garbage was all about understanding the structure of an exe file, and how to repair it when the last few hundred bytes were truncated. I’ll troubleshoot the binary and eventually get it working to the point that I can unpack it, do static analysis, and get the flag. I’ll also show how to fix the binary so that it will just run and print the flag in a message box.


One of our team members developed a Flare-On challenge but accidentally deleted it. We recovered it using extreme digital forensic techniques but it seems to be corrupted. We would fix it but we are too busy solving today’s most important information security threats affecting our global economy. You should be able to get it working again, reverse engineer it, and acquire the flag.

The file is an x86 executable, and it’s UPX packed:

root@kali# file garbage.exe 
garbage.exe: PE32 executable (console) Intel 80386, for MS Windows, UPX compressed

Running It

As indicated, it doesn’t run:

PS F:\02-garbage > .\garbage.exe
Program 'garbage.exe' failed to run: The specified executable is not a valid application for this OS platform.At
line:1 char:1
+ .\garbage.exe
+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~.
At line:1 char:1
+ .\garbage.exe
+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    + CategoryInfo          : ResourceUnavailable: (:) [], ApplicationFailedException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : NativeCommandFailed

Or double clicking it:


It doesn’t unpack either:

root@kali# upx -d garbage.exe -o garbage_unpacked.exe
                       Ultimate Packer for eXecutables
                          Copyright (C) 1996 - 2020
UPX 3.96        Markus Oberhumer, Laszlo Molnar & John Reiser   Jan 23rd 2020

        File size         Ratio      Format      Name
   --------------------   ------   -----------   -----------
upx: garbage.exe: OverlayException: invalid overlay size; file is possibly corrupt

Unpacked 1 file: 0 ok, 1 error.

Identify the Issue

There are a few ways to look at this and see what might be broken. First, thinking about how it was a memory dump, it seems likely the the corruption is that it cuts off at the end (or maybe goes too far at the end?). Looking at the end of the file, it ends right in the middle of some XML:

root@kali# xxd garbage.exe | tail -20
00009df0: 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000  ................
00009e00: 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0100  ................
00009e10: 1800 0000 1800 0080 0000 0000 0000 0000  ................
00009e20: 0000 0000 0000 0100 0100 0000 3000 0080  ............0...
00009e30: 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0000 0100  ................
00009e40: 0904 0000 4800 0000 5c90 0100 7d01 0000  ....H...\...}...
00009e50: 0000 0000 0000 0000 6050 0100 3c3f 786d  ........`P..<?xm
00009e60: 6c20 7665 7273 696f 6e3d 2731 2e30 2720  l version='1.0' 
00009e70: 656e 636f 6469 6e67 3d27 5554 462d 3827  encoding='UTF-8'
00009e80: 2073 7461 6e64 616c 6f6e 653d 2779 6573   standalone='yes
00009e90: 273f 3e0d 0a3c 6173 7365 6d62 6c79 2078  '?>..<assembly x
00009ea0: 6d6c 6e73 3d27 7572 6e3a 7363 6865 6d61  mlns='urn:schema
00009eb0: 732d 6d69 6372 6f73 6f66 742d 636f 6d3a  s-microsoft-com:
00009ec0: 6173 6d2e 7631 2720 6d61 6e69 6665 7374  asm.v1' manifest
00009ed0: 5665 7273 696f 6e3d 2731 2e30 273e 0d0a  Version='1.0'>..
00009ee0: 2020 3c74 7275 7374 496e 666f 2078 6d6c    <trustInfo xml
00009ef0: 6e73 3d22 7572 6e3a 7363 6865 6d61 732d  ns="urn:schemas-
00009f00: 6d69 6372 6f73 6f66 742d 636f 6d3a 6173  microsoft-com:as
00009f10: 6d2e 7633 223e 0d0a 2020 2020 3c73 6563  m.v3">..    <sec
00009f20: 7572 6974                                urit

That’s the manifest that is a part of any SxS Windows binary. I’ll need to fix that.

I can also use CFF Explorer to look at the binary properties. For comparison, I’ll show calc.exe, a UPX-packed calc.exe, and garbage.exe:

calc.exe UPX calc.exe garbage.exe

garbage.exe is missing the Import Directory, Exception Directory, and Relocation Directory. Clicking on “Data Directories” for garbage.exe, the Import Directory and Relocation Directory are both invalid:


An even more clear way is to look in the UPX source at that error message, and see it is coming up because overlay > file_size, which is to say that headers say the file is bigger than it is! This is visible in CFF Explorer as well:


There are 41472−40740 = 732 bytes missing from the file.


At this point, there are two ways to continue:

  • Fix the binary to get it to un-upx and then do static analysis.
  • Fix the binary to get it to run and present the flag.

Solve With RE

I originally had a tough time fixing the binary to the point where it would work. But, I managed to fix it to the point that it would UPX unpack, and then I could RE the result.

“Fix” the Binary

calc.exe is a SxS binary. I’ll make an assumption that the UPX packing would give it a similar manifest and other stuff that follows. I’ll create a packed version:

root@kali# upx -o calc-upx.exe calc.exe
                       Ultimate Packer for eXecutables
                          Copyright (C) 1996 - 2020
UPX 3.96        Markus Oberhumer, Laszlo Molnar & John Reiser   Jan 23rd 2020

        File size         Ratio      Format      Name
   --------------------   ------   -----------   -----------
     27648 ->     25088   90.74%    win64/pe     calc-upx.exe

Packed 1 file.  

The last 13 lines seem to be what I need:

root@kali# tail -13 calc-packed.exe | less
            <requestedExecutionLevel level="asInvoker" uiAccess="false"/>
<application xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v3">
        <dpiAware  xmlns="">true</dpiAware>

I’ll make a copy of garbage.exe and append the manifest etc:

root@kali# cp garbage{,-mod}.exe 
root@kali# tail -13 hello-packed.exe >> garbage-mod.exe

Next I’ll need to go in in a hex editor (or vim) and fix what was the end of the original garbage.exe by removing the extra <securit and following spaces:


That is enough to unpack the file:

root@kali# upx -d garbage-mod.exe -o garbage-mod-unpacked.exe
                       Ultimate Packer for eXecutables
                          Copyright (C) 1996 - 2020
UPX 3.96        Markus Oberhumer, Laszlo Molnar & John Reiser   Jan 23rd 2020

        File size         Ratio      Format      Name
   --------------------   ------   -----------   -----------
     79771 <-     41883   52.50%    win32/pe     garbage-mod-unpacked.exe

Unpacked 1 file.


In Ghidra, I did a search for strings, and these two jumped out:


(Interesting little easter egg right below them, “covid19-sucks”, doesn’t seem to be referenced by the binary.)

Looking for references to them led me to FUN_0040106b, which has the two static strings, and two stack-strings. It copies the two static strings into local_12c and local_c4:

  iVar1 = 0x19;
  puVar2 = (undefined4 *) "nPTnaGLkIqdcQwvieFQKGcTGOTbfMjDNmvibfBDdFBhoPaBbtfQuuGWYomtqTFqvBSKdUMmciqKSGZaosWCSoZlcIlyQpOwkcAgw ";
  puVar3 = local_12c;
  while (iVar1 != 0) {
    iVar1 = iVar1 + -1;
    *puVar3 = *puVar2;
    puVar2 = puVar2 + 1;
    puVar3 = puVar3 + 1;
  iVar1 = 0x19
  *(undefined2 *)puVar3 = *(undefined2 *)puVar2;;
  puVar2 = (undefined4 *) "KglPFOsQDxBPXmclOpmsdLDEPMRWbMDzwhDGOyqAkVMRvnBeIkpZIhFznwVylfjrkqprBPAdPuaiVoVugQAlyOQQtxBNsTdPZgDH ";
  puVar3 = local_c4;
  while (iVar1 != 0) {
    iVar1 = iVar1 + -1;
    *puVar3 = *puVar2;
    puVar2 = puVar2 + 1;
    puVar3 = puVar3 + 1;

The two stack strings are defined throughout the function:

  local_5c = 0x2c332323;  /* Stack string 1 - local_5c */
  local_58 = 0x49643f0e;
  local_54 = 0x40a1e0a;
  local_50 = 0x1a021623;
  local_4c = 0x24086644;
  local_48 = 0x2c741132;
  local_44 = 0xf422d2a;
  local_40 = 0xd64503e;
  local_3c = 0x171b045d;
  local_38 = 0x5033616;
  local_34 = 0x8092034;
  local_30 = 0xe242163;
  local_2c = 0x58341415;
  local_28 = 0x3a79291a;
  local_24 = 0x58560000;

  local_1c = 0x3b020e38; /* Stack string 1 - local_1c */
  local_18 = 0x341b3b19;
  local_14 = 0x3e230c1b;
  local_10 = 0x42110833;
  local_c = 0x731e1239;

There’s some other stuff going on with a file, but I zeroed in on two function calls:


local_c4 and local_12c hold the two long strings. local_1c and local_5c both hold stack strings set throughout the function.

Looking at FUN_00401000, it looks a bit more complicated than it is because of the thiscall calling convention:

int * __thiscall FUN_00401000(void *this,int param_1,int param_2,int param_3)

  uint uVar1;
  uVar1 = 0;
  *(int *)this = param_1;
  *(int *)((int)this + 4) = param_2;
  *(int *)((int)this + 8) = param_3;
  *(undefined4 *)((int)this + 0xc) = 0x66;
  if (param_2 != 0) {
    do {
      *(byte *)(*(int *)this + uVar1) =
           *(byte *)(*(int *)this + uVar1) ^
           *(byte *)(uVar1 % *(uint *)((int)this + 0xc) + *(int *)((int)this + 8));
      uVar1 = uVar1 + 1;
    } while (uVar1 < *(uint *)((int)this + 4));
  return (int *)this;

This simplifies to a loop for i from 0 to less than param2:

param1[i] = param1[i] ^ param3[i % 0x66]

This function is a simple xor.

I can dump the flag in a Python Repl using these statics:

root@kali# python3
Python 3.8.5 (default, Aug  2 2020, 15:09:07) 
[GCC 10.2.0] on linux
Type "help", "copyright", "credits" or "license" for more information.
>>> import struct
>>> stack1_ints = [0x2c332323, 0x49643f0e, 0x40a1e0a, 0x1a021623, 0x24086644, 0x2c741132, 0xf422d2a, 0xd64503e, 0x171b045d, 0x5033616, 0x8092034, 0xe242163, 0x58341415, 0x3a79291a, 0x58560000 ] 
>>> stack1 = b''.join([struct.pack('<L', x) for x in stack1_ints])
>>> str1 = b'nPTnaGLkIqdcQwvieFQKGcTGOTbfMjDNmvibfBDdFBhoPaBbtfQuuGWYomtqTFqvBSKdUMmciqKSGZaosWCSoZlcIlyQpOwkcAgw'
>>> ''.join([chr(x^y) for x,y in zip(stack1, str1)])
'MsgBox("Congrats! Your key is:")'
>>> stack2_ints = [ 0x3b020e38, 0x341b3b19, 0x3e230c1b, 0x42110833, 0x731e1239 ]
>>> stack2 = b''.join([struct.pack('<L', x) for x in stack2_ints])
>>> str2 = b'KglPFOsQDxBPXmclOpmsdLDEPMRWbMDzwhDGOyqAkVMRvnBeIkpZIhFznwVylfjrkqprBPAdPuaiVoVugQAlyOQQtxBNsTdPZgDH'
>>> ''.join([chr(x^y) for x,y in zip(stack2, str2)])

I suspect the code is writing the file sink_the_tanker.vbs with the code 'MsgBox("Congrats! Your key is:")', and then running it.


Fixing Binary

In trying to learn more post solving, some people gave me some hints about how this can be fixed. First, I’ll just add 732 nulls to the end of the file (I’ll start with a new copy named garbage-mod.exe):

root@kali# python3 -c "print('\x00' * 732, end='')" >> garbage-mod.exe 

I can now unpack it without error:

root@kali# upx -d garbage-mod.exe -o garbage-mod-unpacked.exe
                       Ultimate Packer for eXecutables
                          Copyright (C) 1996 - 2020
UPX 3.96        Markus Oberhumer, Laszlo Molnar & John Reiser   Jan 23rd 2020

        File size         Ratio      Format      Name
   --------------------   ------   -----------   -----------
     79360 <-     41472   52.26%    win32/pe     garbage-mod-unpacked.exe

Unpacked 1 file.

Now running it doesn’t give the same error, but a new one:


That makes sense, since whatever was trancated I replaced with nulls. I can see it in Resource Hacker:


I’ll right click on the resource and just delete it:


Now I get a different error:


Actually, this same error pops twice.

If I check out the Import Directory for the latest file in CFF Explorer, I can see the module names are missing:


Clicking on either of them shows the functions from those dlls:


Seeing those function names, I can figure out that the first one is kernel32.dll and the second is shell32.dll. I’ll update them:


Now I have a working exe that will print the flag: