kAFL: Hardware-Assisted Feedback Fuzzing for OS Kernels

Sergej Schumilo, Cornelius Aschermann, Robert Gawlik, Sebastian Schinzel, Thorsten Holz

26th USENIX Security Symposium, Vancouver, Canada, August 2017


Many kinds of memory safety vulnerabilities have been endangering software systems for decades. Amongst other approaches, fuzzing is a promising technique to unveil various software faults. Recently, feedback-guided fuzzing demonstrated its power, producing a steady stream of security-critical software bugs. Most fuzzing efforts—especially feedback fuzzing—are limited to user space components of an operating system (OS), although bugs in kernel components are more severe, because they allow an attacker to gain access to a system with full privileges. Unfortunately, kernel components are difficult to fuzz as feedback mechanisms (i.e., guided code coverage) cannot be easily applied. Additionally, non-determinism due to interrupts, kernel threads, statefulness, and similar mechanisms poses problems. Furthermore, if a process fuzzes its own kernel, a kernel crash highly impacts the performance of the fuzzer as the OS needs to reboot.

In this paper, we approach the problem of coverage-guided kernel fuzzing in an OS-independent and hardware-assisted way: We utilize a hypervisor and Intel’s Processor Trace (PT) technology. This allows us to remain independent of the target OS as we just require a small user space component that interacts with the targeted OS. As a result, our approach introduces almost no performance overhead, even in cases where the OS crashes, and performs up to 17,000 executions per second on an off-the-shelf laptop. We developed a framework called kernel-AFL (kAFL) to assess the security of Linux, macOS, and Windows kernel components. Among many crashes, we uncovered several flaws in the ext4 driver for Linux, the HFS and APFS file system of macOS, and the NTFS driver of Windows.


Tags: fuzzing