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Vulnerabilities in deep

Deep Learning for vulnerability disclosure
Next, we will talk about an article from the Boston University in which new applications of Artificial Intelligence in the field of security are presented, we will discuss their approach to discover vulnerabilities in source code and finally some future work that can be developed on that field.
User icon Oscar Uribe
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Nowadays, the use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) algorithms has started to be used widely searching to solve problems from another perspective, the data. Data scientist have been working in problems related with areas like medicine, data mining, robotics, etc.

Lately, some investigations has been venturing in how AI can be use into the area of the security. For example, how we will be discussing, the vulnerability detection inside source code.

Most vulnerabilities come from bad practices at the time of programming. When these failures are not detected in a timely manner, these can be discovered later by attackers. A non disclosure vulnerability means a risk of later exploitation for a system. So, it is important to detect failures in early stages in our systems.

There are tools that can make static analysis of the source code, these tools check the source code for problems without the need of compiling and executing it. There are also dynamic analysis tools which send some information to the system inputs with presets or random values in order to check for failures or improper exceptions handling.

Initial thoughts

In an article published by the Boston University, they expose the possibility to use an Artificial Intelligence and algorithms of Deep and Machine Learning for automatic vulnerability detection from source code. The idea stems from the fact that there is a large amount of open source code available to be analyzed. After all, code is just text and is possible to apply data mining algorithms on it to extract training data.

The static and dynamic code analyzers do not get the most out of the source code. The algorithms that they use are based on some preset rules that do not take into account small variations of the original rule. So some vulnerabilities and failures may remain undiscovered.

The purpose of the exercise was using data mining, deep and machine learning techniques to automate a process where always could be present the human error. This can let go unnoticed vulnerabilities that can be present in applications or within operating systems and then be exploited by hackers.


For that, they used C and C++ codes from different sources such as SATE IV Juliet Test Suite, a code recompilation used for test cases that contains some known vulnerabilities, code from Debian distributions and some GitHub public repositories.

Vulnerable code distribution.
Figure 1. Vulnerable code distribution [1].


In the labeling, they created a custom lexer, which sought to capture only the important information and label the other as generic. The labels already provided by the test database were used. For the Debian and GitHub codes they used the dynamics analyzers in order to search outputs that later could be interpreted by the security professionals as one of the known vulnerabilities from the CWE list. Also in the GitHub repositories, they searched inside the commits, words like “buggy”, “error”, “fixed”, “broken”, and others, in order to be able to classify each block of source code as vulnerable or non-vulnerable.

Found vulnerabilities.
Figure 2. Statistics CWE vulnerabilities detected [1].

Feature extraction

In the feature extraction step, they tried with two types of Neural Networks, CNN (Convolutional Neural Network) and RNN (Recurrent Neural Network).

But despite of the neural network seems to work fine for the data extraction used by the model, performance at the time to classify was not the best. To solve that after the feature extraction made by the Neural Networks they passed the output through a Random Forest classifier, obtaining better results and avoiding the overfitting.

Convolutional Neural Model
Figure 3. Convolutional Neural Network Model and Random Forest [1].


This vulnerability detection approach using Data mining, Deep and Machine Learning added some advantages compared to lexical analyzers since it does not need to be compiled to work and it can be adjusted to obtain the desire precision.

Also, while the static analyzers has a limited numbers of findings, because of the preset rules, and does not take into account variations of the rules, only identify a small portion of the real vulnerabilities.

Figure 4. Detection of vulnerabilities [1].

This algorithm is able to underline in the code blocks that can introduce a vulnerability, this may later allow suggestions to solve the problems or simply that the person in charge assess whether there is a vulnerability present or not.


Techniques of Deep and Machine Learning are used in the solution of problems from a different perspective, the data. The previous article is an example that there are several functions where Artificial Intelligence in security is helping to automate functions that are made by humans allowing them to use their time more in the analysis than in the detection of problems.

Although jobs like this need to be improved a bit to be used in the industry, they demonstrate the potential that this type of tools could have during the process of vulnerability disclosure. It is also important to evaluate the possibility of integrate them into the process of continuous integration of software development to detect problems in early stages and that they go out to latter phases with vulnerabilities within them.

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Oscar Uribe

Software and Computer Engineering undergrad student

"Behind every successful Coder there an even more successful De-coder to understand that code." Anonymous


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