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80c7488 Oct 27, 2017
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How syzkaller works

Below is the generic descriptions of how syzkaller works. Check this for Linux kernel specific things.

Overview

The process structure for the syzkaller system is shown in the following diagram; red labels indicate corresponding configuration options.

Process structure for syzkaller

The syz-manager process starts, monitors and restarts several VM instances, and starts a syz-fuzzer process inside of the VMs. It is responsible for persistent corpus and crash storage. As opposed to syz-fuzzer processes, it runs on a host with stable kernel which does not experience white-noise fuzzer load.

The syz-fuzzer process runs inside of presumably unstable VMs. The syz-fuzzer guides fuzzing process itself (input generation, mutation, minimization, etc) and sends inputs that trigger new coverage back to the syz-manager process via RPC. It also starts transient syz-executor processes.

Each syz-executor process executes a single input (a sequence of syscalls). It accepts the program to execute from the syz-fuzzer process and sends results back. It is designed to be as simple as possible (to not interfere with fuzzing process), written in C++, compiled as static binary and uses shared memory for communication.

Syscall descriptions

The syz-fuzzer process generates programs to be executed by syz-executor based on syscall descriptions described here.

Crash reports

When syzkaller finds a crasher, it saves information about it into workdir/crashes directory. The directory contains one subdirectory per unique crash type. Each subdirectory contains a description file with a unique string identifying the crash (intended for bug identification and deduplication); and up to 100 logN and reportN files, one pair per test machine crash:

 - crashes/
   - 6e512290efa36515a7a27e53623304d20d1c3e
     - description
     - log0
     - report0
     - log1
     - report1
     ...
   - 77c578906abe311d06227b9dc3bffa4c52676f
     - description
     - log0
     - report0
     ...

Descriptions are extracted using a set of regular expressions. This set may need to be extended if you are using a different kernel architecture, or are just seeing a previously unseen kernel error messages.

logN files contain raw syzkaller logs and include kernel console output as well as programs executed before the crash. These logs can be fed to syz-repro tool for crash location and minimization, or to syz-execprog tool for manual localization. reportN files contain post-processed and symbolized kernel crash reports (e.g. a KASAN report). Normally you need just 1 pair of these files (i.e. log0 and report0), because they all presumably describe the same kernel bug. However, syzkaller saves up to 100 of them for the case when the crash is poorly reproducible, or if you just want to look at a set of crash reports to infer some similarities or differences.

There are 3 special types of crashes:

  • no output from test machine: the test machine produces no output whatsoever
  • lost connection to test machine: the ssh connection to the machine was unexpectedly closed
  • test machine is not executing programs: the machine looks alive, but no test programs were executed for long period of time

Most likely you won't see reportN files for these crashes (e.g. if there is no output from the test machine, there is nothing to put into report). Sometimes these crashes indicate a bug in syzkaller itself (especially if you see a Go panic message in the logs). However, frequently they mean a kernel lockup or something similarly bad (here are just a few examples of bugs found this way: 1, 2, 3).