There are some compelling features in later version of surefire which lets one exclude/include tests based the content of a file, re-running of test case etc.
However introduced in Surefire 2.18 is also https://issues.apache.org/jira/browse/SUREFIRE-649. Which changed the convention of null properties to empty string values (""). This only applies to forked tests such as the MapReduce tests and cause a couple of them to fail because of functionality that is directly or indirectly dependent on the value being null. One such example is Configuration.substituteVars() and TaskLog.getBaseLogDir().
substituteVars() shows the issue when the getProperty returns empty String, skipping the getRaw(var) expression. One way to work around this could be
getBaseLogDir, similarly when returns an empty string the schematics of java.io.File differs dependent on whether parent is null or "". A null value is interpreted as new File(file); whereas "" will be interpreted as new File(defaultParent /* / */, file);
This could simply be addressed with