The Art of The Scam: Demystifying Honeypots in Ethereum Smart Contracts


Christof Ferreira Torres, Mathis Steichen, and Radu State, University of Luxembourg


Modern blockchains, such as Ethereum, enable the execution of so-called smart contracts – programs that are executed across a decentralised network of nodes. As smart contracts become more popular and carry more value, they become more of an interesting target for attackers. In the past few years, several smart contracts have been exploited by attackers. However, a new trend towards a more proactive approach seems to be on the rise, where attackers do not search for vulnerable contracts anymore. Instead, they try to lure their victims into traps by deploying seemingly vulnerable contracts that contain hidden traps. This new type of contracts is commonly referred to as honeypots. In this paper, we present the first systematic analysis of honeypot smart contracts, by investigating their prevalence, behaviour and impact on the Ethereum blockchain. We develop a taxonomy of honeypot techniques and use this to build HoneyBadger – a tool that employs symbolic execution and well defined heuristics to expose honeypots. We perform a large-scale analysis on more than 2 million smart contracts and show that our tool not only achieves high precision, but is also highly efficient. We identify 690 honeypot smart contracts as well as 240 victims in the wild, with an accumulated profit of more than $90,000 for the honeypot creators. Our manual validation shows that 87% of the reported contracts are indeed honeypots.

USENIX Security '19 Open Access Videos Sponsored by
King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST)

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {236240,
author = {Christof Ferreira Torres and Mathis Steichen and Radu State},
title = {The Art of The Scam: Demystifying Honeypots in Ethereum Smart Contracts},
booktitle = {28th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 19)},
year = {2019},
isbn = {978-1-939133-06-9},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
pages = {1591--1607},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug,

Presentation Video