Repairing COTS Router Firmware without Access to Source Code or Test Suites: A Case Study in Evolutionary Software Repair 

Originally published on

Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference, GECCO 2015, Madrid, Spain, July 11-15, 2015, Companion Material Proceedings (best paper)


Eric M. Schulte, Westley Weimer and Stephanie Forrest


The speed with which newly discovered software vulnerabilities are patched is a critical factor in mitigating the harm caused by subsequent exploits. Unfortunately, software vendors are often slow or unwilling to patch vulnerabilities, especially in embedded systems which frequently have no mechanism for updating factory-installed firmware. The situation is particularly dire for commercial off the shelf (COTS) software users, who lack source code and are wholly dependent on patches released by the vendor.

We propose a solution in which the vulnerabilities drive an automated evolutionary computation repair process capable of directly patching embedded systems firmware. Our approach does not require access to source code, regression tests, or any participation from the software vendor. Instead, we present an interactive evolutionary algorithm that searches for patches that resolve target vulnerabilities while relying heavily on post-evolution difference minimization to remove most regressions. Extensions to prior work in evolutionary program repair include: repairing vulnerabilities in COTS router firmware; handling stripped MIPS executables; operating without fault localization information; operating without a regression test suite; and incorporating user interaction into the evolutionary repair process.

We demonstrate this method by repairing two well-known vulnerabilities in version 4 of NETGEAR’s WNDR3700 wireless router before NETGEAR released patches publicly for the vulnerabilities. Without fault localization we are able to find repair edits that are not located on execution traces. Without the advantage of regression tests to guide the search, we find that 80% of repairs of the example vulnerabilities retain program functionality after minimization. With minimal user interaction to demonstrate required functionality, 100% of the proposed repairs were able to address the vulnerabilities while retaining required functionality.

Contact Us

Get a personally guided tour of our solution offerings. 

Contact US