For Balsn CTF 2020 online, I also created two smart-contract challenges, Election and IdleGame. The source files of them are available on GitHub - x9453/my-ctf-challenges. Here is a walkthrough of the challenge Election.

Balsn is holding the first Shaman King election. Who will be the winner?

  • Type: Smart contract
  • Solves: 5/490
  • Keywords: ERC223, Reentrancy, ABI encoding, Integer overflow



In this challenge, our goal is to win the election. By exploiting the customFallback parameter of the _transfer function of the extended ERC223 interface, we can reenter the Election contract with the auth modifier check bypassed to call the functions propose and _setStage (with some restrictions on the ABI encoding format). After proposing ourselves as a candidate, exploit the integer overflow in the reveal function when counting the total of votes to become the winner of the election.

Detailed Write-up

Overview of the Game Contract

Election implements a voting system using the commit-and-reveal scheme consisting of three stages: propose, vote, and reveal. In the propose stage, new candidates can be proposed by the admins (those who pass the auth check). In the vote stage, voters decide to vote for any candidate with any number of votes by submitting the hash of their ballots. The ballots should be made public in the reveal stage and are counted as valid if the voter has as many ELC tokens as the number of his total votes.

Only the admins can switch stages by calling the _setStage function. Besides, at the beginning of the election, two candidates are proposed and both of them have got an extremely high number of votes.

Abusing the Custom Fallback

Election is also implemented as an extended ERC223 token. The extended ERC223 allows the sender to call a custom fallback function of the receiver (as long as it is a contract) during the transfer of tokens. Though the feature of custom fallback is not standardized, it exists in one of the branches of the officially recommended implementation of ERC223. The custom fallback feature was exploited in the ATN incident, where the attacker abused it to bypass the authorization check in the ds-auth library. In this challenge, we can apply the same technique to bypass the auth check at line 112 to 115.

Dealing with ABI Encoding

According to line 56, it seems that we are can only control the second and third parameters (type uint and type bytes, respectively) of the function we want to reenter. However, we can reenter functions with different numbers and types of parameters as long as the input data follows the ABI encoding format. Here you may find the official document of the ABI encoding.

When calling the custom fallback function, the three parameters are encoded as shown on the below left. The encoding of the parameters of the two functions to be re-entered, the propose function and the _setStage function, are shown in the middle and the right, respectively.

         _transfer                   propose                   _setStage 
-------------------------- -------------------------- --------------------------
| msg.sender | | candidate | | stage |
-------------------------- -------------------------- --------------------------
| value | | offset to proposal |
-------------------------- --------------------------
| offset to data | | offset to name |
-------------------------- --------------------------
| length of data | | offset to policies |
-------------------------- --------------------------
| | | valid |
| | --------------------------
| | | length of name |
| | --------------------------
| data | | name |
| | --------------------------
| | | length of policies |
| | --------------------------
| | | policies |
-------------------------- --------------------------

Reentering the Propose Function

To successfully reentry to the propose function, we have to craft the parameter data to a valid encoding of the proposal structure. Both the value and data parameters, including the length of data, are controllable by us, while the offset to data is always a constant of 0x60. Notice that the offsets to the members of the proposal structure are all relative to the starting offset of proposal.

A valid exploit payload is to set the value to 0x40 and the length of data to 0xa0, which also allows us to control policies at the same time (to pass the check at line 173). To set the value to 0x40, we need to own at least that number of tokens, which can be done by calling the giveMeMoney function, sending the minted token to another address, and repeat as many times as we want.

Reentering the SetStage Function

When reentering the _setStage function, the stage number is determined by the last byte of msg.sender. We need at least three accounts, whose address ends with 00, 02 and 03 in hex, respectively, to switch to multiple stages. The web3.privateKeyToAccount method allows us to create an account from a private key, which can be used to brute force to create accounts with a special address. The extra parameters value and data do not affect the function call.

Winning the Most Votes

Though you may notice that the voting scheme is broken (i.e., one may vote more than the token he owns), it is still not possible to exploit only the scheme to win the election because of the expensive gas fees require to forge a large number of ballots. Simply exploiting the integer overflow at line 145 is enough for us to win 2 ** 256 - 1 votes to beat the other two candidates.

Summary of the Exploit

  1. Prepare three accounts whose address ends with 00, 02 and 03, respectively, using the web3.privateKeyToAccount method.
  2. Get 0x40 tokens by exploiting the giveMeMoney function.
  3. Vote with two ballots, one to the attacker with 2 ** 256 - 1 votes, the other to anyone with only one vote.
  4. Switch to stage 0 (propose-stage) by reentering the _setStage function, calling from the address ending with 00.
  5. Propose the attacker as a candidate by reentering the propose function with valid parameters.
  6. Switch to stage 2 (reveal-stage) by reentering the _setStage function, calling from the address ending with 02.
  7. Reveal the ballots submitted in Step 3.
  8. Switch to stage 3 (end-stage) by reentering the _setStage function, calling from the address ending with 03.
  9. Call giveMeFlag from the attacker to set the sendFlag variable to true.

Flag: BALSN{M4k3_Reen7r4ncy_gre47_ag41n}