PI and the Killer Robots, Inc. CTF Environment, Part 0x03

Blog Post created by hpaul Employee on Dec 21, 2016

Hopefully you are here for more of the inside scoop on the S4x17 CTF competition!  Last week’s post provided a primer on PI Security and the system architecture for last year.  This week you will get a sneak peek at the updated environment. If you don’t already know about Killer Robots, Inc., see the December 7th post for the first installment of this series to get up to speed.

When examined from the perspective of the functional layers of the PI System, the S4x17 CTF environment utilizes the operations and business scenario, where the data from one or many disparate sites is sent to a business network. This adds another collection layer in an intermediate DMZ as well as additional management and delivery on the business side.

The diagram below shows an architecture loosely based off the Life Sciences Reference Architecture.  The blue boxes represent assets that are deployed in the virtual environment for the CTF competition and the red flags indicate the quantity of relevant flags for each component.  As indicated, the challenges span the entire environment, from OT to IT.  So many f1r3w@llz, so little time!

But, as we all know, f1r3w@llz != security, they only represent one of many aspects. Our S4x16 environment architecture had 6 steps between the external users and the control system.  The new architecture, with proper network segmentation, lengthens the attack path by 2 layers.  The added components, PItoPI and the site PI Data Archive are framed below in green.  At each of these layers there are many potential threats, and our CTF competitors need to see which ones are missing barriers that allow them to traverse to the next layer.

A skilled attacker will follow the path of least resistance.  To provide a tangible example, let’s look at Bow Tie diagrams for the first two steps of the chain to illustrate the additional dimensions that can be successfully attacked when a system does not have a well-rounded security strategy. 


In the S4x16 CTF competition last year, the competitors needed to gain access to the web server. To do so, they first needed to compromise a user account as the first flag.  While there are many methods they could use to compromise a user, enumerated in the Bow Tie on the left below, there were defenses in place for almost all of them. The environment machines had application whitelisting enabled with AppLocker, firewall rules in place to limit traffic, antivirus, all recent OS patches, among other defenses.  Although none of these defenses are absolute, they increased the difficulty of other attacks such as infecting the system with malware.  The path of least resistance was insecure communication to the web server.  Competitors got a capture of snooped network traffic, where they found a connection to a web server using Basic authentication without TLS, which is of course a huge faux pas. 


Once the credentials were obtained from the network capture, the competitors could access the web server simply by logging in.  No need to find a 0-day and the firewall allows the requests since they appear as normal traffic.  The credentials obtained were for a non-administrative user, but the competitor could now see data and some configuration information that they could recon as they worked towards pivoting to the next layer.

While basic or forms authentication without TLS is an extreme example, it does happen, and the same concept applies to other attack vectors such as phishing or mismanagement of credentials. So, even with gratuitous firewalls, an environment is not impenetrable if other aspects are ignored. To make matters worse for the Killer Robots in S4x17 (or better for humanity if you’re the “glass half-full” type) the CTF network will be exposed to the players as a cross-section, so the CTF competitors will have direct access to several endpoints to attack… 

If you enjoyed reading this penultimate post, tune in next week for the final installment where we’ll dive a layer deeper into some of the specific barriers targeted by flags and give some tips for putting together your toolkit!  In the meantime, you can also check out the S4CTF twitter feed for updates about the other challenges.