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Introduction to Binary Fuzzing

Fuzzing is a powerful software testing technique that deliberately introduces chaos into your applications. By bombarding your code with unexpected or malformed inputs, fuzzing reveals hidden bugs and security vulnerabilities that might otherwise go unnoticed. This module will explore the history, theory, and practical applications of fuzzing, teaching you how to use this technique to find critical issues in software.


Created by PandaSt0rm

Hard Offensive


This module provides a comprehensive introduction of fuzzing techniques for binary software security and reliability. Key areas covered include:

  • History and Evolution of Fuzzing: Explore the origins of fuzzing and delve into its various iterations, including black-box, white-box, and grey-box approaches.
  • The Benefits of Fuzzing: Understand the advantages of fuzzing over manual testing, uncovering hidden bugs, and expanding test coverage. You'll also learn about potential limitations.
  • Practical Demonstrations: Learn about fuzzer construction and see fuzzing in action through practical examples.
  • Fuzzing for Diverse Languages and Systems: Discover how to apply fuzzing techniques and tools to a wide range of programming languages and extend its use to firmware and even hardware.
  • Sanitizers: Learn about code sanitizers (e.g., ASan) that find bugs your fuzzer might miss.
  • Black-Box, White-Box, and Grey-Box Fuzzing: Differentiate between these strategies, their advantages, and scenarios where each approach is most applicable.
  • Fuzzing Tools: Gain hands-on experience with popular tools like Radamsa, AFL, libFuzzer, and KLEE.

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • Describe the principles of fuzzing and its role in software testing.
  • Implement several fuzzers.
  • Select appropriate fuzzing techniques based on your software and testing goals.
  • Integrate fuzzing into your development and security practices.

NB Module Requirements:

  • A working knowledge of linux (bash) and package managers (eg, APT),
  • C++ and Python are used frequently throughout this module, an understanding of python is recommended but a proficiency in C/C++ is required.
  • A working knowledge of pentesting.

Recommended Modules to complete before this one:


Fuzzing, or fuzz testing, is an automated software testing technique that provides invalid, unexpected, or random data as input to a computer program. The primary objective of fuzzing is to discover coding errors and security loopholes within software. By identifying these vulnerabilities, developers can enhance the security and stability of their programs before malicious entities exploit them.

The core process of fuzzing involves three primary steps:

  1. Input Generation: Fuzzing begins with the generation of test data (fuzz). Depending on the fuzzing strategy, this data can range from entirely random bytes to structured inputs that partially adhere to the expected format. The key is that the input is varied and can include values developers might not have considered during the software's design phase.
  2. Test Execution: The generated inputs are then fed into the target software system, and the system's behaviour is monitored. This step is automated and can involve thousands to millions of test cases. The execution environment is often isolated or sandboxed to prevent any potential negative impacts from the testing process.
  3. Result Analysis: After the test execution, the outcomes are analysed to identify abnormal behaviour, such as crashes, unhandled exceptions, or memory leaks. These anomalies may indicate potential vulnerabilities or defects. Tools used for fuzzing typically log detailed information about the test cases that led to these failures, aiding developers in debugging the issues.

History and Evolution of Fuzzing

The inception of fuzzing can be traced back to 1989, under the visionary guidance of Professor Barton Miller at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Often heralded as the "father of fuzzing," Miller's pioneering experiment aimed to assess the robustness of UNIX applications by feeding them a stream of random data. This method tested the applications' resilience against unexpected or malformed inputs. The results were eye-opening, revealing that a considerable fraction of the tested software failed to handle these inputs gracefully, resulting in crashes and various forms of undefined behaviour. This seminal work coined the term “fuzz testing” and established fuzzing as a critical methodology in software testing.

In the years following Miller's initial exploration, fuzzing began to evolve. Initially, fuzzing tools relied heavily on random input generation, a method that, while effective at finding fundamental issues, suffered from inefficiency and a lack of sophistication. This era of dumb fuzzers or black-box fuzzers laid the groundwork for further innovation.

Black Box Fuzzing

The mid-1990s marked a significant evolution with the introduction of mutation-based fuzzing by a research project at the University of California, Berkeley. This approach, which involved mutating existing valid inputs to create a more diverse set of test cases, signalled a shift towards more targeted testing strategies. Furthermore, the late 1990s and early 2000s saw the development of influential tools like Spike and Peach Fuzzer, which introduced structured approaches to fuzzing, focusing on network protocols and allowing for the definition of specific data formats for more precise testing.

Mutation-based fuzzers operate by altering existing data sets to create new test inputs. This process involves taking valid inputs—often sourced from sample files, captured network traffic, or user inputs—and applying a series of mutations to generate potentially malformed outputs. These mutations can range from flipping bits and inserting random bytes to deleting or shuffling data sections.

The key advantage of mutation-based fuzzing lies in its simplicity and minimal requirements for upfront knowledge. Since it starts with valid inputs, this approach can quickly generate a wide variety of test cases, making it highly effective for exploring the robustness of software against unexpected or corrupted inputs. However, the effectiveness of mutation-based fuzzers can be somewhat limited by their lack of awareness regarding the application's expected input structure, potentially leading to a lower hit rate of meaningful vulnerabilities.

In contrast, generation-based fuzzers generate test inputs from scratch based on predefined models or specifications that describe the target software's format, protocol, or API. This approach requires a more in-depth initial setup, including the creation or availability of a comprehensive model that details valid input structures—generation-based fuzzers craft inputs designed to traverse specific paths within the software or target known vulnerability areas.

The strength of generation-based fuzzing lies in its ability to produce highly structured and relevant test cases that can probe deeper into the software's logic and potential security flaws. This method is particularly effective for complex applications with well-defined input formats or protocols, such as network services, file parsers, and web APIs. However, the requirement for detailed models and the increased setup time can be viewed as drawbacks, particularly in agile testing environments or when such specifications are not readily available.

White Box Fuzzing

One of the most transformative advancements in fuzzing came with the development of smart fuzzers or white-box fuzzers. These tools leverage knowledge about a program's input structure, internal workings, and even the programming language to generate intelligent, targeted inputs. Techniques such as symbolic execution and genetic algorithms have significantly enhanced fuzzing's effectiveness, moving beyond simple trial-and-error to a more nuanced exploration of software vulnerabilities.

Symbolic execution is a foundational technique used in white-box fuzzing, where the program is executed with symbolic inputs instead of concrete values. This approach allows the fuzzer to analytically explore the program's execution paths, mapping out how inputs relate to paths and identifying conditions under which certain paths are executed.

By systematically solving the constraints that lead to different parts of the code, symbolic execution helps generate inputs that cover a wide range of execution paths, including those that could lead to vulnerabilities.

Grey Box Fuzzing

Grey-box fuzzing occupies a unique position in the spectrum of software testing techniques, bridging the gap between the comprehensive insight of white-box fuzzing and the external perspective of black-box fuzzing. Unlike white-box methods, which require detailed knowledge of a program's internal workings, or black-box approaches that operate without insight, grey-box fuzzing utilises partial knowledge about the software's internals.

This typically includes information about code execution paths but does not necessitate full access to the source code. Grey-box fuzzing's strength lies in its ability to efficiently uncover vulnerabilities by intelligently navigating the software's structure with limited information, making it a highly effective and practical choice for many security testing scenarios.

Coverage-guided fuzzing exemplifies this balanced approach. Tools like AFL(American Fuzzy Lop) and libFuzzer have revolutionised the field by monitoring software execution to pinpoint which parts of the code are activated by test inputs. This method enhances the testing process by directing efforts towards unexplored areas of the code, significantly increasing the likelihood of discovering latent vulnerabilities. Through its focus on maximising code coverage, coverage-guided fuzzing demonstrates remarkable efficacy in exposing complex bugs, affirming its value across diverse software testing landscapes.

Web Fuzzing

Fuzzing has progressed technologically and conceptually, with its adoption expanding into web applications and beyond. Tools like WebScarab and Burp Suite have adapted fuzzing to the needs of web security, testing the vulnerabilities of web browsers and servers.

Moreover, the 2010s brought a significant breakthrough by introducing cloud-based fuzzing platforms, offering on-demand access to powerful tools and infrastructure, and democratising fuzzing for a broader audience.

The future of fuzzing

Looking to the future, integrating artificial intelligence and machine learning into fuzzing promises to revolutionise the field further. Researchers are exploring ways to use AI to generate more intelligent test cases, identify vulnerabilities more efficiently, and even automate the bug-fixing process, pointing to a future where fuzzing becomes an even more integral part of software development and security testing.

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