MoonShine: Optimizing OS Fuzzer Seed Selection with Trace Distillation


Shankara Pailoor, Andrew Aday, and Suman Jana, Columbia University


OS fuzzers primarily test the system call interface between the OS kernel and user-level applications for security vulnerabilities. The effectiveness of evolutionary OS fuzzers depends heavily on the quality and diversity of their seed system call sequences. However, generating good seeds for OS fuzzing is a hard problem as the behavior of each system call depends heavily on the OS kernel state created by the previously executed system calls. Therefore, popular evolutionary OS fuzzers often rely on hand-coded rules for generating valid seed sequences of system calls that can bootstrap the fuzzing process. Unfortunately, this approach severely restricts the diversity of the seed system call sequences and therefore limits the effectiveness of the fuzzers.

In this paper, we develop MoonShine, a novel strategy for distilling seeds for OS fuzzers from system call traces of real-world programs while still maintaining the dependencies across the system calls. MoonShine leverages light-weight static analysis for efficiently detecting dependencies across different system calls.

We designed and implemented MoonShine as an extension to Syzkaller, a state-of-the-art evolutionary fuzzer for the Linux kernel. Starting from traces containing 2.8 million system calls gathered from 3,220 real-world programs, MoonShine distilled down to just over 14,000 calls while preserving 86% of the original code coverage. Using these distilled seed system call sequences, MoonShine was able to improve Syzkaller's achieved code coverage for the Linux kernel by 13% on average. MoonShine also found 14 new vulnerabilities in the Linux kernel that were not found by Syzkaller.

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@inproceedings {217573,
author = {Shankara Pailoor and Andrew Aday and Suman Jana},
title = {MoonShine: Optimizing {OS} Fuzzer Seed Selection with Trace Distillation},
booktitle = {27th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 18)},
year = {2018},
isbn = {978-1-931971-46-1},
address = {Baltimore, MD},
pages = {729--743},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},