hacking, owasp, web application security

My Experience with SANS SEC542 – Web App Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking Course #infosec #webapp #sans542 #ethicalhacking #gwapt

Another day, another hacking post.

Today’s blog post will discuss my experience with SANS 542 for the GWAPT certification. I completed the course through the OnDemand (online) version.

Let me preface with a few disclaimers:

  1. This class was on my bucket list for the last year, so I was VERY ecstatic when I was able to enroll
  2. My job paid for this course as it’s $6k+ which includes: practice test (2x) and certification attempt. This does not include travel arrangements (flight, hotel, and food).

As you can see the class is expensive, but it’s a good course to invest into if you want to become a penetration tester.

The course is broken into 6 parts. Let’s discuss each section.

Section 1: Introduction and Information Gathering

As the title states, this was a primer of web application testings with reviewing the HTTP and HTTPS protocols, discuss web infrastructure, and discuss reconnaissance using the following tools: WHOIS and DNS. Finally, I was introduced to a web application vulnerability such as Heartbleed.

I found the material to progress at a nice pace. I had a general knowledge of web application pentesting by tinkering with a home lab, but this introduction filled in some of the blanks that I had.

Section 2: Configuration, Identity, and Authentication Testing

This section heavily relies on mapping a web application target, and reconnaissance, which is arguably the most important part of testing. Some of the tools that was used were: nmap, cURL, and manual techniques using Burp Suite (such as Burp Intruder). In this section, I was introduced to another web application vulnerability – Shellshock, which surprisingly was vulnerable for 25 years!

I REALLY enjoyed this section as I am a hands-on learner, so tinkering and learning new techniques was great. Also, I had a rush whenever I was able to successfully exploit a vulnerability.

Section 3: Injection

In this section I learned about SQL, Blind SQL, Error based SQL injection, command injection, remote file include (RFI), local file include (LFI), session tracking, authentication bypass by using the vulnerable application Mutillidae. Mutillidae is a great application to use when honing your web application skills as I previously stated the application is vulnerable to A LOT of attacks!

Again, I really enjoyed this section, I learned some new skills (LFI, RFI, and command injection), I already knew about SQL injection before taking the course.

Section 4: XXE and XXS

In this section, I learned about the different flavors of Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) – reflected, stored, or DOM, XML External Entity (XXE), XML and JSON, as well as logic attacks to web applications.

Again, enjoyed this section, and I learned A LOT. I knew about Cross-Site Scripting and the different flavors but had NO clue about XXE or XML. It was interesting to see the techniques on how to launch an XSS attack using JSON. As well as how I can use the logic and data returned from an application to deduce certain aspects of the application and craft attacks to exploit said application.

Section 5: CSRF, Logic Flaws and Advanced Tools

In this section, I learned about Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF), and tools such as: Metasploit, WPScan, w3af. Also, I learned how to use Python to leverage attacks on web applications as well as how to pivot inside a web application. Also, a cool talking point was on when the tools fail, which is a real scenario.

I enjoyed this section. I am glad that the professor touched on when tools failed. There are some people who heavily rely on tools and get discouraged or miss vulnerabilities when said tools do not work.

Section 6: Capture The Flag

This by far was my favorite part of the course!!! Since my class was online, the capture the flag was online as well. Note, if this class is completed at a SANS location then the capture the flag is an all day event on the 6th day. The team (or person) who has the highest score receives a medal.

Anyway the capture the flag incorporated all of the concepts of the class into a realistic environment.

Things to say about the capture the flag – while it was fun, I made STUPID mistakes. Remember when I said that information mapping was important? I lost 4 points, due to not correctly map the web application. For instance, I completed IGNORED a server that had a TREASURE TROVE of vulnerabilities. <– Yes, I am still kicking myself for that mistake.

The capture the flag was super fun as it started with answering questions and then progressed into hands-on exploits. Also, the questions started to get harder as the game progressed (I am a gamer at heart!) Also there were some funny Aha moments, such as the classic music video. I also fell prey on trying to use to tools, which made answering some of the questions harder than it needed to be. The question could’ve been on a difficulty level of 3 and I made it into a 9 by customizing a fancy exploit that was not needed.

At the end of the 4 months, I finished #11 out of 40 people. Not too shabby. If I didn’t make the mistakes above, I would’ve finished in the top 10.


Final assessment of the course: I LOVED the course!!! Like I kept reiterating I learned a lot of about exploiting web applications, that I will take with me in my journey as a pentester. I liked that each book was built on top of each other. Meaning in book 1 I started off with a primer and learning about web application architecture(s). When I started book 2, I built on top of book 1’s knowledge to then learn about information gathering and reconnaissance, etc. By book 6 (capture the flag) I had a solid foundation on how to actual execute a web application penetration test.

The good thing about this course is that the exploits are not cookie cutter. There were times where I scratched my head and had to do an exploit two to three times to FULLY understand all of the moving parts. Also, another great thing about the course is that the student will receive books for each day (that you can keep) as well as a custom VM that has all of the labs, vulnerable applications, and tools that were used in the course just in case if you want to study or find more vulnerabilities once the class is over. As my instructor, Eric Conrad stated, “One of the differences between a good and great penetration tester is creativity.” I want to be a great pentester, and this class will help me get there.

One last thing… the GWAPT certification. I will not go into detail about test questions (as that is unethical), BUT I will say the test is open book. Make sure to fully utilize the practice test(s) by pretending it’s the REAL test. These practice tests will give you a baseline of how well you know the material. You then can go back and review said concepts and take the second test again to see if there’s improvement. I have taken 4 SANS courses (including this one), with 3 certs, and I can tell you that your index is the MOST important thing for when you take the real test. Your index will literally make or break you, so it’s important to spend a considerable amount of time to make sure your index matches your learning style. The test has a time limit of 3 hours, and you will need to answer 75 questions with a passing score of 71% and above. If you score 90% and above you will be placed in an elite group called the Advisory Board. You can learn more here.

If there are anymore questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me on twitter at @DevSecOpsGrl007.

Until next time!

capture the flag, hacking

PicoCTF 2017 – Bash Loop

Another day, another challenge…

Today’s blog post we will solve the “Bash Loop” challenge in the PicoCTF challenge.

Let’s start!

Clicking on the challenge we see:


OK… There’s a program we need to execute to find the hidden number. Let’s look at the hints to see what they give us.


OK… the hint tells us that we need to use Google to search for “bash loops”.

First let’s navigate to the folder of the program

Copying the location of the program, right clicking on the command line, selecting paste from browser, and pressing enter we have the following:



We see the bashloop program and the flag.

Executing the bashloop program we see the following:


Let’s do a quick Google search and look for bash loops

Going to the following link, and scrolling down to the for loop we see the following:


Let’s use this for our challenge.

Going back to the command line we enter the following:


Let’s break down the loop…

In the first line we are using a for loop and we’re looping over the range from 0 to 4096 as that is the range of numbers we need to guess over.

The next line we are invoking (calling) the program with the current number in the range (between 0 to 4096). From that we’re grepping (finding) the keyword of flag. The reason we’re doing that is to find the flag. Next line is specifying that we’re ending the loop.

Pressing enter we see that the flag is displayed to us.

Entering this into the input box we acquired 40 points!

capture the flag, hacking, web application security

PicoCTF 2017 – WorldChat

Another day, another challenge…

In today’s blog post we will be solving the “WorldChat” challenge from the PicoCTF.

Let’s get started!

Going to the challenge we see:

OK so we need to find the flag inside of the WorldChat app. According to the description when connecting to this app there will be many people on the app besides us.

Let’s look at the hints to see if it will help us.


We need to us the nc command (we’ve used this in another challenge) and use the grep command to filter output.

Let’s try it.


Connecting to the server we see a bunch of chats from different people. I pressed Ctrl + C to stop it.

Let’s use the hints and use the grep command with the “|” (pipe) command.








Press Ctrl + C to end the chat.

I have only captured screenshots of output that has the flag. Entering the flag into the input box we acquired 30 points.

capture the flag, hacking, web application security

PicoCTF 2017 – What Is Web

Another day, another challenge.

In today’s blog post we are solving the challenge, “What Is Web” from the PicoCTF challenge.

Let’s start!

Clicking on the challenge we see:


OK, so we need to find out how to use HTML.

Looking at the hints we see:

Clicking on the website we see:

PicoCTF_What_Is_Web_3Doing a right click, view source we see:


At the bottom of the screen in the green letters (which are comments that are not displayed in the browser) show that we have the first part of the flag.

Now we need to find the second and third part of the flag.

Looking back at the page source we see two different files that are referenced: hacker.css and script.js

Let’s look at hacker.css first and see what’s there.

Going to that file we see the second part of the flag at the top of the browser:


Now let’s look at the script.js file and see if we can find the final part of the flag…

Going to the script.js file we see:


We now have the three parts of the flag!

Combining the parts together and submitting the flag, we’ve acquired 20 points!

capture the flag, hacking, web application security

InfoSec Institute CTF Challenge #14

Another day, another challenge.

Today’s challenge comes from the InfoSec Institute CTF program.

Going to the following link we see the following:


Doing a right click, view page source we see the following:


Hmm… there’s a file, titled level14 inside the misc folder. Let’s go that file and see what’s there…

Going to the file we see the following:


Hmm… it looks like we have a SQL dump that’s showing us all the tables and values inside of a php application.

Scrolling down we see something that looks interesting, and strange…


Could this be some type of encoding? Possibly hexadecimal encoding?

First, we don’t need the double forward slash, we just need one. Removing the extra slashes we get the following:


Using a Hex to ASCII converter here, we get:


We found the flag – infosec_flagis_whatsorceryisthis

Lessons learned:

Our trick still works! We were able to find valuable information when looking at the page source. Going to the file listed we noticed it was a dump of SQL tables. Looking through the tables we noticed suspicious output, which we guessed was some type of encoding. Using information we learned from a previous challenge we were able to deduce that the encoding was hexadecimal encoding. From there we were able to find the flag.

capture the flag, hacking, web application security

InfoSec Institute CTF #13

Another day, another challenge…

Today’s challenge is from the InfoSec Institute.

Going to the following link, we see the following:


Doing a right click, view page source we see the following:


So from the hint we’re looking for a back-up file.

Since this is on a Linux box, let’s see what what the naming conventions are for backup files.

Let’s see if there’s a backup folder.


That led us to a dead-end.

Let’s try adding .old at the end of the file.

Adding the “.old” at the end of the URL and pressing enter we get the following:


Hmm… this looks like another file. Let’s open it.

Opening the file in a text editor we get the following:


Looking at the file we see the the first paragraph, which matches our first screenshot.

Next we see commented out code, that is asking us to download a mysterious file, “iamadecoy”.

Let’s navigate to this file and see what we find.

After the file downloads, we try to open it.

Hmm… that’s weird when clicking on the file a prompt is shown asking what type of file this is.

Since we don’t know what type of file it is, let’s go to this site here, to find out.

After uploading our file we determine that is a pcap file.


We’re going to need Wireshark for this one…
Opening Wireshark, and opening our file we’re presented with the following:


The beginning of the file is DNS queries that are rejected we can ignore that.

Searching through the file we notice some HTTP requests that are getting files, in particular – HoneyPy.png

Going to packet 633


We can reconstruct this exchange.

Going to File –> Export Objects –> HTTP

We get the following:


Our file is highlighted in the above screenshot, so let’s click Save.

Opening the file we get our flag!


Lessons learned:

Use the hints that are provided! We knew that the file we were looking for was a backup.  After playing around with the filenames we discovered that the file we were looking for ended in an “.old”. Once we opened the file we noticed there was another file “imadecoy”. After downloading that file and trying to open it our operating system was confused on the file type. Uploading our file to the above link we determined that the file had a pcap (packet capture) extension, and we would need to use Wireshark.

Opening Wireshark, we determined that the file we needed was inside of an HTTP packet. Reconstructing the packet we were able to download the file we needed. After opening that file we received our flag. This challenge was a multi-step process. It’s very important to pay attention to detail.


capture the flag, hacking, web application security

InfoSec Institute Challenge #12

Another day, another challenge.

Today’s challenge is coming from the InfoSec Institute.

Going to the following link we see the following:


Doing a right click, view page source we see the following:


We noticed there’s an extra CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).  Let’s see what’s in this file.

Going to the file we see the following:


Hmm… this looks interesting. Knowing a thing or two about CSS, the colors are represented in hex (hexadecimal, base 16) form. More can be found here.

I’m thinking this is the actual flag, but it’s just encoded.

Using out knowledge from other challenges, let’s try base64 decoding, since it has worked before.

Going to the link here, and typing in the encoding we get the following:


Our decoding wasn’t successful. This encoding is not base64.

Going back to the challenge, we know that CSS uses hexadecimal to represent colors.

Maybe the encoding is in hexadecimal form.

Going to Google and typing in “converting hexadecimal to text” we get the following link.

Putting our encoding in the text box and changing the decoding to “hexadecimal to text” we get the following:


We found the flag!

Lessons learned:

Attention to detail! We noticed that there was another file when we did the right click, view page source. Going to that page we noticed that there was encoding. We first tried base64 which did not work. Going back to the drawboard on how CSS works, we know the colors are represented in hexadecimal. Doing a Google search of hexadecimal to text we were able to find the flag.


capture the flag, hacking, web application security

InfoSec Institute CTF Challenge #8

Another day, another challenge…

Today’s challenge will be on CTF Challenge #8 from InfoSec Institute.

Going to the following link

We see the following page.


We’re introduced with the downloading a file.

Doing our trick of right click, view page source we see the following:


We see the file that we need to download called “app.exe”

Downloading and opening the file we noticed that the application is the netstat command listing our network information.

Since our tricks does not work, we need to find a way to view the source of the application.

One option is to use the linux strings command.

The strings command allows you to find English words in file.

If you are working on a Windows machine (like I am) you can download the cygwin emulator which allows you to do simple Linux commands on a Windows machine.

To download cygwin go here.

Note: Make sure when downloading that you add the binutils package to import the strings command.

Copy the app.exe file into the cygwin directory (that you specified in your installation) so you navigate to that file.

After downloading cygwin, and using the strings command we see the following:


We found the flag – infosec_flagis_0x1a!

Lessons learned:

Again, our normal tricks of viewing the page source did not work. We noticed that when we executed the program that it was the netstat command getting information on our network. From there we decided that we would need to see the source of the application to see if the flag was hidden in there. Turns out it was. Overall lesson, be flexible with your tool belt and think outside of the box!

capture the flag, hacking, web application security

InfoSec Institute CTF Challenge #6

Another day,. another challenge…

Today’s challenge will be on the InfoSec Institute CTF Challenge #6.

See scenario below:


Doing a page source we see the following:


We see that there’s a pcap file if we select yes.

Opening Wireshark (which can be downloaded HERE)

We see the following:


Wireshark is a program that is used to analyze network traffic. Most of the traffic in this file can be ignored as there is a lot of noise that is being displayed.

Looking at the first packet (UDP) we see the following:


We noticed there are a bunch of letters… possibly this is hexadecimal encoding?

Going to Google and searching for “hexadecimal decoding” we see the following link as the first result.

Clicking on the link and typing in the encoding we get the following:



We found the flag!

Lessons learned:

  1. Download Wireshark!
  2. Inspect the packets, and pay attention to those that stand out. Usually the suspicious packets hold clues!
  3. These clues won’t give us the pot of gold on the first try. Most of the data will be obscured. So we will need to encode or decode the data
  4. Once we encode or decode usually the data will be there!

FYI – thenewboston on Youtube has a good beginner tutorial on Wireshark. Which can be found HERE.

capture the flag, hacking, web application security

InfoSec Institute CTF Challenge #5

Another day, another challenge…

Today’s challenge is #5 from the InfoSec Institute CTF Challenge.

Clicking on the following link we’re presented with the following:


After clicking on the checkbox to prevent the page from displaying additional dialogs, and adding “view-source:” to the URL box we see the following:


When viewing the page source further the reason we were getting multiple alert boxes was that it was inside of an infinite for loop. Read more about for loops HERE.

Looking inside the for loop we see that there is a image field titled “aliens”. Clicking on the file we see the following:


At first when I read the meme I was at a loss, as I have never seen or heard this quote before. After doing some digging online, it hit me. What if there’s another secret meaning to this message?

How does one add a secret inside of an image? Steganography.

Saving the image, and doing a quick Google search of Steganography decoder online we’re presented with this site.

Uploading our file, and pressing decode we get the following:


Binary. OK… this doesn’t seem helpful, or is it?

Doing another Google search to decode binary to ASCII we’re presented with this link.

Entering our binary code, we get the following:


We found the flag!

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t be deterred by the multiple alert boxes!
  2. Using our trick of adding “view-source:” to the beginning of the URL
  3. Reviewing the page source we noticed a file
  4. Opening file we noticed it was a meme
  5. Researching what meme meant
  6. After finding meaning using tools to extract data that we needed
  7. Not being deterred that the extracted data was not in our preferred format (words not binary)
  8. Used Google to research how we could get extracted data into preferred format (words not binary)
  9. Finally, finding our flag