Solidity CTF — Part 2: “Safe Execution”

Alexander Wade
Published in
7 min readJun 25, 2018


‍Exploring methods to allow for safe, controlled execution of arbitrary code using delegatecall.

This article is part 2 of a series of Solidity wargames designed to demonstrate some of the low-level behavior of Solidity through the exploitation of vulnerable code. Each round will attempt to present some unique functionality or combination of functionalities which must be isolated, understood, and exploited in order to complete the challenge. Additionally, each round released will contain a thorough explanation of the previous round.

Part 2: “Safe Execution”

Part 2 has been deployed to Ropsten and explores the execution of arbitrary contracts through delegatecall. It also ties in some of the techniques used in Part 1 — so read on for an explanation!

The goal of Part 2 is to make yourself the owner of the contract.

There is a Reddit thread for this challenge as well. Feel free to participate and ask questions!

Good luck!

Explanation — Part 1: “Function Types”

Part 1 was released informally here and broken by address 0xef045a554cbb0016275E90e3002f4D21c6f263e1 within 5 hours. The challenge was to empty the contract of funds: 1 REth.

Let’s look at the code step-by-step (if you’d like to follow along, I’m using compiler version 0.4.24 and the optimizer is turned off!):

FunctionTypes.sol — Drain the contract!

Our goal is to transfer the REth out of the contract — which will only be possible via the withdraw() function — a private function that ensures the amount of wei sent to the contract is 0 — and then transfers the contract’s balance to the sender.

function withdraw() private { 
require(msg.value == 0, ‘dont send funds!’);

In order to access the private function, we will need to call it from some other function. At first glance, breakIt() appears to call withdraw() through frwd() — but there is one caveat: breakIt() and withdraw() have conflicting requirements — one requires that msg.value is nonzero, and the other requires that it is zero. As-is, if breakIt() called withdraw() or frwd() the requirements would disallow any form of execution: a transaction cannot simultaneously have 0 wei sent, and not-0 wei sent. Luckily, breakIt() has some additional complexity:

function breakIt() public payable { 
require(msg.value != 0, ‘send funds!’);
Func memory func;
func.f = frwd;
assembly { mstore(func, add(mload(func), callvalue)) }

To understand what’s going on here, we need to understand a little about structs and function types — as well as the way Solidity’s execution happens at runtime. Let’s start with the Func struct:

struct Func { function () internal f; }

The Func struct has a single member — f, which is an internal function that takes and returns no parameters. Function types in Solidity behave rather predictably — they are assigned the value of some function and when they are executed, call that function exactly the same way the function would be called if it were not stored as a variable. In the following example, function types are used to dynamically execute either the add or sub methods at runtime:


For more information about function types, the Solidity documentation is very helpful.

On line 19, an empty Func struct is initialized. Structs in Solidity are essentially pointers — although Solidity does not provide a generic pointer type, a struct variable is stored on the stack as a pointer to a location in memory where the members of that struct are stored. To understand this better, let’s have a quick look through Remix’s step debugger, sending 1 wei to breakIt() to get past the initial check:

Func struct — pointer to 0x80 in memory

Here we see that the func variable is stored on the stack as a simple hexadecimal number, 0x80. Expanding the memory tab, we can see that the corresponding memory location has a value of 0x203 at initialization, but that this number changes to 0x10C when func.f is assigned the value of frwd(). 0x203 and 0x10C correspond to locations in the contract’s bytecode. The easiest way to see these locations is to pop open the ‘Instructions’ tab in the debugger, and convert both values to base-10 (the ‘Instructions’ tab uses base-10 instead of hexadecimal):

0x203 = 515 — ‘invalid’ jumpdest
0x10C = 268 — frwd() jumpdest

As expected, both values resolve to locations in the code that correspond to a JUMPDEST operation. The default 0x203 value moves to location 515, and as 516 contains an INVALID opcode, we know that jumping to this position in the code will throw on the next instruction. As 0x203 was the default value for the function type, this makes sense — you can’t use a function type if it has not been assigned a function.

The 0x10C value corresponds to a much more sane position in the code. We see that 268 contains a JUMPDEST, after which 2 values are pushed, and another JUMP executed. Because JUMP uses the value on the top of the stack, it’s fair to assume the destination it will jump to is 0x116 (278). The instructions at 268 correspond to what we should expect from the frwd() function — all it does is call withdraw(), so a simple PUSH, PUSH, JUMP means a function is immediately called. Let’s take a look at the location it’s jumping to:

0x116 = 278 — withdraw() jumpdest

Execution lands nicely at our expected JUMPDEST at 278! Briefly examining the next few instructions, we see a CALLVALUE — which pushes msg.value to the stack, followed by a check to see if CALLVALUE is 0. If it is, we push another location (0x18E) and jump there. If it isn’t, the next few instructions in the screenshot reference the free memory pointer (0x40) and the function selector for Error(string), which is used to revert with an error message (see the relevant docs for more info). For brevity’s sake, we won’t explore the next few instructions — but it’s likely they will load ‘dont send funds!’ into memory and revert. Let’s look instead at the location jumped to if CALLVALUE is 0, 0x18E:

0x18E = 398 — funds transfer jumpdest

The first thing to notice are the opcodes CALLER, ADDRESS, and BALANCE, which correspond to msg.sender, address(this), and .balance, respectively. Awesome — that’s where the fund transfer occurs!

Now that we have these values in mind, let’s examine at what happens when we run breakIt(). After func.f is set to frwd(), we have a block of assembly:

assembly { mstore(func, add(mload(func), callvalue)) }

This may look confusing initially, but it’s actually quite simple, especially when we take into consideration what we’ve discussed above. Looking at the Solidity assembly docs, we know that mstore takes two parameters: a location, and a value. mstore stores the 32 byte value at the location in memory. Great — so our location is func, and our value is add(mload(func), callvalue). We could step-debug and see what happens when these values are used, but we already have all of the requisite information. func references the Func struct, which we know is the pointer 0x80. add(mload(func), callvalue) simply pulls the value stored at the location 0x80 and adds msg.value to it. We showed earlier that 0x80 in memory was storing the value of the frwd() JUMPDEST , 0x10C.

So after our assembly block executes, func, or 0x80, will not be 0x10C — it will be 0x10C + msg.value. In our first screenshot, we sent 1 wei — so we should expect 0x80 to store 0x10D, instead. Let’s step through:

0x80 now contains 0x10D

Perfect! 0x80 stores 0x10D, as expected. Execution will continue by attempting to JUMP to 0x10D — which happens not to contain a JUMPDEST instruction. Oops! Call failed. No matter, we have all of the information we need to calculate the msg.value we need to send in order to JUMP to the correct location.

To sum this all up — the challenge requires the user to send a ‘magic number’ amount of wei to the breakIt() function, which will be added to the original JUMPDEST to jump past the require statement in withdraw() and straight to the fund transfer. Checking Ropsten, our solver seems to have figured this out perfectly:

Success! 130 wei sent, 1 REth received

Taking what we know now, we should expect that 130 + frwd() is the destination we marked above as the start of the fund transfer block, 398. The proof of this is cheekily left as an exercise to the reader.

What have we learned?

  1. Internal function types are simply references to locations in a contract’s bytecode.
  2. Functions are called using JUMP, which must have a corresponding JUMPDEST. JUMP is not limited to only functions, but any branching statement.
  3. Structs are essentially pointers to memory.
  4. By using assembly, it is possible to trick the compiler into allowing us to JUMP to unexpected locations, such as the middle of a function.

That’s it! Best of luck in Round 2.



Alexander Wade
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CEO and Lead Tea Enthusiast at Authio