Hey ! Someone did something really smart to retrieve stolen documents. Will you find what it’s all about? https://virtual-printer.ctf.insecurity-insa.fr

We are given the address of a “Virtual Printer Service”. By issuing a POST req to /print you’ll get a 2480x3508 image (that is the standard A4 @ 300 ppi) as raw PNG data. Again, requesting /serial-number with the base64 encoded S/N of the printer, will print out the flag.

Reading the challenge, we rightly thought that we would have to deal with some sort of steganographic watermarking for documents (MIC).

On this basis, we uploaded to the Virtual Printer service a small transparent png file, providing us an almost untouched blank sheet. Analyzing the printed sheet with StegSolve, we find a matrix of dots in the blue plane 4 and 5. This same matrix is vertically repeated on 16 rows in the sheet.

The Dot Matrix

A first look on the matrix made us suppose we were in front of the infamous DocuColor tracking dots, but comparing the size (15 by 8 dots for DocuColor, 64 by 8 for the Virtual Printer) and the format (no column parity or separators) of the two matrix, we quickly discarded this speculation (Thanks EFF!).

The Overlayed Dot Matrix

Simply decoding the matrix by 8-bit columns lead us to this output (e.g.):


showing the IPv4 address and the date of the request, other than the serial number. Note that only the keys like “ip:”,”d:” and “S/N:” were ascii encoded, not the values. To make matters worse, there was a 25-seconds expiration time slot from the occurrence of the print to the submission of the S/N.

With a bit of ImageMagick and PIL, we hacked together a py script to solve it under 4 seconds. Here’s the source.

This challenge was rather easy, but for many represented an issue because of the strictness of the validation side.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • Use curl. It will prevent argument url encoding being applied to your parameters for POST requests (seen with python requests).
  • Try to include or strip CRLF characters before encoding to a base, and see what works for you!