Tut07: Socket Programming in Python

In this tutorial, we are going to learn about the basic socket programming in Python and techniques required for remote exploitation.

Step 1. nc command

The netcat command, shortly nc, is similar to the cat command, but for networking. The good-old-day nc (called ncat in today's distribution) is much versatile (check it out if you want).

Here is a simple demonstration of how to use nc:

(console 1)
$ nc -l 1234
(listen on the 1234 port)

(console 2)
$ nc localhost 1234

nc [address] [port] command gets you connected to the server, which is running at the given address and port. (FYI, localhost is an alias of, which is a reserved IP address of your own computer.)

Now, type "hello" and hit in console 2:

(console 2)
$ nc localhost 1234

(console 1)
$ nc -l 1234

Did you get "hello" message in console 1? What about typing "world" in console 2?

You've just created a nice chat program! You can talk to your fellow in our server :)

Step 2. Rock, Paper, Scissor

Today's goal is to beat computer in a rock-paper-scissors game!

$ make
$ ./target 1234

In another console, try to connect to the target server using nc:

$ nc localhost 1234
Let's play rock, paper, scissor!
Your name> 

Similarly, you can connect to a remote server.

$ nc [LAB_SERVER_IP] 10700

Do you want to explore the program a bit?

$ nc localhost 1234
Let's play rock, paper, scissor!
Your name> cs6265
Your turn> rock
You lose! Game over

You have to win 5 times in a row to win the game, which means the odds are not TOO bad for brute forcing.

2.1. Socket Programming in Python

Let's use pwntool for socket operation. The following code snippet opens a socket (on port 1234), and reads from or writes to it:

from pwn import *

s = remote("localhost", 1234)

We provide a template code to help you write a socket client code in python.

(console 1)
$ ./target

(console 2)
$ ./exploit.py

[Task] Your first task is to understand the template and write a code that brute forces the target server!

e.g., any chance to win by playing only "rock" for five (or more) times?

You have a pretty high chance of winning (1/3^5 = 1/243!).

2.2. Timing Attack against the Remote Server!

Brute forcing is dumb, so be smart in exploitation.

In the target.c, this part is the most interesting for us:

void start(int fd) {

  write(fd, "Let's play rock, paper, scissors!\nYour name> ", 44);

  char name[0x200];
  if (read_line(fd, name, sizeof(name) - 1) <= 0) {

  srand(*(unsigned int*)name + time(NULL));

  int iter;
  for (iter = 0; iter < 5; iter ++) {

    write(fd, "Your turn> ", 11);

    char input[10];
    if (read_line(fd, input, sizeof(input) - 1) <= 0) {

    int yours = convert_to_int(input);
    if (yours == -1) {
      write(fd, "Not recognized! You lost!\n", 26);

    int r = rand();
    int result = yours - r % 3;
    if (result == 0) {
      write(fd, "Tie, try again!\n", 16);
      iter --;
    if (result == 1 || result == -2) {
      write(fd, "You win! try again!\n", 20);
    } else {
      write(fd, "You lose! Game over\n", 20);

  write(fd, "YOU WIN!\n", 9);

Did you notice the use of srand + name as a seed for the game?

srand(*(unsigned int*)name + time(NULL));

Since the name variable is what you've provided and the time is predictable, you can abuse this information to win the match all the time! (dreaming of winning jackpots all the time ..)

There are two things you need to know in Python.

1) Invoking a C function

ref. https://docs.python.org/2/library/ctypes.html

from ctypes import *

# how to invoke a C function in Python
libc = cdll.LoadLibrary("libc.so.6")
libc.printf("hello world!\n")

This is how you invoke a 'printf' function in Python. How would you invoke srand()/rand()?

2) Packing

To cast a C string to an unsigned int, you need to know how to 'unpack' in Python (i.e., unpacking a string to get an unsigned int).

ref. https://docs.python.org/2/library/struct.html

struct.unpack("<I", "test")

The "<I" magic code needs an explanation: "<" means 'little endian' and "I" stands for 'unsigned int'.

In this case, string "test" is being type-casted to this unsigned integer:

(ord('t') << 24) + (ord('s') << 16) + (ord('e') << 8) + ord('t')

Also, you can use a built-in function u32 from pwntools:

from pwn import *
x = struct.unpack("<I", "test") # x becomes (1953719668, )
y = u32("test")                 # y becomes 1953719668
assert(x[0] == y)               # x[0] and y are the same!

If you understand 1) and 2), you are ready to beat the computer. First, try to guess the rand() output of the target, and send the winning shot every time.

Once you win the game, don't forget to dump the flag from our server:

$ nc [LAB_SERVER_IP] 10700

[Task] Guess the output of rand() of the target. Send the winning shot five times in a row to defeat the computer, and read the printed flag to submit.

Good luck!