Fuzzing Hardware Like Software

Timothy Trippel, Kang G. Shin, Alex Chernyakhovsky, Garret Kelly, Dominic Rizzo, Matthew Hicks

Hardware flaws are permanent and potent: hardware cannot be patched once fabricated, and any flaws may undermine any software executing on top. Consequently, verification time dominates implementation time. The gold standard in hardware Design Verification (DV) is concentrated at two extremes: random dynamic verification and formal verification. Both struggle to root out the subtle flaws in complex hardware that often manifest as security vulnerabilities. The root problem with random verification is its undirected nature, making it inefficient, while formal verification is constrained by the state-space explosion problem, making it infeasible against complex designs. What is needed is a solution that is directed, yet under-constrained. Instead of making incremental improvements to existing DV approaches, we leverage the observation that existing software fuzzers already provide such a solution, and adapt them for hardware DV. Specifically, we translate RTL hardware to a software model and fuzz that model. The central challenge we address is how best to mitigate the differences between the hardware execution model and software execution model. This includes: 1) how to represent test cases, 2) what is the hardware equivalent of a crash, 3) what is an appropriate coverage metric, and 4) how to create a general-purpose fuzzing harness for hardware. To evaluate our approach, we fuzz four IP blocks from Google's OpenTitan SoC. Our experiments reveal a two orders-of-magnitude reduction in run time to achieve Finite State Machine (FSM) coverage over traditional dynamic verification schemes. Moreover, with our design-agnostic harness, we achieve over 88% HDL line coverage in three out of four of our designs -- even without any initial seeds.

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