Users are reporting a challenge is down, the author is offline, and you don’t know how long the challenge has been broken. The challenge had no healthcheck configured, and there’s no documentation. Someone forgot to test the task. A nightmare come true.
This guide will show you how to troubleshoot a broken challenge, assuming you don’t know how the challenge works. The guide is divided into three parts that take you through troubleshooting a task in different environments:
kctf chal debug dockeris the easiest and fastest way to troubleshoot challenges, and you don’t need to know much apart from some basic Docker commands presented in the following section.
Note: The commands in this guide use the
kctf-chal-troubleshooting placeholder as the name of the broken challenge, replace this placeholder with the actual name of your challenge.
Remember to run
source kctf/activate on your CTF directory before running any of the following commands.
A good place to start is to check if the Docker image works. It can happen that an author makes a small change to a Dockerfile which then breaks the task. A challenge that doesn’t even start usually indicates that something is broken.
To build the Docker image, run:
kctf chal debug docker
This will output any errors when building the image and something like this towards the end:
CONTAINER ID IMAGE COMMAND CREATED STATUS PORTS NAMES 81d06c71f6b5 kctf-chal-troubleshooting "/bin/sh -c '/usr/bi…" 1 second ago Up Less than a second 0.0.0.0:32780->1337/tcp unruffled_payne
Notice that there’s a PORTS column that tells you that port 32780 in your local machine is mapped to port 1337 inside the container. The challenge should work if you connect to the local port (exchange “32780” with your local port in the following command):
nc localhost 32780
If the challenge is very broken, it still won’t work. If you enter anything, nothing will happen. Another possible way in which the challenge could be broken, is if there was an error running the command, in which case connecting to the challenge will also not work (it would just exit).
You can actually check if the challenge is still running a few seconds after starting it, by running:
docker ps -f ancestor=kctf-chal-troubleshooting
If you don’t see the challenge running anymore, that’s a good indication that the task failed to even start. If the challenge is still running, but connecting to it fails, then the challenge started properly but there’s some runtime error.
Either way, the next step would be to read the Docker logs.
If the challenge builds, but running it doesn’t work, the best thing to try is to read the Docker logs. To get the Docker logs, run:
docker logs $(docker ps -q -f ancestor=kctf-chal-troubleshooting)
If the challenge is a pwnable, you might see an error formatted like this:
[E][2020-02-02T20:20:02+0200] void subproc::subprocNewProc(nsjconf_t*, int, int, int, int)():204 execve('/bin/sh') failed: No such file or directory
That’s an nsjail error. In this case, it is complaining that
/bin/sh failed and returned the error No such file or directory.
If your challenge is based on the
apache-php example, you will see Apache access/error logs instead, but either way, to continue to debug you need to find out what is going on inside the challenge.
To continue debugging, you can get a “shell” into the container with
docker exec. To do so run:
docker exec -it $(docker ps -q -f ancestor=kctf-chal-troubleshooting) bash
Once inside, you can inspect the environment in which the challenge is running. For example, you can list the current processes:
This way you can find out what is currently running on the task, but you could also find this out by reading the Dockerfile and checking the
CMD that is configured there.
Here you can also inspect other logs (if any) as well as check the permissions on the filesystem. The next step in debugging would be to run the command on the shell directly and see if you can get new information.
The next troubleshooting step is to find out where nsjail is being called. For pwnables, nsjail will be running directly as the listening service, and for web tasks, it would run as a CGI script when PHP files are executed.
The configuration for nsjail usually lives in /config. You will want to run nsjail again with the same command that Docker attempted, but for testing. Nsjail supports overriding the configuration via command line arguments added after the
--config flag. If nsjail is configured to work in “listening” mode (e.g. listening on a port), then you can override that to run in
run_once mode by adding the flag
/usr/bin/nsjail --config /config/nsjail.cfg -Mo
This should trigger the same error as the one found in
docker logs from the previous step, however, now you can enable more verbose options if you run:
/usr/bin/nsjail --config /config/nsjail.cfg -Mo -v
This should output more errors, and these errors should provide more details about what went wrong.
If everything works in Docker, the problem might be higher up (in Kubernetes). The first step to debug this would be to check if the challenge works in a local cluster. Follow the instructions here for getting the task running in KIND.
Once the local cluster is running, you can follow similar steps as above for debugging.
First, change to the namespace of the challenge by running:
kubectl config set-context --current --namespace=kctf-chal-troubleshooting
To retrieve the status of the challenge, run:
kubectl get deployment/chal
To read execution logs, run:
kubectl logs deployment/chal -c challenge
To obtain a shell into a pod, run:
kubectl exec -it deployment/chal -c challenge
However, there are a few additional commands for debugging Kubernetes-specific errors.
A basic understanding of Kubernetes (as described in kCTF in 8 minutes) is a useful prerequisite, but this guide should be intuitive enough to roughly understand what is happening even without knowledge of Kubernetes.
The most common way to troubleshoot will be using the
kubectl describe command. This command tells you everything Kubernetes knows about a challenge. You should start by describing the “deployment” by running:
kubectl describe deployment/chal
The most interesting parts of this command are the:
If the deployment worked, you should see that the challenge tried to create one or two “pods” (you can think of a pod as a replica) in Events (at the end). Otherwise, the Status will tell you that it wasn’t able to do so for some Reason. This usually means that the configuration files were manually modified by the author of the task, so it’s a good moment to investigate the change history of the files below the
k8s directory of the challenge directory.
The next step is to look into the replicas of the challenge (the pods). You can list the pods for a specific challenge by running:
kubectl get pods --selector=app=kctf-chal-troubleshooting
This should tell you the status of the task; a healthy challenge should look like this:
NAME READY STATUS RESTARTS AGE apache-php-9877d8b7c-k89zw 2/2 Running 0 24h apache-php-9877d8b7c-t2p4k 2/2 Running 0 24h
Notice that READY says 2/2, which means 2 out of 2 containers are ready. If there’s an error, you might see that RESTARTS has a number larger than 0, or READY displays 1/2 or 0/2.
To debug this, run:
kubectl describe pods --selector=app=kctf-chal-troubleshooting
This will describe the pod; similar to deployment these fields will be of interest:
A healthy challenge should have “running” as the Status and the State. Any other Status/State will be explained under Reason.
If the Reason doesn’t make sense, you can find more information under Events. Ideally, the last line of Events should be:
Normal Created 71m ... Created container challenge
Otherwise, the Event will explain what the problem was.
Get your hat and your boots ready, because you are now going to be testing on production! This is probably the last resort, and the most likely to not fix any problems (and rather introduce new ones), but this is an unavoidable step, as often errors are easier to debug in production.
The commands available for kCTF are similar to the ones available for Docker and kubectl.
To get the status of a challenge, run:
kctf chal status
To shell into a challenge, run:
kctf chal debug ssh
To shell into the healthcheck, run:
kctf chal debug ssh --container=healthcheck
To obtain remote logs, run:
kctf chal debug logs
In addition, you can run any kubectl command as described in the section Inspecting a Kubernetes Deployment.
A good first step is to restart the challenge. To do so run:
kubectl rollout restart deployment/chal
Note: To make Kubernetes automatically restart flaky challenges, you should have a healthcheck.
To redeploy the challenge (for example, if the challenge works well locally in a local cluster), run:
kctf chal start
This will deploy the local challenge to the remote cluster.
To temporarily undo a bad rollout, run:
kubectl rollout undo deployment/chal