought it'd be a good excuse to learn. And it worked! I've been re-using the container to test out more Apache stuff this week!

The source for the challenge is here. As you can see, it's really pretty straight forward - you can expect something more interesting next year, now that I know how these plugins work!

The bulk of the challenge is the following code (I removed a bunch of extra checks to shorten it down):

  char *username = (char*)apr_table_get(r->headers_in, USERNAME_HEADER);
  if(strcmp(username, "ctf")) {
    return AUTHZ_DENIED;

  char* header = (char*)apr_table_get( r->headers_in, HEADER);
  char *encoded_token = header + strlen(TOKEN_PREFIX);
  int actual_length = apr_base64_decode(decoded_token, encoded_token);


apr_md5_ctx_t md5;
  apr_md5_update(&md5, SECRET, strlen(SECRET));
  apr_md5_update(&md5, username, strlen(username));
  apr_md5_update(&md5, SECRET, strlen(SECRET));

  char buffer[HASH_LENGTH];
  apr_md5_final(buffer, &md5);

  if(memcmp(buffer, decoded_token, HASH_LENGTH)) {
    ap_log_rerror(APLOG_MARK, APLOG_WARNING, 0, r, "CTF: Token doesn't match!");
    return AUTHZ_DENIED;

It basically requires you to send a header and a token. The token is MD5(SECRET + username + SECRET), which is quite easy to calculate (and doesn't change).

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