The task seemed straightforward yet mysterious: analyze a traffic dump from a mail server suspected of leaking confidential company info.

The challenge description was as follows:

You suspect that someone has been emailing confidential company information. So you take a traffic dump from the mail server and then analyse it on your own laptop.

The clue to the challenge was subtly hidden in its title, with “Helo” being a play on the SMTP protocol’s commands (HELO/EHLO).

Initial Analysis with Wireshark

Armed with a pcap file, I launched into the investigation using Wireshark. The presence of HTTP was immediately noticeable. Filtering HTTP traffic (http.request.method == “GET”) revealed repetitive GET requests to three web pages, with one odd request standing out - a GET request to the root directory. However, this turned out to be a red herring, leading to a Wikipedia page.

Anomolous GET request

The Real Breakthrough: SMTP

Taking a cue from the challenge’s name, I checked the Protocol Hierarchy under Wireshark’s Statistics and, sure enough, SMTP surfaced. Filtering for SMTP led to a crucial discovery: SMTP/IMF packets that made email content readable. Among the five emails found, “Project List” was notably large and contained x-7z-compressed data.

Email traffic filtered on IMF

Cracking the Code

The plot thickened when I found an email from an employee, Bill, sending a file to_send.7z to This file, encoded in base64, was extracted using CyberChef, revealing a password-protected 7zip archive.

Password protected extract archive

Finding the Password

Intriguingly, another email titled “That catchphrase” contained what seemed like a random string vespers-gag-LYNCH-strategy. This, however, turned out to be the key to unlocking the archive!

Strange catchphrase

The Flag Revealed

Upon unlocking the archive with the catchphrase as the password, a PDF titled “Flag.pdf” was found. And there it was, for a whopping 340 points, the flag we’d been seeking: The_Net_Never_Lines_Up.

Key Takeaways

  1. Attention to Detail: Small hints, like the misspelled “Helo”, can be significant.
  2. Tool Proficiency: Mastery in tools like Wireshark and CyberChef is crucial.
  3. Patience and Curiosity: Sometimes, the obvious path is a diversion; the real clues lie deeper.