fuzz testing (fuzzing)

Fuzz testing or fuzzing is a software testing technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks by inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the system in an attempt to make it crash. If a vulnerability is found, a tool called a fuzz tester (or fuzzer), indicates potential causes. Fuzz testing was originally developed by Barton Miller at the University of Wisconsin in 1989.

Fuzzers work best for problems that can cause a program to crash, such as buffer overflow, cross-site scripting, denial of service attacks, format bugs and SQL injection. These schemes are often used by malicious hackers intent on wreaking the greatest possible amount of havoc in the least possible time. Fuzz testing is less effective for dealing with security threats that do not cause program crashes, such as spyware, some viruses, worms, Trojans and keyloggers.

Fuzz testing is simple and offers a high benefit-to-cost ratio. Fuzz testing can often reveal defects that are overlooked when software is written and debugged. Nevertheless, fuzz testing usually finds only the most serious faults. Fuzz testing alone cannot provide a complete picture of the overall security, quality or effectiveness of a program in a particular situation or application. Fuzzers are most effective when used in conjunction with extensive black box testing, beta testing and other proven debugging methods.

This was last updated in March 2010

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