Confusum Contractum: Confused Deputy Vulnerabilities in Ethereum Smart Contracts

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Fabio Gritti, Nicola Ruaro, Robert McLaughlin, Priyanka Bose, Dipanjan Das, Ilya Grishchenko, Christopher Kruegel, and Giovanni Vigna, University of California, Santa Barbara


Smart contracts are immutable programs executed in the context of a globally distributed system known as a blockchain. They enable the decentralized implementation of many interesting applications, such as financial protocols, voting systems, and supply-chain management. In many cases, multiple smart contracts need to work together and communicate with one another to implement complex business logic. However, these smart contracts must take special care to guard against malicious interactions that might lead to the violation of a contract's security properties and possibly result in substantial financial losses.

In this paper, we introduce a class of inter-program communication flaws that we call confused contract vulnerabilities. This type of bug is an instance of the confused deputy vulnerability, set in the new context of smart contract inter-communication. When exploiting a confused contract bug, an attacker is able to divert a remote (inter-contract) call in a confused (victim) contract to a target contract and function of the attacker's choosing. The call performs sensitive operations on behalf of the confused contract, which can result in financial loss or malicious modifications of the persistent storage of the involved contracts.

To identify opportunities for confused contract attacks at scale, we implemented Jackal, a system that is able to automatically identify and exploit confused contracts and candidate target contracts on the Ethereum mainnet.

We leveraged Jackal to analyze a total of 2,335,193 smart contracts deployed in the past two years, and we identified 529 potential confused contracts for which we were able to generate 31 working exploits. When investigating the impact of our exploits, we discovered past and present opportunities for confused contract attacks that could have compromised digital assets worth more than one million US dollars.

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@inproceedings {291283,
author = {Fabio Gritti and Nicola Ruaro and Robert McLaughlin and Priyanka Bose and Dipanjan Das and Ilya Grishchenko and Christopher Kruegel and Giovanni Vigna},
title = {Confusum Contractum: Confused Deputy Vulnerabilities in Ethereum Smart Contracts},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {1793--1810},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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