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Stack overflow considered harmful? The impact of copy&paste on Android application security

: Fischer, F.; Böttinger, K.; Xiao, H.; Stransky, C.; Acar, Y.; Backes, M.; Fahl, S.


Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers -IEEE-; IEEE Computer Society, Technical Committee on Security and Privacy:
IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, SP 2017. Vol.1 : 22-24 May 2017, San Jose, California, USA; Proceedings
Piscataway, NJ: IEEE, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-5090-5533-3
ISBN: 978-1-5090-5534-0
ISBN: 978-1-5090-5532-6
Symposium on Security and Privacy (SP) <38, 2017, San Jose/Calif.>
Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung BMBF
Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung BMBF
Conference Paper
Fraunhofer AISEC ()

Online programming discussion platforms such as Stack Overflow serve as a rich source of information for software developers. Available information include vibrant discussions and often times ready-to-use code snippets. Previous research identified Stack Overflow as one of the most important information sources developers rely on. Anecdotes report that software developers copy and paste code snippets from those information sources for convenience reasons. Such behavior results in a constant flow of community-provided code snippets into production software. To date, the impact of this behaviour on code security is unknown. We answer this highly important question by quantifying the proliferation of security-related code snippets from Stack Overflow in Android applications available on Google Play. Access to the rich source of information available on Stack Overflow including ready-to-use code snippets provides huge benefits for software developers. However, when it comes to code security there are some caveats to bear in mind: Due to the complex nature of code security, it is very difficult to provide ready-to-use and secure solutions for every problem. Hence, integrating a security-related code snippet from Stack Overflow into production software requires caution and expertise. Unsurprisingly, we observed insecure code snippets being copied into Android applications millions of users install from Google Play every day. To quantitatively evaluate the extent of this observation, we scanned Stack Overflow for code snippets and evaluated their security score using a stochastic gradient descent classifier. In order to identify code reuse in Android applications, we applied state-of-the-art static analysis. Our results are alarming: 15.4% of the 1.3 million Android applications we analyzed, contained security-related code snippets from Stack Overflow. Out of these 97.9% contain at least one insecure code snippet.