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Security considerations for EIP-1884


EIP 1884 is set to be implemented into the upcoming Ethereum 'Istanbul' hard fork. It

  • increases the cost of opcode SLOAD from 200 to 800 gas
  • increases the cost of BALANCE and EXTCODEHASH from 400 to 700 gas
  • adds a new opcode SELFBALANCE with cost 5.

The reasoning is that due to the increase in state size, and thus the added IO overhead for fetching tries from disk, the opcodes SLOAD, BALANCE and EXTCODEHASH have become disproportionally 'cheap', for the amount of work that a node has to perform. Having badly 'tuned' gas cost versus the underlying computational cost of an operation is a problem which can cause various problems, and pave the way for attacks such as the so called 'Shanghai attacks' as seen in late 2017.

Potential problems

In general, repricing opcodes can always break contracts that explicitly rely on assumptions of gas cost being constant. However, this has been considered bad practice for a long time, especially so since certain opcodes historically already have been repriced in Tangerine Whistle, where SLOAD was repriced from 50 to 200.

However, there is one case which could potentially become more problematic; default functions.

Default functions

A default function is a method of a contract that handles calls without any data -- they are there to handle transfers of ether that does not explicitly invoke any method at all. They are typically used to create an event using a LOG operation, so external systems can detect the event, and e.g. register that a transfer was made.

A regular transfer of ether to a contract always gives the receiver at minimum 2300 as gas stipend. This number is meant to allow the recipient to issue an event, but is not sufficient to perform state changes (such as making another transfer, or updating a storage slot).

EIP 1884 and default functions

One potential problem of EIP-1884 is that default functions might start to fail on 2300 gas, e.g. for the following reasons:

  • Limited wallets: A contract only allows payments if balance(self) is below a certain limit
  • Designated senders: A contract only allows payments from a set of pre-approved senders
  • Disabled wallets: A contract only allows payments if a certain variable (slot) is set to true.

Now, if a default function ceases to work with 2300 gas, this is not always a very serious problem. For example, if the caller is a so called EOA (Externally Owner Account - meaning end user), the caller can simply make sure to send a bit more than 21000 gas in the transaction. But the problem can arise if, for example

  • The target has designated sender,
  • The senders are smart contracts, which are programmed to only ever use transfer with no extra gas.

In that case, the flow of ether from the senders to the target would be broken in a way that is not 'fixable' unless other mechanisms can be used to handle the situation (e.g. replacing the senders).


I reached out to the EthSecurity community to help assess this situation. Some notes:

  • Contracts that does not have a payable default function would not be affected,
  • Contracts whose default function would not be executable today on 2300 gas would not be affected e.g. contracts that do SLOAD or transfer ether in default would already be 'broken'

Contract library analysis

Neville Grech, of Contract Library, performed a static analysis of partially decompiled mainnet contracts. The analysis covers about 95% of all contracts on mainnet, and from the last 500k blocks of testnets, (400K unique bytecodes), and lists those that could potentially be affected.

  • The list is available here and is updated automatically

Note that static program analysis is a technique that considers all program's behaviors without having to execute the program. The static analysis is encoded in the following simplified datalog spec, deployed on

% Restrict the edges that form the possible paths to those in fallback functions
FallbackFunctionBlockEdge(from, to) :-
   GlobalBlockEdge(from, to), 
   InFunction(from, f), FallbackFunction(f),
   InFunction(to, g), FallbackFunction(g).

% Analyze the fallback function paths with the
% conventional gas semantics, taking shortest paths
GasCostAnalysis = new CostAnalysis(
  Block_Gas, FallbackFunctionBlockEdge, 2300, min

% Analyze the fallback function paths with the
% updated gas semantics, taking shortest paths
EIP1884GasCostAnalysis = new CostAnalysis(
  EIP1884Block_Gas, FallbackFunctionBlockEdge, 2300, min

FallbackWillFailAnyway(n - 2300) :-
   GasCostAnalysis(*, n), n > 2300.

% fallback will fail with n - m additional gas
EIP1884FallbackWillFail(n - m) :-
   EIP1884GasCostAnalysis(block, n), n > 2300,
   GasCostAnalysis(block, m),

The analysis performs a gas cost computation over all possible paths in the fallback functions, using the gas cost semantics of both PRE and POST EIP-1884. In cases where there is a path that can complete in the former semantics but not the latter, we flag the smart contract.

The analysis automatically flagged over 200 smart contracts on the mainnet, including the Kyber Network contract and the CappedVault contract mentioned below. Note that the CappedVault contract will still keep working if the BALANCE opcode's gas requirements are lowered, say to 600. It however also finds several potential other contracts (with balance) that can fail the fallback under various circumstances with the new gas semantics:

EbcFund contains more than 580 ETH and will stop accepting donations below 2300 gas:

     * @dev fallback function to send ether to smart contract
    function () public payable {
        require(currentStage == Stages.Started);
        require(cfgMinDepositRequired <= msg.value && msg.value <= cfgMaxDepositRequired);
        if(donateList[msg.sender] == false) {
            if(transporter != address(0) && msg.sender == transporter) {
                if( > 0) {
                    //init new game
                else {
                     emit Logger("Thank you for your contribution!.", msg.value);
            else {
                //init new game
        else {
            emit Logger("Thank you for your contribution!", msg.value);

The code was last called 144 days ago.

Same for the NEXXO crowdsale :

    modifier onlyICO() {
        require(now >= icoStartDate && now < icoEndDate, "CrowdSale is not running");

    function () public payable onlyICO{
        require(!stopped, "CrowdSale is stopping");

For NEXXO, it checks three slots, icoStartDate, icoEndDate and stopped, totalling 2400 with new gas rules.

Similar problem for Crowd Machine Compute Token crowdsale:

  modifier onlyIfRunning

  function () public onlyIfRunning payable {
    LogEthReceived(msg.sender, msg.value);

Important reminder: The crowdsales above do not inherently break, it just means that callers need to add some more gas than 2300 to partake in the ICO contracts.

Chain Security analysis

Hubert Ritzdorf, of ChainSecurity, performed an analysis of recent transactions. The analysis is based on investigating actual transactions on mainnet, and seeing which of those would have failed if SLOAD had cost 800 instead of 200. Partial results are here.

See this gist, with the following comment:

The first two occur very frequently, the others are less frequent. We listed the final one even though it would still work the EIP as we are not sure how these gas values are currently being determined for such "deep" transactions. We wanted to raise awareness of potential issues.

Kyber Network

    function() public payable {
        require(reserveType[msg.sender] != ReserveType.NONE);
        EtherReceival(msg.sender, msg.value);
  • KyberNetwork meets several of the criterias,
  • Implements the "Designated senders" pattern,
  • Called primarily through other contracts, which rely on transfer (this limited to 2300 gas)

We reached out to KyberNetwork, and although it is obviously a chore to do, this can be solved:

technically the market maker can just deploy new reserve contract


    function total() public view returns(uint) {
        return getBalance() + withdrawn;

    function () public payable {
        require(total() + msg.value <= limit);

In this context, withdrawn is a storage slot, and so is limit.

  • CappedVault, with over 4K ether and 70K internal transactions, meet the criteria:
    • Implements the "Limited" pattern
    • Two SLOAD and one BALANCE

Implementation note:

  • This contract is programmed to 'break' exactly like this, in case the total of ether passed through the contract exceeds 33333 ether. That is, regardless of how much ether is currently in the vault, it will cease to accept ether after 33K has passed through it.
    • **This indicates that there already must be mechanisms to handle the case when default cease functioning. **
  • The limit is a storage slot, but could have been implemented as a compile-time constant, reducing one SLOAD.
  • The balance(self) could, after Istanbul, be rewritten as SELFBALANCE

In essence, it currently uses:

200 (sload limit) +200 (sload withdrawn) +400 (balance) = 800 gas

into, post-EIP-1884:

5 (selfbalance) + 800 (sload withdrawn) = 805 gas.


Security considerations for EIP 1884



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