Billion occasions vacancy | Path of Bits Weblog

By Max Ammann

Behind Ethereum’s highly effective blockchain expertise lies a lesser-known problem that blockchain builders face: the intricacies of writing sturdy Ethereum ABI (Software Binary Interface) parsers. Ethereum’s ABI is crucial to the blockchain’s infrastructure, enabling seamless interactions between sensible contracts and exterior functions. The complexity of knowledge varieties and the necessity for exact encoding and decoding make ABI parsing difficult. Ambiguities within the specification or implementation could result in bugs that put customers in danger.

On this weblog publish, we’ll delve right into a newfound bug that targets these parsers, paying homage to the infamous “Billion Laughs” assault that plagued XML up to now. We uncover that the Ethereum ABI specification was written loosely in components, resulting in probably susceptible implementations that may be exploited to trigger denial-of-service (DoS) circumstances in eth_abi (Python), ethabi (Rust), alloy-rs and etheriumjs-abi, posing a danger to the supply of blockchain platforms. On the time of writing, the bug is fastened solely within the Python library. All different libraries selected full disclosure by means of GitHub points.

What’s the Ethereum ABI?

Every time contracts on the chain work together or off-chain parts speak to the contracts, Ethereum makes use of ABI encoding for encoding requests and responses. The encoding doesn’t describe itself. As an alternative, encoders and decoders want to offer a schema that defines the represented knowledge varieties. In comparison with the platform-dependent ABI within the C programming language, Ethereum specifies how knowledge might be handed between functions in binary illustration. Although the specification is just not formal, it provides understanding of how knowledge is exchanged.

At present, the specification lives within the Solidity documentation. The ABI definition influences the categories utilized in languages for sensible contracts, like Solidity and Vyper.

Understanding the bug

Zero-sized varieties (ZST) are knowledge varieties that take zero (or minimal) bytes to retailer on disk however considerably extra to symbolize as soon as loaded in reminiscence. The Ethereum ABI permits zero-sized-types (ZST). ZSTs may cause a denial of service (DoS) assault by forcing the appliance to allocate an immense quantity of reminiscence to deal with a tiny quantity of on-disk or over-the-network illustration.

Take into account the next instance: What’s going to occur when a parser encounters an array of ZSTs? It ought to attempt to parse as many ZST because the array claims to include. As a result of every array ingredient takes zero bytes, defining an enormously giant array of ZSTs is trivial.

As a concrete instance, the next determine reveals a payload of 20 on-disk bytes, which is able to deserialize to an array of the numbers 2, 1, and three. A second payload of 8 on-disk bytes will deserialize to 232 parts of a ZST (like an empty tuple or empty array).

This may not be an issue if every ZST took up zero bytes of reminiscence after parsing. In apply, that is not often the case. Sometimes, every ingredient would require a small however non-zero quantity of reminiscence to retailer, resulting in an infinite allocation to symbolize all the array. This results in a denial of service assault.

Sturdy parser design is essential to stop extreme points like crashes, misinterpretations, hangs, or extreme useful resource utilization. The foundation reason for such points can lie in both the specs or the implementations.

Within the case of the Ethereum ABI, I argue that the specification itself is flawed. It had the chance to explicitly prohibit Zero-Measurement Sorts (ZST), but it failed to take action. This oversight contrasts with the newest Solidity and Vyper variations, the place defining ZSTs, resembling empty tuples or arrays, is not possible.

To make sure most security, file format specs have to be crafted rigorously, and their implementations have to be rigorously fortified to keep away from unexpected behaviors.

Proof of idea

Let’s dive into some examples that showcase the bug in a number of libraries. We outline the info payload as:


The payload consists of two 32-byte blocks describing a serialized array of ZSTs. The primary block defines an offset to the array’s parts. The second block defines the size of the array. Unbiased of the programming language, we are going to at all times reference it as payload.

We are going to attempt to decode this payload utilizing the ABI schemata ()[] and uint32[0][] utilizing a number of totally different Ethereum ABI parsing libraries. The previous illustration is a dynamic array of empty tuples, and the latter is a dynamic array of empty static arrays. The excellence between dynamic and static is vital as a result of an empty static array takes zero bytes, whereas a dynamic one takes a number of bytes as a result of it serializes the size of the array.

eth_abi (Python)

The next Python program makes use of the official eth_abi library (<4.2.0); this system will first hold after which terminate with an out-of-memory error.

from eth_abi import decode
knowledge = bytearray.fromhex(payload)
decode(['()[]'], knowledge)

The eth_abi library solely supported the empty tuple illustration; an empty static array was undefined.

ethabi (Rust)

The happy library (v18.0.0) permits triggering the bug immediately from its CLI.

cargo run -- decode params -t "uint32[0][]" $payload

ethers-rs (Rust)

The next Rust program makes use of the ethers-rs library and the schema uint32[0][] implicitly by means of the Rust sort Vec<[u32; 0]>, which corresponds to it.

use ethers::abi::AbiEncode;
let knowledge = hex::decode(payload);
let _ = Vec::<[u32; 0]>::decode(&hex_output.unwrap()).unwrap();

It’s susceptible to the DoS situation as a result of the ethers-rs library (v2.0.10) makes use of ethabi.

foundry (Rust)

The foundry toolkit makes use of ethers-rs, which means that the DoS vector must also be current there. It seems it’s!

One solution to set off the bug is by immediately decoding the payload through the CLI, similar to in ethabi.

forged --abi-decode "abc()(uint256[0][])" $payload

One other, extra fascinating proof of idea is to deploy the next malicious sensible contract. It makes use of meeting to return knowledge that matches the payload.

contract ABC {
    fallback() exterior {
        bytes reminiscence knowledge = abi.encode(0x20, 0xfffffffff);

        meeting {
            return(add(knowledge, 0x20), mload(knowledge))

If the contract’s return sort is outlined, it will possibly result in a hold and large reminiscence consumption within the CLI device. The next command calls the contract on a testnet.

forged name --private-key 
-r 0x5fbdb2315678afecb367f032d93f642f64180aa3 
"abc() returns (uint256[0][])”


The ABI parser in alloy-rs (0.4.2) encounters the identical hold as the opposite libraries if the payload is decoded.

use alloy_dyn_abi::{DynSolType, DynSolValue};
let my_type: DynSolType = "()[]".parse().unwrap();
let decoded = my_type.abi_decode(&hex::decode($payload).unwrap()).unwrap();


Lastly, the ABI parser etheriumjs-abi (0.6.8) library can be susceptible.

var abi = require('ethereumjs-abi')
knowledge = Buffer.from($payload", "hex")
abi.rawDecode([ "uint32[]" ], knowledge)
// or this name: abi.rawDecode([ "uint32[0][]" ], knowledge)

Different libraries

The libraries go-ethereum and ethers.js do not need this bug as a result of they implicitly disallow ZST. The libraries count on that every ingredient of an array is at least 32 bytes long. The web3.js library can be not affected as a result of it makes use of ethers-js.

How the bug was found

The concept for testing for one of these bug got here after I stumbled upon an issue in the borsh-rs library. The Rust library tried to parse an array of ZST in fixed time, which brought about undefined habits, as a way to mitigate the DoS vector. The library’s authors finally determined to easily disallow ZST fully. Throughout one other audit, a customized ABI parser additionally had a DoS vector when parsing ZSTs. Seeing as these two points have been unlikely to be a coincidence, we investigated different ABI parsing libraries for this bug class.

Learn how to exploit it

Whether or not this bug is exploitable is determined by how the affected library is used. Within the examples above, the demonstration targets have been CLI instruments.

I didn’t discover a solution to craft a sensible contract that triggers this bug and deploys it to the mainnet. That is primarily as a result of Solidity and Vyper applications disallow ZST of their newest model.

Nonetheless, any software that makes use of one of many above libraryis probably susceptible. An instance of a probably susceptible software is Etherscan, which parses untrusted ABI declarations. Additionally, any off-chain software program fetching and decoding knowledge from contracts may very well be susceptible to this bug if it permits customers to specify ABI varieties.

Fuzz your decoders!

Bugs in decoders are normally simple to catch by means of fuzzing the decoding routine as a result of inputs are generally byte arrays that can be utilized immediately as enter for fuzzers. After all, there are exceptions, just like the latest libwebp 0-day (CVE-2023-5129) that was not found by means of limitless hours of fuzzing in OSS-fuzz.

In our audits at Path of Bits, we make use of fuzzing to determine bugs and educate purchasers on the right way to conduct their very own fuzzing. We goal to contribute our fuzzers to Google’s OSS-fuzz for continuous testing, thus supplementing handbook opinions by prioritizing essential audit parts. We’re updating our Testing Handbookan exhaustive useful resource for builders and safety professionals to incorporate particular steering for optimizing fuzzer configuration and automation of research instruments all through the software program improvement lifecycle.

Coordinated disclosure

As a part of the disclosure course of, we reported the vulnerabilities to the library authors.

  • eth_abi (Python): The Etherium-owned library fastened the bug as a part of a non-public GitHub advisory. The bug was fastened in model v4.2.0.
  • happy (Rust) and alloy-rs: The maintainers of the crates requested that we open GitHub points after the top of the embargo interval. We created the corresponding points here and here.
  • etheriumjs-abi: We acquired no response from the challenge and thus created a GitHub issue.
  • ethers-rs and foundry: We knowledgeable the tasks about their utilization of ethabi (Rust). We count on they may replace to the patched variations of ethabi as quickly as they’re out there or swap to a different ABI decoding implementation. The overall neighborhood shall be notified by releasing a RustSec advisory for ethabi and alloy-rs and a GitHub advisory for eth_abi (Python).

The timeline of disclosure is supplied under:

  • June 30, 2023: Preliminary attain out to maintainers of happy (Rust), eth_abi (Python), alloy-rs and etheriumjs-abi crates.
  • June 30, 2023: Notification by the alloy-rs maintainers {that a} GitHub situation must be created.
  • June 30, 2023: First response by the eth_abi (Python) challenge and inside triaging began.
  • July 26, 2023: Clarifying ethabi’s upkeep standing by means of a GitHub issue. This led to a notice in the README file. This implies we’re going to publish a GitHub situation after the embargo.
  • August 2, 2023: Created personal safety advisory on GitHub for eth_abi (Python).
  • August 31, 2023: Repair is printed by eth_abi (Python) with out public references to the DoS vector. We later verified this repair.
  • December 29, 2023: Publication of this weblog publish and GitHub points within the happy, alloy-rsand etheriumjs-abi repositories.

Author: Path of Bits
Date: 2023-12-29 09:00:51

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Alina A, Toronto
Alina A, Toronto
Alina A, an UofT graduate & Google Certified Cyber Security analyst, currently based in Toronto, Canada. She is passionate for Research and to write about Cyber-security related issues, trends and concerns in an emerging digital world.


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