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DoS unbounded operation


Each block in a Substrate Blockchain has an upper bound on the amount of gas that can be spent, and thus the amount computation that can be done. This is the Block Gas Limit. If the gas spent exceeds this limit, the transaction will fail.

In this smart contract a malicious user may modify the smart contract's conditions so that any transaction coming after will fail, thus imposing a denial of service for other users.

Exploit Scenario

In the following example, a contract has a function add_payee that allows adding a new element to a vector. The function pay_out iterates over the vector and transfers the value to the payee's address. The problem is that the pay_out() function does not have a fixed number of iterations, and thus it can consume all the gas in a block.

A malicious user could call add_payee a large number of times, thus populating the vector with a large number of elements. Then, the function pay_out when iterating over all the elements, will consume all the gas in a block, and the transaction will fail, successfully performing a DoS attack.

/// Adds a new payee to the operation.
#[ink(message, payable)]
pub fn add_payee(&mut self) -> u128 {
let address = self.env().caller();
let value = self.env().transferred_value();
let new_payee = Payee { address, value };

self.payees.insert(self.next_payee_ix, &new_payee);
self.next_payee_ix = self.next_payee_ix.checked_add(1).unwrap();

// Return the index of the new payee

The vulnerable code example can be found here.


An example can be found under the directory vulnerable-example. The exploit can be tested by running the end-to-end test called pay_out_runs_out_of_gas.


The main recommendation is to change the form of payments to favor pull over push. This way, the contract does not need to iterate over a vector of payees, and thus it does not need to consume all the gas in a block. The payee could instead call a function that will transfer the value to the payee's address.

If looping over an array of unknown size is absolutely necessary, then it should be planned to potentially take multiple blocks, and therefore require multiple transactions.

The remediated code example can be found here.