The truth about bug finders: They're essentially useless

In tests, they missed 98 percent of the vulnerabilities in researchers' code

Today's popular bug finders catch only about two percent of the vulnerabilities lurking in software code, researchers have found, despite the millions of dollars companies spend on them each year.

Bug finders are commonly used by software engineers to root out problems in code that could turn into vulnerabilities. They'll typically report back how many bugs they found -- what you don't know is how many were missed, leaving success rates an open mystery.

So researchers at New York University's Tandon School of Engineering in collaboration with the MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Northeastern University decided to find out how much they are missing.

LAVA, or Large-Scale Automated Vulnerability Addition, is a technique created by the researchers to test the limits of bug-finding tools in order to help developers improve them. It does that by intentionally adding vulnerabilities to a program’s source code.

“The only way to evaluate a bug finder is to control the number of bugs in a program, which is exactly what we do with LAVA,” said Brendan Dolan-Gavitt, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at NYU Tandon.

The system inserts known quantities of novel vulnerabilities that are synthetic yet possess many of the same attributes as computer bugs in the wild. It's automated, so it avoids the cost of manual, custom-designed vulnerabilities.

Instead, LAVA makes targeted edits in real programs’ source code to create hundreds of thousands of unstudied, highly realistic vulnerabilities that span the execution lifetime of a program, are embedded in normal control and data flow, and manifest only for a small fraction of inputs so as to avoid shutting the entire program down.

When tested with existing bug-finding software representing both the "fuzzing" and symbolic-execution approaches commonly used today, just two percent of the bugs created by LAVA were detected. This summer, the team plans to launch an open competition to allow developers and other researchers to request a LAVA-bugged version of a piece of software, attempt to find the bugs, and receive a score based on their accuracy.

“There has never been a performance benchmark at this scale in this area, and now we have one,” Dolan-Gavitt said. “Developers can compete for bragging rights on who has the highest success rate in bug-finding, and the programs that will come out of the process could be stronger.”

A paper detailing the research was presented recently at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy and published in the conference proceedings.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Katherine Noyes

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?