Getting Started with OverTheWire Bandit Security Games

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How familiar are you with using SSH? If you hesitated to answer, don't fear as after reading this article you will understand how to perform a secure remote connection using SSH and work in the server environment. I'm by no means a security expert, but these challenges can be quite fun while providing some solid file system practice. Grab your favorite cup of coffee or tea and get ready to conquer some OverTheWire Bandit games!

What is SSH?

The SSH Protocol (referred to as Secure Shell) is a method for remote secure login from one computer to another. It provides several options for strong remote authentication while also protecting the communications security and health via strong encryption.

Using SSH protocol is the most secure alternative to unprotected login protocols such as telnet and rlogin, amongst other insecure file transfer methods like FTP.

What is a shell?

The shell is a user interface for performing system level operations. It's a user level program to start other user level programs, using calls to the operating system. The Terminal (macOS) and CMD (Windows) programs are “shells”.

Getting started with OverTheWire

Every level offered by OverTheWire can help you to learn and practice security concepts in the form of fun-filled games using the shell. The game server has its own SSH Port to use when connecting to specific OverTheWire games. This article will focus on the first five Bandit levels which run on port 2220.

Connecting to the Bandit Shell

Open up a shell (Terminal for MacOS, CMD in Windows) program and write the following command for connecting to bandit level zero on port 2220. More information about connecting can be found on the Level Zero OverTheWire webpage.

ssh -p 2220

After running the above command, your shell will prompt you to enter a password. The password for Bandit level 0 is bandit0. Once the correct passcode has been entered, you will have access to the root directories for the corresponding Bandit level. This process of authentication will be performed for every new instance you SSH into a Bandit level.

Let the games begin!

The goal of level zero is for you to log into the game using SSH and become familiarized with the bandit shell. The host to which you need to connect is on port 2220. We are told that the username and password are both bandit0. Once logged in, go to the Level One page to find out how to beat this first Bandit level (or keep reading).

Once the correct credentials have been provided, you're sucessfully connected to Bandit level zero and will see a shell similar to below. You will have access to the root directory contents for the corresponding level.


I've connected to a bandit shell with SSH, now what?

When solving most of the Bandit games, I found myself repeatedly using a few shell commands. Since we're starting at the root directory for every new level, it's wise to list the directories contents with ls every time you connect to a new OverTheWire game server.

After running ls in bandit level zero, the output returns all the directory contents. Within this level, there is only one file named readme existing inside the current directory.

bandit0@bandit:~$ ls 

Next, use the command ls with flags -la to list all hidden files in long listing format within the bandit level root directory. To define the flags or options, take a look below.

bandit0@bandit:~$ ls -la
total 24
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 .
drwxr-xr-x 41 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 220 May 15 2017 .bash_logout
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 3526 May 15 2017 .bashrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 675 May 15 2017 .profile
-rw-r----- 1 bandit1 bandit0 33 Oct 16 2018 readme

You should see the above file structure in your corresponding shell when performing the ls -la command after connecting to Bandit level zero.

Level Zero to One

The password needed to access Bandit level 1 via SSH is stored in a file called readme located in the root directory. Use the password you've uncoverered in the previous level to log into Bandit Level One. Whenever you find a new password. Copy it to your clipboard before using SSH (on port 2220) with the corresponding level username bandit1 to log into the next level and continue bandit wargames.

For these first few levels, passwords are usually hidden in files that contain ASCII characters or are considered to be human-readable files. To find the first password for bandit level zero we will use the shell command find.

bandit0@bandit:~$ find . -type f -exec file {} + | grep ASCII
./readme: ASCII text
./.bash_logout: ASCII text
./.profile: ASCII text
./.bashrc: ASCII text

To break down the above output: The shell told us that each of the files contained ASCII text and were executable. This intermediate step using find is not necessarily needed here as the password could be found via 'trial-and-error' by opening each file in the current directory. But, I thought it was good practice to show moving forward into the next levels.

You can proceed to opening each of the files using cat filename on macOS, but I have a good feeling about the first file in the output: readme. Lets open it.

bandit0@bandit:~$ cat ./readme

And Voilà! Copy the password you found to your clipboard or a place you wont forget. You will need to use it to SSH into the next bandit level. Use the exit command to disconnect from a bandit level after you're ready to move on.

Level One to Two

Now that you've become relatively familiar with the Bandit shell and how to go about finding passwords. Lets jump right into connecting to Bandit level one and find the hidden password!

If you're following along through OverTheWire's website. We're told that the password for this level is stored inside a file named - located in the home directory.

The first order of business will be connecting to Bandit level one using bandit1 as the username on port 2220. This levels password will be the characters you copied to clipboard after performing cat ./readme to open the file.

spherical:~ TannerDolby$ ssh -p 2220

If the correct password is provided then you will have successfully connected to the bandit level one shell. You terminal or command line should display an output similar to the code snippet below.


Now that your connected to the bandit server lets find the password stored in a file called -. Like always, lets list all of the root directories contents with ls -la. Refer to ls options for a refresher on why to use the -la options.

bandit1@bandit:~$ ls -la
total 24
-rw-r----- 1 bandit2 bandit1 33 Oct 16 2018 -
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 .
drwxr-xr-x 41 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 220 May 15 2017 .bash_logout
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 3526 May 15 2017 .bashrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 675 May 15 2017 .profile

The file - is what we are looking for, which can be found on the first line. Next, it would be wise to check and make sure this file contains ASCII characters.

Utilizing the find command chained with a few other tools, we can check for files containing ASCII characters or that are considered to be "Human Readable".

What is Grep?

Grep is an acronym that stands for Global Regular Expression Print. It's usage as a command line tool is to search for a pattern or string of text in a given file. The syntax of using grep calls for the pattern or string your searching for and the filename you'd like to search in.

grep <string to match> <filename to search for>

The other helpful options to use here would be, type -f to find all regular files, and -exec file for finding all executable files.

bandit1@bandit:~$ find . -type f -exec file {} + | grep ASCII
./.bash_logout: ASCII text
./.bashrc: ASCII text
./-: ASCII text

And would you look at that, the /- file indeed contains ASCII text. Lets open it with the cat command and find the password.

bandit1@bandit:~$ cat ./-

Make sure to copy the password to clipboard from opening the above file and exit the current bandit shell. Onward!

Level Two to Three

OverTheWire tells us that the password for the next level is stored in a file called spaces in this filename located in the home directory.

Before you can start searching for the above file, you must first connect to Bandit level two on port 2220 with the username bandit2 and password copied to clipboard from last level. The connection process in terminal should be:

ssh -p 2220

After you've connected, whats the first thing you thought to do? If you were thinking what I was, then you might have beat me to it by using an ls -la command in the shell to perform a long listing format of all the current directories content.

bandit2@bandit:~$ ls -la
total 24
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 .
drwxr-xr-x 41 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 220 May 15 2017 .bash_logout
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 3526 May 15 2017 .bashrc
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 675 May 15 2017 .profile
-rw-r----- 1 bandit3 bandit2 33 Oct 16 2018 spaces in this filename

The file spaces in this filename indeed exists, so lets open it up and see the file contents using the cat command. If a filename contains spaces in between characters, try wrapping filename in double quotes so then the cat command ignores spaces inside filenames.

bandit2@bandit:~$ cat "spaces in this filename"
bandit2@bandit:~$ exit

Make sure to copy the password to clipboard or make note of it as we will need it handy when accessing the next bandit level.

Level Three to Four

OverTheWire tells us that the password to access the next level is stored in a hidden file within the inhere directory. Now that the process of using SSH to connect to new OverTheWire Bandit Servers has been repeated a few times, I will just show my terminal command to SSH into Bandit level three on port 2220 with username bandit3 and the password found in the previous level.

spherical:~ TannerDolby$ ssh -p 2220

Quick listing of the root directory contents.

bandit3@bandit:~$ ls

Remember! We have been told there is a password hidden in a file within the inhere directory. Lets change to that directory using the cd command and inspect the directories contents.

bandit3@bandit:~$ cd inhere
bandit3@bandit:~/inhere$ ls -la
total 12
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 .
drwxr-xr-x 3 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 ..
-rw-r----- 1 bandit4 bandit3 33 Oct 16 2018 .hidden

There it is, a file called .hidden with user or groups related to bandit3 and bandit4. In order to make sure the file contains ASCII characters, try using a find command to uncover any executable file types that contain ASCII text.

bandit3@bandit:~/inhere$ find . -type f -exec file {} + | grep ASCII
./.hidden: ASCII text

The ./.hidden file is found within the inhere directory. Proceed to open it and see if there is a password inside.

bandit3@bandit:~/inhere$ cat ./.hidden
bandit3@bandit:~/inhere$ exit

Level Four to Five

The password for the next level is stored in the only human-readable file inside the inhere directory. If your shell is cluttered up with all the previous levels content, try using the reset or clear command.

Next, connect to the level 4 bandit server on port 2220 via SSH. Using bandit4 as the username and the last levels hidden password.

spherical:~ TannerDolby$ ssh -p 2220

Since OTW tells you the password is stored in the only human-readable file within the inhere directory. Lets change directory to inhere and then perform a long listing operation of all the current directories contents.

bandit4@bandit:~$ cd inhere
bandit4@bandit:~/inhere$ ls -la
total 48
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 .
drwxr-xr-x 3 root root 4096 Oct 16 2018 ..
-rw-r----- 1 bandit5 bandit4 33 Oct 16 2018 -file00

For length purposes, I truncated off the listing content from the above output after -file00. There are many files in this directory so why not simply use the find command to help match any files containing ASCII characters.

bandit4@bandit:~/inhere$ find . -type f -exec file {} + | grep ASCII
./-file07: ASCII text

And there it is, the only human-readable file that is stored in the inhere directory. Lets open it and find the last password of this article!

bandit4@bandit:~/inhere$ cat ./-file07
bandit4@bandit:~/inhere$ exit


Thank you for reading this far! I hope your experience with using the shell has improved by completing bandit levels 1-5 via OverTheWire. If you noticed all of the passwords for each level are not provided, you saw right! I will not provide any of the complete passwords as you are capable of following this tutorial and finding them for yourself! Until next time.

If you'd like to read another post like this one, have a look at #security or #shell tags.

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