MultiFuzz: A Multi-Stream Fuzzer For Testing Monolithic Firmware


Michael Chesser, The University of Adelaide and Data61 CSIRO, Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre; Surya Nepal, Data61 CSIRO, Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre; Damith C. Ranasinghe, The University of Adelaide


Rapid embedded device proliferation is creating new targets and opportunities for adversaries. However, the complex interactions between firmware and hardware pose challenges to applying automated testing, such as fuzzing. State-of-the-art methods re-host firmware in emulators and facilitate complex interactions with hardware by provisioning for inputs from a diversity of methods (such as interrupts) from a plethora of devices (such as modems). We recognize a significant disconnect between how a fuzzer generates inputs (as a monolithic file) and how the inputs are consumed during re-hosted execution (as a stream, in slices, per peripheral). We demonstrate the disconnect to significantly impact a fuzzer's effectiveness at discovering inputs that explore deeper code and bugs.

We rethink the input generation process for fuzzing monolithic firmware and propose a new approach—multi-stream input generation and representation; inputs are now a collection of independent streams, one for each peripheral. We demonstrate the versatility and effectiveness of our approach by implementing: i) stream specific mutation strategies; ii) efficient methods for generating useful values for peripherals; iii) enhancing the use of information learned during fuzzing; and iv) improving a fuzzer's ability to handle roadblocks. We design and build a new fuzzer, MULTIFUZZ, for testing monolithic firmware and evaluate our approach on synthetic and real-world targets. MULTIFUZZ passes all 66 unit tests from a benchmark consisting of 46 synthetic binaries targeting a diverse set of microcontrollers. On an evaluation with 23 real-world firmware targets, MULTIFUZZ outperforms the state-of-the-art fuzzers Fuzzware and Ember-IO. MULTIFUZZ reaches significantly more code on 14 out of the 23 firmware targets and similar coverage on the remainder. Further, MULTIFUZZ discovered 18 new bugs on real-world targets, many thoroughly tested by previous fuzzers.

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