The content of the article
Curiosity is the key to excellence. An enthusiastic person is ready to make efforts to find answers again and again and satisfy his thirst for knowledge. One way to harness the power of curiosity is through hacker quests. They lie at the intersection of alternative reality games (ARG) and CTF competitions and entice participants to an atmosphere of secrecy, but they not only entertain, but also provide completely real skills.
What is ARG?
In case you haven’t heard about the fun called Alternate Reality Game, I’ll briefly tell you what it is. Imagine a game that uses the real world as a platform. More precisely, not even a game, but an interactive narrative with game elements.
Having coordinated efforts (usually via the Internet), ARG members look for clues and follow the path of the story invented by the authors. At the same time, keys can be found both on sites specially developed for this, and in life: for example, on posters, hidden flash drives, in notes on an answering machine, and so on.
It turns out a sort of giant multi-player puzzle that combines role-playing and computer games, journalistic investigations, science fiction and mysticism.
The influence of the audience on the outcome of ARG is so great that the plot can go according to an unforeseen scenario, end ahead of time or stop in the middle.
Today, millions of people around the world play entertainment commercial projects. The main driving forces in solving ARG are curiosity, love of puzzles, the desire to learn cryptography and check the level of your own erudition. After all, if you can reach the finals, you will be one of the few lucky ones.
There are many commercial ARGs. Among the most sensational: I love bees, which was part of the Halo 2 viral marketing campaign, Lost experience and Find 815who advertised the Lost series, well known to gamers puzzle through the Portal universe and others.
Well, to our subject, of course, the closest Cicada 3301 and ARG on the series Mr. Robot (we wrote in detail about her).
What is the difference between ARG, CTF and CTF style quests?
Entire ARGs have formed around ARG, and their ranks are constantly replenished. This trend was also affected by the IB party, and there was mutual pollination with another popular genre – competitions such as Capture The Flag (for more details, see CTF. How hacking became a sports contest). The result is sometimes called deepweb puzzle, and sometimes they are no worse than full ARG in execution.
Such quests differ from ARG in the absence of a marketing component, and from CTF in the absence of a clear organization. You can participate alone or with a team of any size, there are no prizes, no points, not even a completion date.
However, the lack of pre-assembled teams does not mean that there is no team solution to the problems. Most often, interested players come together in communities and help each other with complex puzzles. This happens on forums, wikis, subreddits, imageboards and in group chats.
For example, subreddit r / ARG devoted to network puzzles in general. There, anyone can share a link to a quest unknown to the community, contribute to solving active tasks or gain experience from already solved ARGs.
In general, Reddit has recently become the default platform for fans of such activities. Its inhabitants are often the first to find inconspicuous pages in the darknet.
The Russian community of Internet researchers (net-stalkers) also repeatedly came across very original quests, which were not mentioned on Reddit. Often such things come to light spontaneously – when someone combes the darknet in search of new interesting links.
Once this happens, the community comes together to solve the found piece of a great online game. By the way, I say “found piece”, because it is not always possible to be sure whether a web page will be the beginning, middle or end of the game.
It is time to introduce you to some CTF-style quests that have interested our community in their complexity, originality, and beauty of execution. One of them will go from beginning to end, that is, until the coveted flag is received. The quest is not long, but it is generally clear on what you have to deal with during the passage. And on the way we will collect a small selection of utilities that help you find a solution.
It starts as usual – someone finds web page. It is owned by Sophie, and you are unlikely to pass by this resource without becoming interested.
There is a hex code on the main one, a picture with yin-yang hangs under it, a binary code is at the very bottom of the page, and a strange melody called whiterabbit plays in the background.
The first thing that should come to the mind of a researcher of this kind of resources is to immediately look at the HTML code of the page, not paying attention to what seems to be obvious to the eye. Usually it is in the code that hides either hints or meaningless comments of developers, and sometimes even links to the next level.
In our case, a link to the author’s profile on the site is hidden in the developer's console blackhatworld.
You may also notice a little hint: Does only webpages have meta data? Obviously, attention will need to be directed to the search for metadata in the picture.
Now we can learn something about the image. For example, as in the screenshot above. It becomes clear that the creator’s name is Sophie, she lives in Irkutsk, but the most surprising thing is the Source line from the metadata: “The State Security Committee (KGB)”. This seems to be a hint of rumors that intelligence agencies are using ARG to recruit the most capable players.
We do not pay attention to this and move on to decrypting the hex code. We are looking for any suitable hex to text decoder and decrypt. The output is a fully readable text.
However, so far we have not been able to find really useful information. Experienced players who have already participated in solving quests know that riddles sometimes have different solutions, some of which deliberately lead to dead ends. This is just the case.
We will use the utility Dirbuster with a list of directories for the Apache server. She goes through the popular names of directories and web application files, trying to find hidden directories and sites. After scanning, we find a hidden directory
/server-status. We go into it and see the link.
Continuation is available only to participants
Materials from the latest issues become available separately only two months after publication. To continue reading, you must become a member of the Xakep.ru community.
Join the Xakep.ru Community!
Membership in the community during the specified period will open you access to ALL Hacker materials, increase your personal cumulative discount and allow you to accumulate a professional Xakep Score!
I am already a member of Xakep.ru