How to Yield Farm Safely: A Guide to Mitigating the Risks

Andrii Stepanov
Marketing Manager
7 Minutes Read

Definition of Yield Farming

Yield farming, often termed as ‘liquidity mining,’ is a decentralized finance (DeFi) practice where users lend or stake their cryptocurrency assets in a protocol to earn rewards. Typically, these rewards come in the form of additional cryptocurrency tokens.

The process is analogous to traditional farming – where one plants seeds and nurtures crops to produce more food – but in the realm of DeFi, one ‘farms’ using crypto assets to harvest more tokens as yields.

Importance of Yield Farming in the DeFi Ecosystem

Yield farming has undeniably become the centrifugal force driving the DeFi sector’s growth. By incentivizing users to lock their funds into smart contracts, it bolsters the liquidity and stability of the DeFi ecosystem. Furthermore, as more assets are staked in the protocol, there’s an increase in the platform’s utility and overall value proposition. This not only provides users with profitable opportunities but also fuels innovation and competition among DeFi projects.

Brief Overview of Yield Farming Protocols

Mechanism of How Yield Farming Works

At its core, yield farming revolves around users interacting with a DeFi protocol. They lock or ‘stake’ their tokens either as collateral or into liquidity pools. In return, they receive interest and rewards. The rate of return is often determined by various factors, including the amount staked, duration, and the protocol’s prevailing interest rates. Smart contracts automatically handle these operations, ensuring transparency and trustless transactions.

Popular Yield Farming Platforms and Their Mechanics

Several platforms dominate the yield farming landscape:

  • Compound: Allows users to lend or borrow assets. Lenders earn interest, and borrowers pay interest. Users earn COMP tokens as rewards.
  • Yearn.Finance: It automates the yield farming process by redirecting user’s funds to the most profitable lending platforms. Users earn YFI tokens.
  • Uniswap: A decentralized exchange where users provide liquidity by depositing pairs of tokens. In return, they earn trading fees and UNI tokens.

Staking, Liquidity Provision, and Reward Mechanisms

Staking: Users lock their tokens in a protocol, essentially ‘staking’ their claim. In return, they earn rewards.

Liquidity Provision: Users deposit assets into liquidity pools, which are then used for lending or facilitating trades. They earn a share of the transaction fees or interest.

Reward Mechanisms: Protocols incentivize users by distributing native or governance tokens, which can be traded or used for voting on protocol decisions.

Known Cases of Exploiting Yield Farming Protocols

Reentrancy Attacks

Reentrancy attacks occur when an external contract interrupts the calling contract before it resolves, extracting more funds. The dForce hack saw attackers exploit such a vulnerability, siphoning off $25 million, although it was later returned.

Oracle Manipulation (e.g., bZx’s iETH price peg manipulation)

Oracle attacks revolve around manipulating the data feeds (oracles) that DeFi platforms rely on for price information. The bZx protocol was victim to this when attackers manipulated oracle prices, walking away with $350,000.

Flash Loan Attacks

Flash loans allow users to borrow funds without collateral, provided they’re returned within a single transaction. Malicious actors exploit this by manipulating market prices, profiting from the discrepancies.

Impermanent Loss Exploits

Impermanent loss occurs when providing assets to liquidity pools and the price of those assets changes compared to when they were deposited. This can be exploited when there are drastic price changes, causing liquidity providers to lose more than they’d earn from providing liquidity.

Case Studies on Notable Yield Farming Protocol Breaches and Their Consequences

The vulnerabilities in yield farming protocols have led to significant losses. For instance:

  • Pickle Finance: An unknown attacker exploited a flaw and drained $20 million from the protocol.
  • Harvest Finance: A sophisticated arbitrage attack, leveraging flash loans, resulted in a loss of $24 million.

These breaches not only cause financial damage but erode trust in DeFi projects, underscoring the importance of robust security and audits in the rapidly-evolving space.

Vulnerabilities Developers Should Be Aware Of

Yield farming, while innovative and lucrative, is not without its pitfalls. Here are some vulnerabilities that developers need to be mindful of:

Smart Contract Bugs:

  • Reentrancy Vulnerabilities: As seen in previous hacks, without proper safeguards, smart contracts can be susceptible to recursive calling that drains funds.
  • Arithmetic Overflows and Underflows: Without proper checks, calculations can exceed or fall below the valid range, leading to unexpected outcomes.
  • Unsafe External Calls: Calling untrusted contracts can introduce unexpected behaviors or vulnerabilities.

Economic Vulnerabilities:

  • Lack of Liquidity: Insufficient liquidity in a protocol can hinder normal functionality and create opportunities for manipulation.
  • Rug Pulls (malicious devs draining funds): This involves developers or insiders draining liquidity from the protocol, leading to a sudden collapse in value.

Oracle Vulnerabilities:

  • Centralized Oracles: Relying on a single source for price data makes manipulation easier.
  • Price Feed Manipulation: If not secured properly, price feeds can be tampered with to provide false data.

Governance Vulnerabilities:

  • Voting Power Exploits: Manipulation of voting power within a decentralized protocol can lead to unwanted changes.
  • Proposal Flaws: Without clear and secure proposal structures, malicious changes can be introduced.

Front-running Vulnerabilities:

  • This includes exploiting information from pending transactions to gain an advantage.

Inadequate Testing or Audit Trails:

  • Lack of comprehensive testing or third-party audits can leave unnoticed vulnerabilities.

Possible Mitigations

Smart Contract Best Practices:

  • Utilize Reentrancy Guards: Implementing known patterns to prevent recursive calls.
  • Implement Checks-Effects-Interactions Pattern: Structuring contract calls to reduce exposure.
  • Use OpenZeppelin Libraries or Other Well-Tested Libraries: These have been audited and are generally considered secure.
  • Avoid delegatecall to Untrusted Contracts: This limits exposure to potentially harmful external code.

Economic Protections:

  • Time-Locked Withdrawals: Ensuring there’s a delay in withdrawing significant sums can prevent sudden rug pulls.
  • Fair Launch Practices to Prevent Concentration of Tokens: This makes manipulation harder.
  • Clear and Transparent Tokenomics: Transparency fosters trust and allows users to understand the underlying economics.

Oracle Strengthening:

  • Using Decentralized Oracles: This reduces reliance on a single point of failure.
  • Multi-Oracle Sourcing to Ensure Data Accuracy: Diversifying price feeds to obtain a more accurate and tamper-resistant figure.

Strengthening Governance:

  • Voting Delay Mechanisms: Implementing time delays in voting helps in thorough assessment and reaction to proposals.
  • Multi-Sig Requirements for Critical Decisions: Multi-signature requirements create an additional layer of security for critical protocol changes.
  • Clear Proposal and Voting Processes: A well-defined process ensures transparency and integrity.

Anti-Front-Running Techniques:

  • Transaction Ordering Protection: This can prevent miners or others from exploiting transaction order.
  • Commit-Reveal Schemes: This can help to mask transaction intentions until execution.

Audits and Testing:

  • Regular, Third-Party Smart Contract Audits: Professional external audits can uncover hidden vulnerabilities.
  • Testnet Launches and Bug Bounties: These can uncover flaws before mainnet launch.
  • Stress Testing and Simulated Attacks: Simulating potential attacks helps to ensure that the defenses are adequate.

These practices collectively form a robust defense strategy, but it’s essential to recognize that the fast-evolving nature of DeFi and blockchain requires ongoing vigilance and adaptation to new emerging threats and challenges.

Importance of Continuous Monitoring:

The DeFi space is dynamic, rapidly evolving, and rife with both innovation and risk. Continuous monitoring of protocols and contracts is not merely a recommended practice; it’s a necessity. Through vigilant monitoring, unusual behaviors or anomalies can be detected early, reducing the potential impact of vulnerabilities or malicious activities.

Moreover, the cryptocurrency landscape often experiences high volatility and unpredictable market behaviors; by keeping an eye on protocol metrics and activities, teams can respond to changes more effectively.

Regularly Updating Contracts in Light of New Vulnerabilities:

Smart contracts, once deployed on blockchains like Ethereum, are immutable. However, developers can design contracts with upgradable patterns, allowing them to address detected vulnerabilities by migrating to a new, patched version.

As new vulnerabilities emerge and the ecosystem evolves, it’s imperative for developers to stay informed and ensure that their contracts incorporate the latest security standards and fixes.

The Evolving Nature of DeFi and Yield Farming:

Decentralized Finance (DeFi) and yield farming are at the forefront of blockchain innovation, bringing financial services to a global audience without intermediaries. However, with rapid growth and large sums of money involved, they’ve become prime targets for exploits and attacks. Their decentralized and open-source nature, while a strength, also exposes them to continuous scrutiny and potential vulnerabilities.

The Importance of Community Vigilance:

DeFi is as much about community as it is about technology. A vigilant and informed community can act as a first line of defense against potential threats. Users, developers, and stakeholders must foster a culture of collective responsibility, where potential vulnerabilities are shared, discussed, and addressed collaboratively.

Encouraging Developers to Prioritize Security for the Long-Term Health of the DeFi Ecosystem:

While DeFi offers lucrative opportunities, developers must prioritize security above all else. The sustainability and long-term health of the DeFi ecosystem depend on robust, secure, and trustworthy protocols.

By adopting best practices, staying informed about emerging threats, and engaging in continuous monitoring and improvement, the DeFi space can flourish while ensuring the safety of its users’ assets.

Want to know more about a comprehensive approach to security and bug bounty programs? Get in touch to request a demo with our team today!


Read more on HackenProof Blog