Tag Archives: fuzzing

Using American Fuzzy Lop on network clients

Previously I’ve fuzzed hivex and nbdkit using my favourite fuzzing tool, Michał Zalewski’s American Fuzzy Lop (AFL).

AFL works by creating test cases which are files on disk, and then feeding those to programs which have been specially compiled so that AFL can trace into them and find out which parts of the code are run by the test case. It then adjusts the test cases and repeats, aiming to run more parts of the code and find ways to crash the program.

This works well for programs that parse files (like hivex, but also binary parsers of all sorts and XML parsers and similar). It can also be used to fuzz some servers where you can feed a file to the server and discard anything the server sends back. In nbdkit we can use the nbdkit -s option to do exactly this, making it easy to fuzz.

However it’s not obvious how you could use this to fuzz network clients. As readers will know we’ve been writing a new NBD client library called libnbd. But can we fuzz this? And find bugs? As it happens yes, and ooops — yes — AFL found a remote code execution bug allowing complete takeover of the client by a malicious server.

The trick to fuzzing a network client is to do the server thing in reverse. We set up a phony server which feeds the test case back to the client socket, while discarding anything that the client writes:


This is wrapped up into a single wrapper program which takes the test case on the command line and forks itself to make the client and server sides connected by a socket. This allows easy integration into an AFL workflow.

We found our Very Serious Bug within 3 days of fuzzing.


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Finding bugs in hivex with afl-fuzzer

Michał Zalewski’s blog has been even more interesting than usual lately: first he discovered that running “strings” on untrusted files can be exploitable, then he wrote an interesting article about pulling JPEG files out of thin air. In both cases he used his very practical fuzzer, American fuzzy lop (abbreviated to “afl”, also a breed of rabbit in case you were wondering).

It’s a very practical, easy to use, and dangerously good fuzzer. I’ve been running it on hivex — my library for reading the Windows registry, and found 3 crasher bugs within 48 hours (one of them within minutes) [Update: This turned out to be user error because I was mixing a newly built binary with the installed libhivex.so library. However it still demonstrated its effectiveness at finding bugs.]

Here’s how you too can exploit hivex and many other programs:

  1. Install afl (Fedora package review).
  2. Configure and build hivex like this:
    CC=/usr/bin/afl-gcc ./configure
  3. Copy the minimal hive to a new directory:
    mkdir input
    cp lib/minimal input/
  4. Run afl-fuzz:
    libtool --mode=execute afl-fuzz -i input -o output -f testme ./xml/hivexml testme

Sit back and watch afl find inputs that crash your program (see the output/crashes directory that afl creates).

Now my day will be spent examining the hivex bugs and submitting patches and/or CVEs for them.


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