July 24, 2021

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Systematic Mutation-based Evaluation of the Soundness of Security-focused Android Static Analysis Techniques. (arXiv:2102.06829v2 [cs.CR] UPDATED)

Mobile application security has been a major area of focus for security
research over the course of the last decade. Numerous application analysis
tools have been proposed in response to malicious, curious, or vulnerable apps.
However, existing tools, and specifically, static analysis tools, trade
soundness of the analysis for precision and performance and are hence soundy.
Unfortunately, the specific unsound choices or flaws in the design of these
tools is often not known or well-documented, leading to misplaced confidence
among researchers, developers, and users. This paper describes the
Mutation-based Soundness Evaluation ($mu$SE) framework, which systematically
evaluates Android static analysis tools to discover, document, and fix flaws,
by leveraging the well-founded practice of mutation analysis. We implemented
$mu$SE and applied it to a set of prominent Android static analysis tools that
detect private data leaks in apps. In a study conducted previously, we used
$mu$SE to discover $13$ previously undocumented flaws in FlowDroid, one of the
most prominent data leak detectors for Android apps. Moreover, we discovered
that flaws also propagated to other tools that build upon the design or
implementation of FlowDroid or its components. This paper substantially extends
our $mu$SE framework and offers an new in-depth analysis of two more major
tools in our 2020 study, we find $12$ new, undocumented flaws and demonstrate
that all $25$ flaws are found in more than one tool, regardless of any
inheritance-relation among the tools. Our results motivate the need for
systematic discovery and documentation of unsound choices in soundy tools and
demonstrate the opportunities in leveraging mutation testing in achieving this
goal.