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Fuzzing Sudo

Fuzz testing is an automated method of finding bugs (and potential security vulnerabilities) by passing random input to a program or function. It is often performed in conjunction with a tool that can detect incorrect or undefined behavior, such as out-of-bounds access (buffer overflow/underflow), use of uninitialized data, use of memory after it has been freed, and freeing the same memory more than once. For testing sudo, we use both Address Sanitizer (ASAN) and Undefined Behavior Sanitizer (UBSAN) to catch these kind of bugs. In addition to potential security bugs, ASAN also identifies memory leaks.

Sudo uses coverage-guided fuzzing which starts with a seed corpus of sample inputs and mutates that input in an attempt to trigger bugs. This is generally more effective than completely random input. While multiple fuzzing libraries are supported, LLVM’s libFuzzer is used by default.

Building sudo with fuzz testing support

To build sudo with fuzzing support you must use the --enable-fuzzer and --enable-sanitizer configure options. Currently, this requires the Clang C compiler. For best results, Clang 11 or higher is recommended. It is not currently possible to do automated fuzz testing with sudo using gcc.

To use a different fuzzing library such as AFL++ or Honggfuzz, the --enable-fuzzer-engine configure option can be used to specify the library to link with. Fuzzing libraries that rely on the C++ run-time may need the --enable-fuzzer-linker configure option to link with a C++ compiler instead of a C compiler. For simplicity’s sake, we will only describe using libFuzzer, which is the default.

In the simplest case, assuming Clang 11 is installed on the system as clang-11, building sudo with fuzzing support is a simple matter of running:

$ ./configure CC=clang-11 --enable-fuzzer --enable-sanitizer
$ make

You can verify that the fuzzers build and run by using the check-fuzzer Makefile target:

$ make check-fuzzer

This will run the fuzz targets with the seed corpora as input and exit.

Sudo built with fuzzing support should not be used in a production environment. The sanitizers are influenced by environment variables that make it unsafe to use a sudo binary with sanitizer or fuzzing support for anything other than testing.

Available fuzzers

Sudo comes with several fuzzing targets which exercise different parts of the code base.

Fuzzes parsing of the new-style (JSON) I/O info log files that contain information about the command that was run.
Fuzzes parsing of the legacy I/O info log files that contain information about the command that was run.
Fuzzes parsing of the I/O log timing file. This file contains the I/O log event type, timing information and other metadata for I/O log events.
Fuzzes parsing of the sudo_logsrvd.conf file (.ini file format).
Fuzzes the policy plugin API used by the sudo front-end. The seed corpus includes an entry to reproduce CVE-2021-3156.
Fuzzes parsing of the sudo.conf file.
Fuzzes parsing of the sudoers policy file.
Fuzzes parsing of the LDIF-format policy data for the sudoers LDAP back-end.

Running the fuzzers

Once you have built sudo with fuzzing support it is possible to run the various fuzzing targets. The sudo Makefile includes a top-level fuzz target that can be used to run all the fuzzers serially. For example:

$ make fuzz

will run all the fuzzing targets with a maximum input length of 4096 for 8192 iterations each. You can control the input length and number of iterations using the FUZZ_MAX_LEN and FUZZ_RUNS Makefile variables. For instance, to do a quick fuzzing run with only 128 iterations:

$ make FUZZ_RUNS=128 fuzz

As the fuzzer runs, it will add to the fuzzing corpus for each target. This allows the fuzzer to make incremental improvements instead of starting from the seed corpus each time. However, it can take up a substantial amount of space when run for a long time.

To run a specific fuzzer, use the “run-fuzzer-name” Makefile target in the appropriate directory. For example, to run fuzz_sudoers from the root of the sudo source tree:

$ make -C plugins/sudoers run-fuzz_sudoers

Fuzzing at scale with OSS-Fuzz

The OSS-Fuzz project makes it possible to fuzz a large number of Open Source projects at scale. The longer a fuzzing session is allowed to run, the greater the chance is of finding a bug. OSS-Fuzz uses a cluster of cloud-based VMs to fuzz different projects. When a bug is detected, it reports the issue along with a reproducer test case (if possible).

Bugs found by OSS-Fuzz are available on Sudo’s OSS-Fuzz issue tracker. Note that bugs are only made public when they are fixed or after 90 days, whichever comes first. This gives us time to triage and fix bugs as they are discovered.

Running OSS-Fuzz in a container

It is also possible to run OSS-Fuzz yourself in a container. This is often the easiest way to run the fuzzers since you don’t need to install a specific compiler or worry about other build dependencies. Everything you need is provided in the container. The only real dependency is that you have Docker installed on the system.

To run your own instance of OSS-Fuzz, first check out the current version from the OSS-Fuzz GitHub:

$ git clone

Then build the container. In this example, we are using ASAN as the sanitizer.

$ python3 infra/ build_image sudoers
$ python3 infra/ build_fuzzers --sanitizer address sudoers
$ python3 infra/ check_build sudoers

Once the container is built, you can start a fuzzing session:

$ python3 infra/ run_fuzzer sudoers <fuzz_target>

where <fuzz_target> is one of the fuzzers listed above. See the help text for the run_fuzzer sub-command for more information on how to run fuzz targets within a container with oss-fuzz.

By default, the fuzzers will run indefinitely until they detect a problem. You can restrict the amount of time a fuzzer runs by passing it the -max_total_time option. For example, to limit the fuzzing run to one hour (3600 seconds):

$ python3 infra/ run_fuzzer sudoers <fuzz_target> \
    -- -max_total_time=3600

As with running the fuzzers manually, the test corpus will be updated as the fuzzer runs. Over long periods of time, this can add up, so be sure that you have sufficient disk space if you want to perform long fuzzing runs.

It is also possible to run the container interactively to build and fuzz sudo manually:

$ python3 infra/ shell sudoers
[ starts the container with a root shell]
# compile

This will install the fuzz targets, dictionary files and seed corpora to the /out directory in the container. This directory is also accessible from outside the container from the top of the oss-fuzz tree as build/out/sudoers. You can then run the fuzz target manually. For example, to run fuzz_policy with the provided dictionary and seed corpus:

# cd /out
# mkdir /tmp/fuzz_policy_corpus
# unzip -o -d /tmp/fuzz_policy_corpus/
# ./fuzz_policy /tmp/fuzz_policy_corpus -dict=fuzz_policy.dict

It is also possible to install gdb in the container to debug problems found by the fuzzers. However, it is often easier to copy the unit test cases produced by fuzzing from the container to your development environment.

Finding bugs

If a fuzzer detects a crash or if a fuzz target takes too long to complete, the problematic input will be stored in a file for later analysis. Input files are named by their SHA-1 digest with a prefix such as “crash”, “oom”, “slow-unit” or “timeout” depending on the problem. For example:


The fuzz target may be run manually with the input file as an argument to reproduce the problem.

One of the goals for fuzzing sudo was to be able to find bugs like CVE-2021-3156. Since the seed corpus includes a test for this, we can verify that the fuzzer is capable of finding the bug by reverting the fix and running the fuzzer.

With the fix reverted, the fuzz_policy fuzzer will detect the bug as soon as it processes the policy.3 seed file:

==32423==ERROR: AddressSanitizer: heap-buffer-overflow on address
0x60200002ae77 at pc 0x55e06a49e76d bp 0x7ffc4c94cb60 sp 0x7ffc4c94cb58
READ of size 1 at 0x60200002ae77 thread T0
    #0 0x55e06a49e76c in strlcpy_unescape plugins/sudoers/strlcpy_unesc.c:39:18
    #1 0x55e06a49eb39 in strvec_join plugins/sudoers/strvec_join.c:60:6
    #2 0x55e06a4a473f in set_cmnd plugins/sudoers/sudoers.c
    #3 0x55e06a4a473f in sudoers_policy_main plugins/sudoers/sudoers.c:449:19
    #4 0x55e06a49c4e2 in sudoers_policy_check plugins/sudoers/policy.c:1130:11
artifact_prefix='./'; Test unit written to

The full backtrace from the fuzzer also includes information about where the memory was allocated and a dump of the CPU registers. In many cases, the backtrace and allocation information are sufficient to understand the source of the bug. If more debugging is needed, the input file can be used in conjunction with a debugger, such as gdb or lldb, to get at the root of the problem.

Continuous Integration

To find bugs as soon as possible after they are introduced, sudo uses CIFuzz to perform a short fuzzing run after every commit using the latest test corpus from OSS-Fuzz. You can view the results in the CIFuzz workflow of the sudo GitHub repo.

A failed workflow usually indicates a compilation error, a memory leak, or a bug of some kind. If a failure does occur, the output of the fuzzers and the input that triggered the error are attached to the workflow in the form of a zip file. This can be used to reproduce the problem manually.