The BSidesSF CTF happened about a week ago! It was the first CTF I’ve tried to compete in and I had a lot of fun on the team. This is the first in a series of writeups on the challenges I participated in.

Blink was the first mobile challenge in the event and served as a good introduction. The goal of the mobile challenges is to find a string (the “flag”) using clues hidden in an app. Often the flag is in the app binary itself, but sometimes the challenge may lead you elsewhere afterwards. Blink was a relatively easy “101” challenge, only worth 50 points (the most difficult challenges in the CTF were worth 600 or more).


The first step in any challenge to open the prompt. It contained the text Get past the Jedi mind trick to find the flag you are looking for. and a link to an apk file (Android app). I booted up an Android Emulator and used a simple adb command to install the app.

$ adb install blink.apk

Opening the app presents us with:

Blink MainActivity screenshot
The app as it first opens.

If you aren’t familiar with Android, an activity is similar to a window in a traditional desktop app or a page on a website. The hint is essentially saying we need to navigate to a different page.

The first place we should check for activities is the AndroidManifest.xml file. All of the accessible activities will be listed there. I used Apktool to disassemble the app.

$ apktool d ./blink.apk
I: Using Apktool 2.3.4 on blink.apk
I: Loading resource table...
I: Decoding AndroidManifest.xml with resources...
I: Loading resource table from file: /var/folders/8j/h8wpd_757p729cx_91j50g2m0000gn/T/1.apk
I: Regular manifest package...
I: Decoding file-resources...
I: Decoding values */* XMLs...
I: Baksmaling classes.dex...
I: Copying assets and libs...
I: Copying unknown files...
I: Copying original files...

Then I opened up the Android Manifest..

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" standalone="no"?><manifest xmlns:android="" package="com.example.blink" platformBuildVersionCode="1" platformBuildVersionName="1.0">
    <application android:allowBackup="true" android:debuggable="true" android:icon="@mipmap/ic_launcher" android:label="@string/app_name" android:roundIcon="@mipmap/ic_launcher_round" android:supportsRtl="true" android:theme="@style/AppTheme">
        <activity android:label="@string/title_activity_r2d2" android:name="com.example.blink.r2d2" android:theme="@style/AppTheme.NoActionBar"/>
        <activity android:name="com.example.blink.MainActivity">
                <action android:name="android.intent.action.MAIN"/>
                <category android:name="android.intent.category.LAUNCHER"/>

Here we can see two activities: com.example.blink.MainActivity and com.example.blink.r2d2. We know that MainActivity is where we saw Obi Wan earlier because it has an intent filter that makes it the default activity. The next step is to launch the r2d2 activity. Let’s whip out adb again and see what we can do.

$ adb shell am start -n com.example.blink/.r2d2

Starting: Intent { cmp=com.example.blink/.r2d2 }
Security exception: Permission Denial: starting Intent { flg=0x10000000 cmp=com.example.blink/.r2d2 } from null (pid=21352, uid=2000) not exported from uid 10089

Well, that didn’t work. Looks like we don’t have permission to launch this activity. Let’s try something else!

xkcd 149

Because my emulator is running a build of Android without Google Play Services in it, we can easily assume the root user.

$ adb root
restarting adbd as root

$ adb shell am start -n com.example.blink/.r2d2
Starting: Intent { cmp=com.example.blink/.r2d2 }

And it worked!

Blink r2d2 screenshot

The flag was CTF{PUCKMAN}. The end! Tons of credit to @itsC0rg1 for putting the puzzle together, and BSidesSF for hosting.