Attacking 1000 Guess

June 5, 2024

The Ethereum blockchain has a variety of uses beyond decentralized finance and cryptocurrency due to the ability to develop decentralized applications, or dapps, that run on the Ethereum network. One category of dapps is blockchain games, ranging from RPGs to card games. Many popular games follow the play-to-earn (P2E) model where the game allows players to win Ether. One such game, which is no longer available to play, is a lottery-style game known as 1000 Guess, initially deployed in 2017.

Players in this game bet on their position in the sequence of players, for example, if a player was the fifth to place a bet, their guess is 5. Once 1000 bets are placed, the smart contract calculates the winning guess and awards that player all the Ether stored in the contract from previous bets.


A variable in Solidity, the language used to develop smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain, can have one of three visibility levels: public, private, and internal. Public variables are accessible to anyone, including users of the contract and other contracts. Private variables are intended to only be read by the contract using them, although as a result of deployment on the public blockchain, these variables are not truly private. Internal variables are intended for the contract and contracts that inherit from it to use.

Despite attempts to obscure private variables from direct public access, there are still options to access them through Ethereum libraries such as ethers.provider.storageAt() that allow developers to inspect storage slots within smart contracts. Variables in Solidity smart contracts are stored sequentially in 32-byte increments, and when the contract code is publicly on the blockchain, it is possible to calculate the storage location of the private variable and retrieve the value.

Pseudo-random number generators (PRNGs) are deterministic algorithms that output a seemingly random sequence of numbers. When initialized with the same seed value, a PRNG will output the same sequence of numbers. For applications where a truly random number is needed, such as for secure cryptography or chance-based games like 1000 Guess, a PRNG is not sufficiently random because the output can be determined if the seed is known.

Vulnerability in the Game

A vulnerability discovered in 1000 Guess underscores the challenges of maintaining privacy in blockchain applications. The mechanism used to determine a winner after the thousandth bet has been placed is based on a pseudo-radom number generator that calculates the seed from a private variable and several block variables. All contract variables, including the supposedly private seed, were public on the blockchain ledger, making it possible for knowledgeable users to analyze this information and predict outcomes before the game was finished.

Each time a bet is placed, the contract calculates the hash of the block timestamp, block coinbase value, block difficulty, and the hash associated with the previous bet. After the final bet is placed, the hash calculated at that time is used as the seed to the PRNG to determine a winner. It was thought that the sequential calculation of the hash would mean that it was impossible to guess the winner before every bet was placed, however, as discovered in CVE-2018-12454, an attacker can pre-calculate which number will win before the final bet is made. For each round of the game, this malicious player will wait until 999 bets have been placed, predict the winning number, and if the 1000th bet is going to be the winner, they will bet on the contract and obtain the winnings. This method ensures that the attacker never places a bet if they are not going to win.

Our Implementation

In this project, my group and I implemented a version of the original, vulnerable 1000 Guess game in modernized Solidity; developed the attack described in this article; then created a secure version of the game that does not rely on private variables to seed the PRNG.

Phase 1: Game Implementation

The game was implemented as a modified version of the 1000 Guess game originally playable on the blockchain before the identified vulnerability caused it to be shut down. In the original game, once 1000 players placed a bet, a function would calculate a winner and reward them with the entire value of the contract minus a developer fee. For this project, the contract was modified to calculate a winner after the 10th player's bet for ease of testing.

The contract accepts bets from players, and after the 10th player, it uses a combination of internal variables and characteristics of the current block to determine a winner out of those who have bet. When created, it was assumed that since the variables were private, one could not read them to calculate the winning position before the game concluded. When a bet is placed, the addGuess() function is called. This updates the value of currentHash, the calculation of which is shown in Figure 1. If this guess is the 10th, it then uses this value to calculate the winning position in an array of betters.

Figure 1: addGuess() and calculation of currentHash

Figure 2: Calculating lotteryNum to decide the winner

Figure 3: Using lotteryNum to get winner in an array of players

Phase 2: The Attack

The attack involved using the ethers library with a Hardhat typescript project to access private variables stored in the smart contract of the 1000 Guess game. By obtaining the current hash variable from the game's contract, we were able to calculate the random number that determines the winning player's index. Since we developed the code for the modified version of 1000 Guess, we knew how the random number used as a seed value was generated and could apply the same algorithms. In a version of the game published on the Ethereum blockchain, the code would be available for anyone to view. The seed value, or the currentHash value, is generated using the SHA256 hash function applied to specific block information including the timestamp, Coinbase (address receiving mining rewards), difficulty level, and hash of the previous guess, which is accessed through the storage function. This hash value is then used with modulus division to determine the final indes that corresponds to the winning guess.

The attack strategy involved checking whether the last guess would result in a win. If it did, the attacker would place the final guess and secure the lottery winnings. On average, this would result in the attacker winning the money 1/10th of the time in the modified version of the game.

Figure 4: Accessing private variables

Figure 5: Calculating winning bet

Phase 3: Secure Game

Utilizing Chainlink VRF and the Remix online Solidity editor, a secure version of the 1000 Guess game was implemented. This allows our contract to obtain a securely generated random number that is not calculated from variables accessible in the contract. The developer sets up a Chainlink subscription, and the secure contract is established as a consumer, as shown in Figure 6. By inheriting from the VRF2.0 Consumer contract, the secure 1000 Guess contract is able to use the subscription after being deployed with the subscription ID.

Using a blockchain oracle to provide verifiable random numbers avoids any attack that relies on the use of hard-coded or insecurely stored private variables to determine the winner.

Project Code

This project was a joint effort by Kyri Lea, Domenic Lo Iacono, and Sierra Kennedy