Coffee and Conversations Using Graph-Based ML for Analysis

All dates for this event occur in the past.

Enarson Classroom Building
2009 Millikin Road
Room 254
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

ICDT and AI-Edge Present...

Using Graph-Based Machine Learning Algorithms for Software Analysis

Michael Brown, a PhD student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, will be joining us on February 16th to discuss graph-based machine learning algorithms for software analysis.

Recording of the event here.

Abstract: Software analysis is a well-established research area focused on automatically determining facts about a program’s properties and behaviors and using them to improve the program. Software analysis techniques are used in many domains, most notably to achieve performance and security enhancements (compilers), identify bugs and security vulnerabilities (code scanners), simplify programming through abstraction (DSL interpreters), and reverse engineer software. The limitations of software analysis for these purposes are well understood – in general it is impossible to collect a complete set of program facts about a particular piece of software, especially for complex software used in the DoD. As a result, many software analysis tools employ heuristics or rely on humans in the loop to make meaningful advances in this space.

The recent technological leaps forward in Machine Learning (ML) have created a unique opportunity to make advances in software analysis that were previously not possible because ML-based solutions are not bound by the same computational constraints as traditional software analysis techniques. Further, these techniques excel at approximating and replicating human problem solving. As a result, there has been a dearth of new research on ML-based software analysis, however recently proposed techniques have fallen flat because they failed to exploit the natural shape and form of software: directed graphs.

Over the last three years, my team and I have researched and developed techniques to address several key challenges that researchers face when creating effective, graph-based ML software analysis tools. Specifically, we have developed techniques to aid researchers in generating realistic training data sets, converting software to a representation that graph-based ML algorithms can consume, and formulating real-world software analysis problems as graph recognition problems. Using these techniques, we have created two tools that outperform state of the art traditional software analysis tools: VulChecker and CORBIN. Vulchecker is a static application security testing (SAST) tool that excels at identifying fuzzy security vulnerabilities in source code. CORBIN is a system for lifting advanced mathematical constructs (formulas, lookup tables, PID controllers, etc.) from legacy binary software that powers cyber-physical systems like power generation and onboard vehicular control systems.

In this talk, I will first discuss the inherent challenges in using ML to create software analysis tools and how exploiting the graph-based nature of software can bring about success. Second, I will present two successful graph-based ML software analysis tools created under the DARPA AIMEE and ReMath programs: VulChecker and CORBIN. Finally, I will present a set of guiding principles and guardrails for applying ML to software based on the lessons learned from building these tools.


Bio: Michael D. Brown is a principal security engineer at Trail of Bits and a Ph.D. student at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He works on a variety of applied and fundamental research projects focused on security-oriented software analysis and transformation. Michael's primary research interest is the development of software transformation techniques to improve the security of computing systems. Prior to his work in software security, Michael was on active duty for eight years in the U.S. Army where he served as a UH-60M pilot and Aviation Mission Survivability Officer. Michael earned his M.S. in Computer Science at Georgia Tech and his B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Cincinnati.