What Are the Main Security Issues in DeFi?

6 min read

Learn about different security risks in DeFi and protective measures against them

The world of finance has witnessed a revolutionary shift with the advent of Decentralized Finance, commonly known as DeFi, that is more open, accessible, and transparent. It has also introduced a plethora of novel financial instruments and protocols, ranging from lending and borrowing platforms to exchanges, and stablecoins. Its rapid growth is evident in the staggering $50 billion of value locked, solidifying DeFi's position as a powerhouse in the blockchain arena.

However, as DeFi continues to expand its horizons, it has also become a hub for various security issues. The decentralized nature of these platforms, while offering numerous benefits, also opens up vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malicious actors. These security risks have been causing significant financial losses for users and shaking trust in these emerging systems.

This article aims to delve deep into the various risks associated with DeFi and effective strategies to mitigate them.

Major Security Risks in DeFi#

Let’s see some of the issues in DeFi security that could affect your investments significantly.

Smart Contract Vulnerabilities#

Smart contracts are self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement directly written into lines of code. They run on blockchain technology, primarily Ethereum, and are immutable once deployed. This means they cannot be altered or deleted, ensuring trust and transparency in transactions.

This immutability also poses significant risks. If a smart contract contains a coding error or vulnerability, it cannot be easily rectified post-deployment. Such flaws can be exploited by attackers, potentially leading to substantial financial losses. High-profile incidents in the DeFi space have highlighted the devastating impact of such vulnerabilities, underscoring the need for rigorous testing and auditing of smart contracts before deployment.

Raft Protocol is one of the projects that was exploited with a smart contract vulnerability that caused a loss of about $3.3 million.

Flash Loan Attacks#

Flash loans are a unique feature of DeFi, allowing users to borrow substantial amounts of cryptocurrency without collateral, provided the loan is repaid within the same transaction block. This opens up opportunities for arbitrage and other financial strategies without upfront capital.

However, the very nature of flash loans makes them susceptible to exploitation. Attackers can use these loans to manipulate market prices or exploit vulnerabilities in DeFi protocols, leading to significant losses. These attacks have exposed the need for better risk management and security protocols within DeFi platforms.

Flash loan attacks have been a reason for a substantial loss of funds in blockchain. For instance, Platypus Finance suffered a flash loan attack that resulted in a loss of $9 million. Similarly, hackers drained a staggering $116 million by manipulating prices through flash loans from Mango, a DAO.

Phishing Attacks#

Phishing attacks in DeFi often involve tricking users into revealing sensitive information like private keys or sending funds to fraudulent addresses. These attacks are becoming more sophisticated, with attackers using fake websites, emails, or social media messages that mimic legitimate DeFi services.

OpenSea, a popular NFT marketplace, was one of the recent victims of a giant email phishing attack. The attackers got access to OpenSea users’ email addresses and sent a wide range of fraudulent emails about NFT offers, account risks, etc., luring users to enter their API keys.

To be safe from such attacks, users can protect themselves by double-checking URLs, being wary of unsolicited messages, and using hardware wallets for added security.

Sybil Attacks#

In a Sybil attack, an individual creates multiple fake identities to gain disproportionate influence in a network. In DeFi, this could mean manipulating lending rates, voting in governance protocols, or other forms of network abuse. Detecting and preventing Sybil attacks is challenging due to the pseudonymous nature of blockchain transactions. DeFi platforms need robust identity verification mechanisms and monitoring systems to mitigate these risks.

Front-Running Attacks#

Front-running occurs when someone gets advance knowledge of upcoming transactions and uses this information to their advantage. In DeFi, this can happen when traders see pending transactions in a public blockchain pool and execute their own transactions first, potentially affecting the market price.

Such practices undermine the fairness of the market and can erode trust in DeFi platforms. Solutions like private transaction pools and improved transaction ordering methods are being explored to combat front-running.

Best Practices for DeFi Security#

Navigating the DeFi landscape safely requires a combination of personal vigilance, technological understanding, and awareness of the evolving regulatory environment. Here are some best practices that can help individual users minimize risks:

Due Diligence and Using Reputable Platforms#

Before engaging with any DeFi platform, conduct thorough research. Look into the project's history, the team behind it, and its track record. Opt for platforms that have undergone rigorous security audits by reputable firms. Audits, while not foolproof, can significantly reduce the risk of vulnerabilities.

You can also check out community feedback and reviews. The DeFi community often shares insights and experiences that can be valuable in assessing a platform's reliability.

Understanding the Underlying Technology and Risks#

Educate yourself about how different DeFi protocols work. If you are technically sound, you can understand the mechanics of smart contracts. Even if not, you can gain a basic grasp of how these contracts function and the principles behind them.

You can also do in-depth research on the liquidity pools and tokenomics of the projects that you’re looking to join to gain insights on potential risks.

You can also check blockchain hack databases available publicly on the internet to evaluate the past security issues of the different platforms. It would also help you stay informed about common DeFi scams and vulnerabilities. Knowledge of how attacks or scams occur can help in recognizing red flags.

Community Vigilance and Reporting Suspicious Activities#

Participating in community forums and discussions can help collect knowledge and experience from the community, which can be a powerful tool in identifying and avoiding potential threats.

If you notice suspicious activities, report them to the platform administrators or relevant authorities. Prompt reporting can prevent others from falling victim to scams.

Innovations like multi-party computation, zero-knowledge proofs, and improved encryption methods are continually evolving to enhance security. Decentralized identity verification systems are being developed to prevent fraud while maintaining user privacy.

So, keeping an eye on emerging technologies that aim to strengthen DeFi security helps you become aware of tools that can keep you safe in DeFi waters.

Covering Assets with DeFi Insurance#

Insurance is emerging as a critical tool for risk mitigation in the DeFi space. It provides coverage against various risks, including smart contract failures, hacking incidents, and other operational risks.

There are a handful of insurance protocols in DeFi with varying levels and methods of coverage, so understanding the coverage options that fit your purpose is essential. We suggest choosing a parametric DeFi insurance protocol that offers quicker payouts if incidents occur.

Neptune Mutual: Mitigating DeFi Risks#

Neptune Mutual stands as an innovative solution to enhance the security and resilience of the DeFi space. It provides cover policies specifically designed to protect users’ funds and assets from the risks of the DeFi sector.

Neptune Mutual operates on a parametric model, meaning the payouts are based on predefined parameters. If the parameters are triggered by hacks, exploits, or any incident, policyholders will receive payouts without having to show proof of loss.

We offer a marketplace to let projects create cover pools in the Ethereum, Aritrum, and BNB Smart Chain networks. Protect owners looking to protect their communities can create cover pools, while community users can protect their funds by purchasing covers from the cover pools.

We also enable LPs to provide liquidity to these cover pools, earning rewards while contributing to the platform's capacity to underwrite risks.

To know more about Neptune Mutual, follow us on X (Twitter) and chat with us on Discord.