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!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
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

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill

MSI GT75 TITAN

I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

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.

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?