Store Halfword Byte-Reverse Indexed

A Power Technical Blog

Fuzzing grub: part 1

Recently a set of 8 vulnerabilities were disclosed for the grub bootloader. I found 2 of them (CVE-2021-20225 and CVE-2021-20233), and contributed a number of other fixes for crashing bugs which we don't believe are exploitable. I found them by applying fuzz testing to grub. Here's how.

This is a multi-part series: I think it will end up being 4 posts. I'm hoping to cover:

  • Part 1 (this post): getting started with fuzzing grub
  • Part 2: going faster by doing lots more work
  • Part 3: fuzzing filesystems and more
  • Part 4: potential next steps and avenues for further work

Fuzz testing

Let's begin with part one: getting started with fuzzing grub.

One of my all-time favourite techniques for testing programs, especially programs that handle untrusted input, and especially-especially programs written in C that parse untrusted input, is fuzz testing. Fuzz testing (or fuzzing) is the process of repeatedly throwing randomised data at your program under test and seeing what it does.

(For the secure boot threat model, untrusted input is anything not validated by a cryptographic signature - so config files are untrusted for our purposes, but grub modules can only be loaded if they are signed, so they are trusted.)

Fuzzing has a long history and has recently received a new lease on life with coverage-guided fuzzing tools like AFL and more recently AFL++.

Building grub for AFL++

AFL++ is extremely easy to use ... if your program:

  1. is built as a single binary with a regular tool-chain
  2. runs as a regular user-space program on Linux
  3. reads a small input files from disk and then exits
  4. doesn't do anything fancy with threads or signals

Beyond that, it gets a bit more complex.

On the face of it, grub fails 3 of these 4 criteria:

  • grub is a highly modular program: it loads almost all of its functionality as modules which are linked as separate ELF relocatable files. (Not runnable programs, but not shared libraries either.)

  • grub usually runs as a bootloader, not as a regular app.

  • grub reads all sorts of things, ranging in size from small files to full disks. After loading most things, it returns to a command prompt rather than exiting.

Fortunately, these problems are not insurmountable.

We'll start with the 'running as a bootloader' problem. Here, grub helps us out a bit, because it provides an 'emulator' target, which runs most of grub functionality as a userspace program. It doesn't support actually booting anything (unsurprisingly) but it does support most other modules, including things like the config file parser.

We can configure grub to build the emulator. We disable the graphical frontend for now.

./configure --with-platform=emu --disable-grub-emu-sdl

At this point in building a fuzzing target, we'd normally try to configure with afl-cc to get the instrumentation that makes AFL(++) so powerful. However, the grub configure script is not a fan:

./configure --with-platform=emu --disable-grub-emu-sdl CC=$AFL_PATH/afl-cc
checking whether target compiler is working... no
configure: error: cannot compile for the target

It also doesn't work with afl-gcc.

Hmm, ok, so what if we just... lie a bit?

./configure --with-platform=emu --disable-grub-emu-sdl
make CC="$AFL_PATH/afl-gcc" 

(Normally I'd use CC=clang and afl-cc, but clang support is slightly broken upstream at the moment.)

After a small fix for gcc-10 compatibility, we get the userspace tools (potentially handy!) but a bunch of link errors for grub-emu:

/usr/bin/ld: disk.module:(.bss+0x20): multiple definition of `__afl_global_area_ptr'; kernel.exec:(.bss+0xe078): first defined here
/usr/bin/ld: regexp.module:(.bss+0x70): multiple definition of `__afl_global_area_ptr'; kernel.exec:(.bss+0xe078): first defined here
/usr/bin/ld: blocklist.module:(.bss+0x28): multiple definition of `__afl_global_area_ptr'; kernel.exec:(.bss+0xe078): first defined here

The problem is the module linkage that I talked about earlier: because there is a link stage of sorts for each module, some AFL support code gets linked in to both the grub kernel (kernel.exec) and each module (here disk.module, regexp.module, ...). The linker doesn't like it being in both, which is fair enough.

To get started, let's instead take advantage of the smarts of AFL++ using Qemu mode instead. This builds a specially instrumented qemu user-mode emulator that's capable of doing coverage-guided fuzzing on uninstrumented binaries at the cost of a significant performance penalty.

make clean

Now we have a grub-emu binary. If you run it directly, you'll pick up your system boot configuration, but the -d option can point it to a directory of your choosing. Let's set up one for fuzzing:

mkdir stage
echo "echo Hello sthbrx readers" > stage/grub.cfg
cd stage
../grub-core/grub-emu -d .

You probably won't see the message because the screen gets blanked at the end of running the config file, but if you pipe it through less or something you'll see it.

Running the fuzzer

So, that seems to work - let's create a test input and try fuzzing:

cd ..
mkdir in
echo "echo hi" > in/echo-hi

cd stage
# -Q qemu mode
# -M main fuzzer
# -d don't do deterministic steps (too slow for a text format)
# -f create file grub.cfg
$AFL_PATH/afl-fuzz -Q -i ../in -o ../out -M main -d -- ../grub-core/grub-emu -d .


[-] The program took more than 1000 ms to process one of the initial test cases.
    This is bad news; raising the limit with the -t option is possible, but
    will probably make the fuzzing process extremely slow.

    If this test case is just a fluke, the other option is to just avoid it
    altogether, and find one that is less of a CPU hog.

[-] PROGRAM ABORT : Test case 'id:000000,time:0,orig:echo-hi' results in a timeout
         Location : perform_dry_run(), src/afl-fuzz-init.c:866

What we're seeing here (and indeed what you can observe if you run grub-emu directly) is that grub-emu isn't exiting when it's done. It's waiting for more input, and will keep waiting for input until it's killed by afl-fuzz.

We need to patch grub to sort that out. It's on my GitHub.

Apply that, rebuild with FUZZING_BUILD_MODE_UNSAFE_FOR_PRODUCTION, and voila:

cd ..
cd stage
$AFL_PATH/afl-fuzz -Q -i ../in -o ../out -M main -d -f grub.cfg -- ../grub-core/grub-emu -d .

And fuzzing is happening!

afl-fuzz fuzzing grub, showing fuzzing happening

This is enough to find some of the (now-fixed) bugs in the grub config file parsing!

Fuzzing beyond the config file

You can also extend this to fuzzing other things that don't require the graphical UI, such as grub's transparent decompression support:

cd ..
rm -rf in out stage
mkdir in stage
echo hi > in/hi
gzip in/hi
cd stage
echo "cat thefile" > grub.cfg
$AFL_PATH/afl-fuzz -Q -i ../in -o ../out -M main -f thefile -- ../grub-core/grub-emu -d .

You should be able to find a hang pretty quickly with this, an as-yet-unfixed bug where grub will print output forever from a corrupt file: (your mileage may vary, as will the paths.)

cp ../out/main/hangs/id:000000,src:000000,time:43383,op:havoc,rep:16 thefile
../grub-core/grub-emu -d . | less # observe this going on forever

zcat, on the other hand, reports it as simply corrupt:

$ zcat thefile

gzip: thefile: invalid compressed data--format violated

(Feel free to fix that and send a patch to the list!)

That wraps up part 1. Eventually I'll be back with part 2, where I explain the hoops to jump through to go faster with the afl-cc instrumentation.