Frontrunner Jones and the Raiders of the Dark Forest: An Empirical Study of Frontrunning on the Ethereum Blockchain

Authors: 

Christof Ferreira Torres, SnT, University of Luxembourg; Ramiro Camino, Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology; Radu State, SnT, University of Luxembourg

Abstract: 

Ethereum prospered the inception of a plethora of smart contract applications, ranging from gambling games to decentralized finance. However, Ethereum is also considered a highly adversarial environment, where vulnerable smart contracts will eventually be exploited. Recently, Ethereum's pool of pending transaction has become a far more aggressive environment. In the hope of making some profit, attackers continuously monitor the transaction pool and try to frontrun their victims' transactions by either displacing or suppressing them, or strategically inserting their transactions. This paper aims to shed some light into what is known as a dark forest and uncover these predators' actions. We present a methodology to efficiently measure the three types of frontrunning: displacement, insertion, and suppression. We perform a largescale analysis on more than 11M blocks and identify almost 200K attacks with an accumulated profit of 18.41M USD for the attackers, providing evidence that frontrunning is both, lucrative and a prevalent issue.

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.

BibTeX
@inproceedings {274723,
author = {Christof Ferreira Torres and Ramiro Camino and Radu State},
title = {Frontrunner Jones and the Raiders of the Dark Forest: An Empirical Study of Frontrunning on the Ethereum Blockchain},
booktitle = {30th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 21)},
year = {2021},
isbn = {978-1-939133-24-3},
pages = {1343--1359},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity21/presentation/torres},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = aug,
}

Presentation Video