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File Structure

The file structure of a GIF file:

  • File Header
  • File Signature
  • Version Number
  • Data Stream
  • Control Identifier
  • Image Block
  • Other Extension Blocks
  • File Trailer

A diagram for the structure of a GIF file:

file structure diagram

File header

Signature and Version Number. The signature, which consists of three bytes GIF, is used to confirm whether a file is in GIF format. The file version number is also composed of three bytes, 87a or 89a.

Logical Screen Descriptor

The Logical Screen Descriptor is always located right after the header. This tells the decoder how big the image will be. It is exactly 7 bytes long. It starts with the canvas width and canvas height.

Global Color Table

The GIF format can have a global color table or local color tables for each sub-image. Each color table contains a list of RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color component intensities, for example, (255,0,0) represents red.

Image Descriptor

A single GIF file may contain multiple images. In the original GIF rendering model, these were meant to be composited onto a larger virtual canvas. Nowadays multiple images are normally used for animations.

Each image begins with an image descriptor block, which is exactly 10 bytes long.

image descriptor

Image Data

Finally, we get to the actual image data. The image data is composed of a series of output codes that tell the decoder which colors to emit to the canvas. These codes are combined into the bytes that make up the block.

File Trailer

The trailer block indicates when you've reached the end of the file. It is always a byte 3B.

For more details, see what is in a GIF

CTF Examples


The animation in GIFs is made up of a sequence of frames, each frame can be an image that contains hidden information.

You can use the convert command to separate each frame in the GIF file.

Run this command to split each frame of the GIF file: ffmpeg -i cake.gif cake-%d.png

After opening and separating each frame of the GIF image, it's clear that each frame was a part of a QR code, so let's combine the frames into a complete QR code using Python.

from  PIL import Image

flag ="RGB",(450,450))

for i in range(2):
    for j in range(2):
        pot = "cake-{}.png".format(j+i*2+1)

        potImage =

        crop = potImage.crop(((j * 225, i * 225, (j+1)*225, (i+1)*225)))

        flag.paste(crop, (j * 225, i * 225))'./flag.png')

After scanning the QR code, you get a string of hexadecimal strings.

03f30d0ab8c1aa5 .... 74080006030908

The beginning 03f3 is the header of a pyc file, restore it to python executable, and run it to get the flag.

Here is the decompiled code using uncompyle6:

# uncompyle6 version 3.7.4
# Python bytecode 2.7 (62211)
# Decompiled from: Python 3.7.3 (v3.7.3:ef4ec6ed12, Mar 25 2019, 22:22:05) [MSC v.1916 64 bit (AMD64)]
# Embedded file name: /home/ctf/
# Compiled at: 2017-09-02 09:35:36
import random

key = 'ctf'
strr = '186,98,180,154,139,192,114,14,102,168,43,136,52,218,85,100,43'

def func1(str1, key):
    str2 = ''
    for c in str1:
        str2 += str(ord(c) ^ random.randint(0, 255)) + ','

    str2 = str2.strip(',')
    return str2

def func2(str2, key):
    str1 = ''
    for i in str2.split(','):
        i = int(i)
        n = random.randint(0, 255)
        str1 += chr(i ^ n)

    return str1



Run the script using Python2




Download the challenge here

The time interval between each frame of a GIF file can also be used to hide information.

By using the identify command, we printed the time interval of each frame.

$ identify -format "%s %T \n" 100.gif

0 66
1 66
2 20
3 10
4 20
5 10
6 10
7 20
8 20
9 20
10 20
11 10
12 20
13 20
14 10
15 10

Here we inferred that 20 & 10 represent 0 & 1, each frame interval is extracted and transformed into 1s and 0s.

cat flag | cut -d ' ' -f 2 | tr -d '66' | tr -d '\n' | tr -d '0' | tr '2' '0'


Finally, convert the binary to ASCII to get the flag.