Decentralized exchanges (DEXs) nip in the bud several issues concerning their centralized counterparts such as concentration of liquidity in the hands of a few players, compromise of funds in case of a security breach, closed control structure and more. One issue, however, that has refused to subside is front-running. Unscrupulous players are still finding ways to defraud unsuspecting traders.
If you have received less than expected when placing a trade on a DEX, there is a pretty good chance of you getting hit by front runners. These bad actors exploit the automated market maker (AMM) model to make profits at the expense of unsuspecting traders.
This article will explain the attack vector and help you understand the basic concept of front-running in crypto trading, the potential consequences and how to prevent crypto front-running.
What is front-running in crypto?
The term “front-running” refers to the process when someone uses technology or market advantage to get prior knowledge of upcoming transactions. This allows the bad actors to take advantage of the forthcoming price movement and make economic gains at the cost of those who had introduced these transactions. Front-running happens via manipulations of gas prices or timestamps, also known as slow matching.
On centralized as well as decentralized exchanges, front-running is a frequent activity. The objective of a front runner is to buy a chunk of tokens at a low price and later sell them at a higher price while simultaneously exiting the position. When executed precisely, it brings in risk-free profits for the traders committing it.
Trading of stocks and assets based on insider knowledge to take advantage of the price movement has been a well-known tactic. Though illegal and unethical, brokers have been engaging in it. The tactic closely resembles insider trading with just a minor difference that the executioner works for the client’s brokerage and not the client’s business.
What is a front-running bot?
Frontrunning is done using crypto front-running bots functioning on a millisecond-scale timeframe. Before a person blinks, they can read a string of transactions, calculate the optimum transaction size and gas price, configure the transactions and run them.
The core of a front-running bot functions by listening for the pending transaction on the blockchain. Interacting with the blockchain using an interactive script, the bot buys before the buyer and sells right after it. The bot analyzes the trends of the crypto and executes transactions to make a profit.
Front-running tactics on decentralized exchanges
When a trade occurs, the system broadcasts it to the blockchain, requiring miners to verify the transaction. However, in any blockchain of significance, the stream of incoming transactions is more than the capacity of the subsequent block. Unmined transactions are left in a pending transaction pool called a mempool.
Blockchain mempools are transparent, a feature that the front runners exploit. Getting insight into the mood of the traders, they are able to predict the upcoming price movements and place their own orders accordingly. They set a higher gas price on their transactions to encourage picking their transactions before the pending ones, thus front-running the unsuspecting traders.
Ways to prevent front-running on the trader side
There is no single solution to solve issues regarding front running on all platforms. Rather, various anti-front-running approaches need to be followed on different projects, depending on the scenarios.
Use large liquidity pools
Front runners are fond of low liquidity pools, as there is less chance of competition as well as disruption of their transaction by a large order that unexpectedly alters the pool weighting. Executing your trades in large liquidity pools makes it less likely to get hit by frontrunning.
Keep maximum slippage low
Does the question “How do I avoid slippage” perennially pricks you? What you can do is set a maximum slippage tolerance in most decentralized exchanges. In other words, you can fix the maximum deviation from the expected return. An example will help you understand the scenario better.
Suppose you place an order on a DEX and expect a return of 500 Tether (USDT) for it. If you set your slippage to 1% of your order, then you won’t be receiving less than 495 USDT. However, if higher slippage tolerance is greater, there will be more deviation.
So, the formula is simple: Keep maximum slippage low, around 0.5%-2%, to fend off front runners. If you are going to place a large order, keep your slippage at the lower keel. Front runners want you to keep slippage high, so better to do just the opposite of it.
Overpay on gas
Front runners are delighted to see slow transactions because it gives them more time to devise an order for riding your trade and making profits. Underpaying on gas makes your transactions queue up for longer, providing front runners more time to formulate their strategy and damage your interests.
Overpaying on gas motivates miners to validate your transaction faster, minimizing your odds of becoming the target of a bad actor. For this purpose, you might set the gas price to higher than average or simply use the fast gas option on your wallet. If you are placing a large value order, it becomes even more important to try and complete the transactions with alacrity.
Place a low-value order
To make a profit, front runners have to meet some minimum thresholds. They have to pay the gas fees twice, on entering and exiting the market, and also recover the amount paid as the trading fee. Their profits begin only after they get back their expenses.
Currently, prominent Ethereum-based automated market makers such as Uniswap, Balancer and SushiSwap pay a gas fee of $25 per transaction. As they need two transactions to execute frontrunning, they are likely to spend $50 to complete the trade. It also means if your trade is raking in less than $50 profit, there are negligible odds of you becoming the target of the frontrunners.
When you enter a low-value trade, you practically make it an unprofitable venture for frontrunners. Most of the time, trading with amounts under $1,000 is safe.
Find a taker
A publicly-hosted order book is the first thing to draw front runners. If you manage to find a taker, you will be able to fill a given order and will be able to keep away from public markets and, subsequently, front-running. When you find a taker and negotiate a price successfully, a trustless on-chain exchange gets executed.
Ways to prevent front-running on DEX side
DEXs can take care of several design points to make front-running difficult to execute:
Front runners look for slow matching speed to place their orders before the execution. A DEX can ensure fast matching to leave little room for front runners to put their process to motion. Super quick block time will effectively make the front runners unable to react. For most frontrunners, who are not so technically inclined, this should be enough.
Decentralized match engine
In the case of a centralized matching engine, it is hard to establish that the exchange itself is not involved in front running. Decentralized matching engines, on the other hand, allow anyone running a full node to view the matching in real time. They can match the transaction in the latest block manually with the current order book.
Periodic auction matching
Periodic auction matching adds an extra layer of security from the front running. It adds a non-deterministic layer making it improbable for anyone to know the next execution price unless they are aware of the matching logic, the incoming orders for the next block and the trade price and the current order book from the last match.
How to avoid front-running in Ethereum 2.0
Some traders wonder about the impact of the full release of Ethereum 2.0 later in 2023, merging the mainnet with Beacon Chain and introducing a proof-of-stake (PoS) consensus mechanism. Validators who are supposed to process transactions in an epoch will be intimated of their positions beforehand.
An epoch is a defined span of time in a blockchain network. This time frame is used to describe when certain events in a blockchain network will take place, such as when incentives will be distributed or when a new group of validators will be allocated to validate transactions.
In this scenario, it will be harder for front runners to find profitable trades in a blockchain teeming with transactions, but not impossible. Many frontrunners out there are technically proficient, so you can’t just rule out the possibility. DEXs can cover design points like quick matching, decentralized match engine and periodic auction matching to minimize the odds of front-running.
Targeted phishing scam nets $438K in crypto and NFTs from hacked Beeple account
Links posted to a fake Louis Vuitton NFT raffle were made to capitalize on a recent real collaboration between Beeple and the luxury fashion brand.
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Digital artist and popular nonfungible token (NFT) creator Mike Winkelmann, more commonly known as Beeple, had his Twitter account hacked on Sunday as part of a phishing scam.
Harry Denley, security analyst of MetaMask, alerted users that Beeple’s tweets at the time containing a link to a raffle of a Louis Vuitton NFT collaboration were, in fact, a phishing scam that would drain the crypto out of users’ wallets if clicked.
⚠️ Beeple’s Twitter account has been compromised (ATO) to post a phishing website to steal funds.
— harry.eth (whg.eth) (@sniko_) May 22, 2022
The scammers were likely looking to capitalize on a real recent collaboration between Beeple and Louis Vuitton. Earlier in May, Beeple designed 30 NFTs for the luxury fashion brand’s Louis The Game mobile game, which were embedded as rewards to players.
The scammer continued to post phishing links from Beeple’s Twitter account, leading to fake Beeple collections that lured in unsuspecting users with the promise of a free mint for unique NFTs.
Bad actors continue have access to Beeples Twitter account and they have now tweeted another phishing domain.
This one just prompts the user to send ETH to an EOA (0xcad7fc974F61A08ADEF110D1BA446fa5b5B5Bb27).
Infra: 22.214.171.124 pic.twitter.com/HzTga1OvNK
— harry.eth (whg.eth) (@sniko_) May 22, 2022
The phishing links were up on Beeple’s Twitter for around five hours, and an on-chain analysis of one of the scammers’ wallets shows the first phishing link scored them 36 Ether (ETH), worth roughly $73,000 at the time.
The second link netted the scammers around $365,000 worth of ETH and many NFTs from high-value collections such as the Mutant Ape Yacht Club, VeeFriends and Otherdeeds, among others, bringing the grand total value stolen from the scam to around $438,000.
On-chain data shows the scammer selling the NFTs on OpenSea and putting their stolen ETH into a crypto mixer in an attempt to launder the gains.
Beeple later tweeted that he had regained control of his account and added to remind his followers that “anything too good to be true IS A F*CKING SCAM.”
ugh we’ll that was fun way to wake up.
Twitter was hacked but we have control now. Huge thanks to @garyvee ‘a team for quick help!!!!
— beeple (@beeple) May 22, 2022
Beeple has created three of the top ten most expensive NFTs sold to date including one which sold for $69.3 million, the most expensive ever sold to a sole owner. This attention has made him a target for hacks.
In November 2021, an admin account on Beeple’s Discord was hacked with scammers there also promoting a similarly fake NFT drop which resulted in users losing around 38 ETH.
Earlier this month, cybersecurity firm Malwarebytes released a report which highlighted a rise in phishing attempts as scammers try to cash in on NFT hype. The firm noted the use of fraudulent websites depicted as legitimate platforms is the most common tactic used by scammers.
Interest in Ethereum Name Service reaching ‘critical mass’
The latest metrics on new registrations and renewals of existing domains on ENS show that interest in the digital identity service has shattered previous records.
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The Ethereum Name Service is having its best month on record for new registrations, account renewals and revenue thanks to community awareness and low gas fees.
Lead developer at Ethereum Name Service (ENS) Nick Johnson tweeted on Monday the metrics for the Web3 domain service through May so far. He noted that numbers were poised to shatter existing records because they were already at all-time highs, “and there’s still a week of May left.”
May is now an All Time High for every single ENS metric we track – registrations, renewals, revenue (ETH & USD) and income (ETH & USD).
And there’s still a week of May left.
— nick.eth (@nicksdjohnson) May 22, 2022
Jonson told Cointelegraph on Monday that the main factor contributing to higher demand in ENS domains is that it is a place where people can “form shared communities without any overarching structure imposed on them beforehand.” This has had astounding results for the domain service:
“ENS has reached a critical mass of awareness and adoption. Most wallets support ENS names, so the usability factor is significant.”
ENS is an open-source blockchain protocol founded in 2017 that allows people to assign a digital identity to their Ethereum wallet. Each name is a nonfungible token (NFT) that ends with .eth and can act as an address, a cryptographic hash or a website URL.
The data shared by Johnson shows that there have been 304,968 new registrations, 13,260 renewals, and 3,165.85 Ether (ETH) in revenue so far in May. All of these metrics leave previous highs in the dust.
Johnson also said that ”low gas fees definitely have an impact” on the higher onboarding and renewal rates. To send a fast transaction on Ethereum costs about 22 GWEI, worth about $0.92 at the time of writing, according to gasprice.io. In periods of high volume, gas fees can be higher than $50, which may act as a deterrent to using the network unless in emergencies:
“You can register a 5+ character ENS name for a year for $5. High gas fees can make the cost several times that, so gas prices have a big impact on the affordability of ENS names.”
Interest in ENS domains has been quickly rising since April, when social clubs such as the 10k Club within ENS gained tremendous attention. The 10k Club was formed by owners of ENS domains numbered between 0-9999. Both new registrations and renewals have nearly doubled since then.
ENS’s record high revenues coupled with a market downturn has sparked plans in the ENS decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) to squirrel away funds for ongoing development. Johnson stated that the income slated for funding development and maintenance “for the indefinite future” would help the project weather further market volatility:
“With that guarantee against market effects, additional funds can be used more freely to help grow the ecosystem.”
However, the bullish metrics have not been reflected in ENS prices. The token has been on a steady decline since its November 2021 launch in which all .eth domain holders were airdropped a portion of the supply. ENS has fallen 86% from its November all-time high to $12.21, according to CoinGecko.
Top 5 cryptocurrencies to watch this week: BTC, BNB, XMR, ETC, MANA
The Dow Jones Industrial Average has declined for eight consecutive weeks, the first such losing streak since 1923. On May 20, the S&P 500 briefly fell into bear market territory, indicating that traders continue to sell risky assets in fear of a recession.
Due to its tight correlation with US equities markets, Bitcoin (BTC) has remained under pressure for many weeks. The bulls are attempting to push Bitcoin higher during the weekend and avert an even longer losing streak.
Bitcoin’s performance in the first five months has been the worst since 2018, indicating that sellers are in control. However, after several weeks of weakness, the crypto markets may be on the cusp of a bear market rally.
What are the critical levels that may signal the start of a sustained recovery? Let’s study the charts of the top-5 cryptocurrencies that may outperform in the near term.
Bitcoin rebounded off the crucial support at $28,630 on May 20, indicating strong buying near this level. The bulls are attempting to push the price above the downtrend line, which could be the first indication that the selling pressure may be reducing.
Above the downtrend line, the BTC/Tether (USDT) pair could rise to the 20-day exponential moving average (EMA) of $31,887. The bears are likely to defend this level with vigor. If the price turns down from the 20-day EMA, the bears will once again try to sink the pair below $28,630.
If they manage to do that, the pair could drop to $26,700. This is an important level to keep an eye on because a break and close below it could open the doors for a decline to $25,000 and then to $21,800.
Conversely, if buyers thrust the price above the 20-day EMA, the pair could attempt a rally to the 61.8% Fibonacci retracement level at $34,823. If this level is scaled, the pair could climb to the 50-day simple moving average (SMA) of $37,289.
The 4-hour chart shows that the price is getting squeezed between the downtrend line and $28,630. The 20-EMA and the 50-SMA have flattened out and the relative strength index (RSI) is just above the midpoint suggesting a balance between supply and demand.
This balance could tilt in favor of buyers if they push and sustain the price above the downtrend line. If that happens, the pair could start its northward march toward the 200-SMA.
On the contrary, if the price turns down from the current level, the bears will attempt to sink the pair below $28,630 and gain the upper hand.
Binance Coin (BNB) recovered sharply from the critical support at $211 and has reached the overhead resistance at the 20-day EMA of $323. This is an important level for the bears to defend because a break and close above it could indicate that a bottom may be in place.
Above the 20-day EMA, the BNB/USDT pair could rally to $350 and thereafter to the 50-day SMA of $376. This level could again act as a stiff hurdle but if bulls thrust the price above it, the pair could rally to the 200-day SMA of $451.
Contrary to this assumption, if the price turns down sharply from the 20-day EMA, it will suggest that bears have not yet given up and they continue to sell at higher levels. The pair could then drop toward $211. If the price rebounds off this level, the pair may consolidate between $211 and $320 for a few days.
The bulls are attempting to push the price above the overhead resistance at $320. If they succeed, the pair could rally toward $350. The bears are likely to defend this level aggressively. If the price turns down from $350, the pair could again drop to $320.
If the price rebounds off this level, the pair could remain range-bound between $320 and $350 for some time. The bullish momentum could pick up above the 200-SMA and the pair may rally to $380 and later to $400.
Conversely, if the price turns down from the current level, the pair could drop to $286 and then to $272.
Monero (XMR) dropped below the strong support at $134 on May 12 but the bears could not sustain the lower levels. This suggests aggressive buying on dips. The price has recovered sharply to the 20-day EMA of $179.
If bulls push and sustain the price above the 20-day EMA, the XMR/USDT pair could rise to the overhead resistance zone between the 200-day SMA of $202 and the 50-day SMA of $212. The bears are expected to mount a strong defense in this zone
If the price turns down from this zone, but bulls arrest the subsequent decline at the 20-day EMA, it will suggest a potential change in trend. Conversely, if the price turns down from the current level, the bears will try to pull the pair to $150 and thereafter to $134.
The 4-hour chart shows the formation of higher lows and higher highs. The bears tried to pull the price below the 50-SMA but the bulls defended the level successfully. This suggests a change in sentiment from selling on rallies to buying on dips.
The pair could next rally to the 200-SMA where the bears may offer a strong resistance. If bulls overcome this barrier, the pair could rally to $225. Contrary to this assumption, if the price turns down and breaks below the 50-SMA, the pair could slide to $150. A break below this level could challenge the strong support at $134
Ethereum Classic (ETC) dropped sharply from $52 on March 29 to $16 on May 12. The bulls are attempting to start a recovery which could face resistance at the 20-day EMA of $23.
If the price turns down from the 20-day EMA, the bears will again attempt to resume the downtrend by pulling the ETC/USDT pair below the critical support at $16.
On the contrary, if buyers propel the price above the 20-day EMA, it will suggest the start of a stronger relief rally. The positive divergence on the RSI also points to the possibility of a recovery in the near term. The pair could then rise to the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement level at $30, where the bears may mount a strong resistance.
The price has been trading between $19 and $23 for some time. This suggests that the bulls are attempting to form a higher low, but the bears continue to pose a strong challenge at higher levels. The flattening 20-EMA and 50-SMA do not give a clear advantage either to bulls or bears.
If buyers drive the price above $23, it will suggest the start of a new up-move. The pair could first rally to the 200-SMA and then to $33. Alternatively, if the price turns down and plummets below $19, the bears will gain the upper hand. They will then attempt to sink the pair to $16.
Decentraland (MANA) turned down from the 20-day EMA of $1.24 on May 16, but a positive sign is that the bulls did not allow the price to sustain below the psychological level of $1.00.
The buyers will once again attempt to push the price above the 20-day EMA. If they succeed, the MANA/USDT pair could rally to the 50-day SMA of $1.72. The bears may again mount a stiff resistance at this level but if bulls clear this hurdle, the pair could start its northward march toward the 200-day SMA of $2.72.
Contrary to this assumption, if the price slips below $1.00, the bears will try to sink the pair to the crucial support at $0.60. A break and close below this level could start the next leg of the downtrend.
The pair is stuck between $0.97 and $1.36, indicating that bulls are buying the dips below $1.00 and the bears are selling on rallies. The 20-EMA and the 50-SMA have flattened out, indicating that the consolidation may continue for some more time.
If buyers propel the price above the 50-SMA, the pair could rise to the resistance of the range at $1.36. The bullish momentum could pick up if buyers overcome this barrier. Conversely, the bears could gain the upper hand if the price turns down and plummets below the support at $0.97.
The views and opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Cointelegraph. Every investment and trading move involves risk, you should conduct your own research when making a decision.
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