Analysis of Smart Contract Security Practices by Developers 

Analysis of Smart Contract Security Practices by Developers 

Analysis of Smart Contract Security Practices by Developers  PlatoAiStream Data Intelligence. Vertical Search. Ai.

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Since DeFi started skyrocketing, a new wave of smart contract attacks leading to the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars has emerged. It is clear from the rising hack figures that security is critical for smart contracts. 

Most of the vulnerabilities can be averted at the development stage of contracts if the best practices are followed. DeFi projects are sometimes in a hurry to hit the market, making security the second priority. There is a difference between early-stage developers and experienced developers. A seasoned developer knows best security practices, tools, and knowledge about common vulnerabilities and can identify security issues at the early stage of development. 

Smart contracts are the digital representation of contractual agreements in code. The execution of this code is verified and distributed with the help of network nodes in a blockchain network. 

In this article, we will cover the human factor behind the security and privacy of smart contracts and analyze why developers are still considered the “weakest link”.

What are Smart Contract Vulnerabilities

As smart contracts run on distributed and permissionless networks, it causes vulnerabilities due to failure in smart contract execution. As funds are locked in these contracts, it becomes a very attractive target for hackers, and attacking successfully may lead hackers to run off with the funds directly from the contracts. 

Some common vulnerabilities in EVM-based smart contracts include re-entrancy, integer overflow, and unrestricted access control. To exploit a contract with the re-entrancy, a call is made to the external contract; it then invokes a re-entrant callback. Low-level operations like “send,” “transfer,” and “call” are alarming, and this may lead to vulnerabilities if exceptions are not handled cautiously. 

Innovations in the Blockchain space are evolving continuously, which results in design flaws in smart contracts. Developers building decentralized applications have to deal with updates in the platforms they are working on. Therefore, common software flaws like access control, incorrect calculation, race condition, and several others may intensify on the blockchain platforms. 

Smart Contract Security Tools

Various practices have been adopted at different levels of the smart contract development life cycle to ensure and enhance the security of smart contracts. 

Smart Contract Testing Tools: Several tools are developed to analyze contract’s source code and scan for known security issues such as re-entrancy, overflow, etc. Some of the most widely used tools are Oyente, Maian, MadMax, and Vandal. 

Development and testing environments: Truffle is the popular development framework for smart contracts. Developers can write unit and integration tests with this. Hardhat is another development environment that assists in running tests, checking code for mistakes, and interacting with smart contracts; it runs on a development network. It facilitates plugins to cover the code, measure gas used per unit test, automatically verify contracts on Etherscan, etc. The remix is another go-to suite for developers; it is used widely due to browser IDE that supports testing, development, and deploying smart contracts. 

Code Audits: Auditing smart contracts helps mitigate risks associated with the dAapp. It is preferable to carry out smart contract audits when the contracts are in the testing phase. Some tools used for auditing are Surya, Mythril, and MythX. While automated auditing isn’t sufficient to reduce risks associated with contracts, it is suggested to do third-party manual audits from a trustworthy firm such as QuillAudits. During an audit, vulnerabilities are detected in three main ways:

  1.  Features extraction from malicious code and doing semantic matching on source code;
  2.  Following a mathematical approach to verify a system’s completeness, here auditor examines every possible input test against all potential test cases that might happen;
  3.  Creating a control flow graph with logic units of the contract through which the auditor traverses all code paths to inspect logical design flaws

Secure Smart Contract Development

If we closely look at the recent smart contract exploits, a larger number of vulnerabilities occurred because of developers’ mistakes. Therefore, avoiding loopholes in smart contracts means secure development of smart contracts keeping users in mind during the development lifecycle. Many early-stage developers do not consider security the main factor and lack awareness related to resources and tools for smart contract security. 

Smart Contract Security Insights

Most of the developers do not keep security as the top priority while developing smart contracts because:

  1. They are asked to deliver the project as soon as possible. Therefore security becomes secondary
  2. Sometimes projects fork other popular projects 
  3. Someone from the team conducts the audit

Apart from that, we usually hear developers saying that Solidity has some inherent limitations to maintaining security. It is different from the mainstream language as functions are not defined explicitly. There are also difficulties in carrying out the proper string and array manipulations because Solidity lacks direct language/library support.

Steps Developers take for Smart Contract Security.

Developers who care about the security of smart contracts follow various methods at the development stage to mitigate risks, such as:

  1. Reading between the lines of the code and thinking from the attacker’s perspective. 
  2. Drawing a flow chart to analyze the flow of information and look at the points where fallback possibilities exist; therefore, having a graphical representation can solve many logical issues. 
  3. Use of smart contract security tools, some of which we mentioned earlier 

Some limitations of the smart contract security tools are non-trivial, as after deploying the contract, you have to write a constructor and then test the contract. Apart from this, no tool can be integrated with the development process; you have to write code in an IDE and then use another tool to test it. It will be easy for developers to test the code on the compiler rather than using any other tool. 

We have also seen that developers with prior knowledge about smart contracts and auditing tend to review the code better and have more awareness about best security practices. It also helps to avoid known vulnerabilities in the contract. Many new developers underestimate the security and do not consider it a priority because they mostly deploy their projects on testnets where bugs and loopholes in contracts have no real impact. 

Conclusion

Smart Contract developers’ security perceptions and practices rely mostly on external audits to ensure the security of their projects. As they assess the security manually and often lack resources and tools. With the recent rise in DeFi projects and associated security attacks, novice developers need to take the support of tools to mitigate the risks beforehand. 

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