Token-Level Fuzzing


Christopher Salls, UC Santa Barbara; Chani Jindal, Microsoft; Jake Corina, Seaside Security; Christopher Kruegel and Giovanni Vigna, UC Santa Barbara


Fuzzing has become a commonly used approach to identifying bugs in complex, real-world programs. However, interpreters are notoriously difficult to fuzz effectively, as they expect highly structured inputs, which are rarely produced by most fuzzing mutations. For this class of programs, grammar-based fuzzing has been shown to be effective. Tools based on this approach can find bugs in the code that is executed after parsing the interpreter inputs, by following language-specific rules when generating and mutating test cases.

Unfortunately, grammar-based fuzzing is often unable to discover subtle bugs associated with the parsing and handling of the language syntax. Additionally, if the grammar provided to the fuzzer is incomplete, or does not match the implementation completely, the fuzzer will fail to exercise important parts of the available functionality.

In this paper, we propose a new fuzzing technique, called Token-Level Fuzzing. Instead of applying mutations either at the byte level or at the grammar level, Token-Level Fuzzing applies mutations at the token level. Evolutionary fuzzers can leverage this technique to both generate inputs that are parsed successfully and generate inputs that do not conform strictly to the grammar. As a result, the proposed approach can find bugs that neither byte-level fuzzing nor grammar-based fuzzing can find. We evaluated Token-Level Fuzzing by modifying AFL and fuzzing four popular JavaScript engines, finding 29 previously unknown bugs, several of which could not be found with state-of-the-art byte-level and grammar-based fuzzers.

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@inproceedings {274551,
author = {Christopher Salls and Chani Jindal and Jake Corina and Christopher Kruegel and Giovanni Vigna},
title = {{Token-Level} Fuzzing},
booktitle = {30th USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 21)},
year = {2021},
isbn = {978-1-939133-24-3},
pages = {2795--2809},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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