Talos Vulnerability Report


CPP-Ethereum JSON-RPC miner_setEtherbase improper authorization Vulnerability

January 9, 2018
CVE Number



An exploitable improper authorization vulnerability exists in miner_setEtherbase API of cpp-ethereum's JSON-RPC (commit 4e1015743b95821849d001618a7ce82c7c073768). A JSON request can cause an access to the restricted functionality resulting in authorization bypass. An attacker can send JSON to trigger this vulnerability.

Tested Versions

Ethereum commit 4e1015743b95821849d001618a7ce82c7c073768

Product URLs


CVSSv3 Score

6.8 - CVSS:3.0/AV:N/AC:H/PR:N/UI:N/S:C/C:N/I:H/A:N


CWE-285: Improper Authorization


CPP-Ethereum is a C++ ethereum client, one of the 3 most popular clients for the ethereum platform. 

One of the components that is part of cpp-ethereum is a JSON-RPC server which exposes various APIs to manage client/node functionality. Improper authorization checks in the implementation of the miner_setEtherbase API allows a remote attacker without any credentials to triggers functionality reserved only for a user with administrator privileges. We can observe a similar approach in two other clients (lack of any kind of authorization) but in this case the situation is exacerbated by the fact that:

-   By default interface is bound to, which means it’s exposed to the world
-   The Content-Type set to ‘application/json’ during requests is not enforced, which means that even if eth JSON-RPC daemon is ran on machine behind a NAT 
    the JSON-RPC APIs can still be easily triggered by CSRF or SSRF attacks.
-   older version of the same API had implemented an authorization check
-   there is no visible option to change the default JSON-RPC interface to localhost

For comparison let us take geth (the go ethereum client) which also implements a JSON-RPC interface but using much better security practices:

-   by default the interface is bound to localhost
-   The “Content-Type” request header value must be set to ‘application/json’ 
-   CORS settings are set to block by default all "cross-domain" requests

Let us take a look at miner_setEtherbase and describe in details improper/consistency check of authorization.

Line 253    bool AdminEth::miner_setEtherbase(string const& _uuidOrAddress)
Line 254    {
Line 255        Address a;
Line 256        h128 uuid = fromUUID(_uuidOrAddress);
Line 257        if (uuid)
Line 258            a = m_keyManager.address(uuid);
Line 259        else if (isHash<Address>(_uuidOrAddress))
Line 260            a = Address(_uuidOrAddress);
Line 261        else
Line 262            throw jsonrpc::JsonRpcException("Invalid UUID or address");
Line 263
Line 264        if (m_setMiningBenefactor)
Line 265            m_setMiningBenefactor(a);
Line 266        else
Line 267            m_eth.setAuthor(a);
Line 268        return true;
Line 269    }

As we can see there is no check for calling user privileges which is done in couple other APIs via RPC_ADMIN macro. Same functionality is exposed over admin_eth_setMiningBenefactor API where at the beginning of API body, privileges check is made:

Line 147    bool AdminEth::admin_eth_setMiningBenefactor(string const& _uuidOrAddress, string const& _session)
Line 148    {
Line 149        RPC_ADMIN;
Line 150        return miner_setEtherbase(_uuidOrAddress);
Line 151    }

We are aware that this client is not recommended for mining and that the mentioned functionality related with the administrator interface is turned off by default. However when enabled the default behavior is insecure and can allow a remote attacker to perform unauthenticated RPC requests.

Crash Information

icewall@ubuntu:~/bugs/cpp-ethereum/build/eth$ ./eth -j --ipc --private 123 --no-discovery --datadir `pwd`/data --config config.json --admin-via-http 
cpp-ethereum, a C++ Ethereum client
cpp-ethereum 1.3.0
  By cpp-ethereum contributors, (c) 2013-2016.
  See the README for contributors and credits.
Networking disabled. To start, use netstart or pass --bootstrap or a remote host.
JSONRPC Admin Session Key: Zt9zxSANHZs=

icewall@ubuntu:~/bugs/cpp-ethereum$ curl -X POST --data '{"jsonrpc":"2.0","method":"miner_setEtherbase","params":["0x00803aba77731ed25d31dcafa6a9847a5261d518"],"id":1}' localhost:8545                                                                                        


2017-11-03 - Vendor Disclosure
2018-01-09 - Public Release


Discovered by Marcin 'Icewall' Noga of Cisco Talos.