ACTOR: Action-Guided Kernel Fuzzing


Marius Fleischer, Dipanjan Das, and Priyanka Bose, University of California, Santa Barbara; Weiheng Bai and Kangjie Lu, University of Minnesota; Mathias Payer, EPFL; Christopher Kruegel and Giovanni Vigna, University of California, Santa Barbara


Fuzzing reliably and efficiently finds bugs in software, including operating system kernels. In general, higher code coverage leads to the discovery of more bugs. This is why most existing kernel fuzzers adopt strategies to generate a series of inputs that attempt to greedily maximize the amount of code that they exercise. However, simply executing code may not be sufficient to reveal bugs that require specific sequences of actions. Synthesizing inputs to trigger such bugs depends on two aspects: (i) the actions the executed code takes, and (ii) the order in which those actions are taken. An action is a high-level operation, such as a heap allocation, that is performed by the executed code and has a specific semantic meaning.

ACTOR, our action-guided kernel fuzzing framework, deviates from traditional methods. Instead of focusing on code coverage optimization, our approach generates fuzzer programs (inputs) that leverage our understanding of triggered actions and their temporal relationships. Specifically, we first capture actions that potentially operate on shared data structures at different times. Then, we synthesize programs using those actions as building blocks, guided by bug templates expressed in our domain-specific language.

We evaluated ACTOR on four different versions of the Linux kernel, including two well-tested and frequently updated long-term (5.4.206, 5.10.131) versions, a stable (5.19), and the latest (6.2-rc5) release. Our evaluation revealed a total of 41 previously unknown bugs, of which 9 have already been fixed. Interestingly, 15 (36.59%) of them were discovered in less than a day.

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@inproceedings {291291,
author = {Marius Fleischer and Dipanjan Das and Priyanka Bose and Weiheng Bai and Kangjie Lu and Mathias Payer and Christopher Kruegel and Giovanni Vigna},
title = {{ACTOR}: {Action-Guided} Kernel Fuzzing},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {5003--5020},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug

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