Category Archives: Reading Group

Scheduled Paper: December 2, 2015

FlowDroid: precise context, flow, field, object-sensitive and lifecycle-aware taint analysis for Android apps

Abstract–Today’s smartphones are a ubiquitous source of private and confidential data. At the same time, smartphone users are plagued by carelessly programmed apps that leak important data by accident, and by malicious apps that exploit their given privileges to copy such data intentionally. While existing static taint-analysis approaches have the potential of detecting such data leaks ahead of time, all approaches for Android use a number of coarse-grain approximations that can yield high numbers of missed leaks and false alarms.

In this work we thus present FlowDroid, a novel and highly precise static taint analysis for Android applications. A precise model of Android’s lifecycle allows the analysis to properly handle callbacks invoked by the Android framework, while context, flow, field and object-sensitivity allows the analysis to reduce the number of false alarms. Novel on-demand algorithms help FlowDroid maintain high efficiency and precision at the same time.

We also propose DroidBench, an open test suite for evaluating the effectiveness and accuracy of taint-analysis tools specifically for Android apps. As we show through a set of experiments using SecuriBench Micro, DroidBench, and a set of well-known Android test applications, FlowDroid finds a very high fraction of data leaks while keeping the rate of false positives low. On DroidBench, FlowDroid achieves 93% recall and 86% precision, greatly outperforming the commercial tools IBM AppScan Source and Fortify SCA. FlowDroid successfully finds leaks in a subset of 500 apps from Google Play and about 1,000 malware apps from the VirusShare project.

Scheduled Paper: November 11, 2015

Interactively verifying absence of explicit information flows in Android apps

Abstract–App stores are increasingly the preferred mechanism for distributing software, including mobile apps (Google Play), desktop apps (Mac App Store and Ubuntu Software Center), computer games (the Steam Store), and browser extensions (Chrome Web Store). The centralized nature of these stores has important implications for security. While app stores have unprecedented ability to audit apps, users now trust hosted apps, making them more vulnerable to malware that evades detection and finds its way onto the app store. Sound static explicit information flow analysis has the potential to significantly aid human auditors, but it is handicapped by high false positive rates. Instead, auditors currently rely on a combination of dynamic analysis (which is unsound) and lightweight static analysis (which cannot identify information flows) to help detect malicious behaviors. We propose a process for producing apps certified to be free of malicious explicit information flows. In practice, imprecision in the reachability analysis is a major source of false positive information flows that are difficult to understand and discharge. In our approach, the developer provides tests that specify what code is reachable, allowing the static analysis to restrict its search to tested code. The app hosted on the store is instrumented to enforce the provided specification (i.e., executing untested code terminates the app). We use abductive inference to minimize the necessary instrumentation, and then interact with the developer to ensure that the instrumentation only cuts unreachable code. We demonstrate the effectiveness of our approach in verifying a corpus of 77 Android apps—our interactive verification process successfully discharges 11 out of the 12 false positives.

Scheduled Paper: October 14, 2015

Do Security Patterns Really Help Designers?

Abstract–Security patterns are well-known solutions to security-specific problems. They are often claimed to benefit designers without much security expertise. We have performed an empirical study to investigate whether the usage of security patterns by such an audience leads to a more secure design, or to an increased productivity of the designers. Our study involved 32 teams of master students enrolled in a course on software architecture, working on the design of a realisticallysized banking system. Irrespective of whether the teams were using security patterns, we have not been able to detect a difference between the two treatment groups. However, the teams prefer to work with the support of security patterns.

Scheduled Paper: September 23 & 30, 2015

Towards Reactive Programming for Object-oriented Applications

Abstract — Reactive applications are difficult to implement. Traditional solutions based on event systems and the Observer pattern have a number of inconveniences, but programmers bear them in return for the benefits of OO design. On the other hand, reactive approaches based on automatic updates of dependencies – like functional reactive programming and dataflow languages – provide undoubted advantages but do not fit well with mutable objects.

In this paper, we provide a research roadmap to overcome the limitations of the current approaches and to support reactive applications in the OO setting. To establish a solid background for our investigation, we propose a conceptual framework to model the design space of reactive applications and we study the flaws of the existing solutions. Then we highlight how reactive languages have the potential to address those issues and we formulate our research plan.

Scheduled Paper: September 9, 2015

Generating Summary Risk Scores for Mobile Applications

Abstract–One of Android’s main defense mechanisms against malicious apps is a risk communication mechanism which, before a user installs an app, warns the user about the permissions the app requires, trusting that the user will make the right decision. This approach has been shown to be ineffective as it presents the risk information of each app in a “stand-alone” fashion and in a way that requires too much technical knowledge and time to distill useful information. We discuss the desired properties of risk signals and relative risk scores for Android apps in order to generate another metric that users can utilize when choosing apps. We present a wide range of techniques to generate both risk signals and risk scores that are based on heuristics as well as principled machine learning techniques. Experimental results conducted using real-world data sets show that these methods can effectively identify malware as very risky, are simple to understand, and easy to use.