static analyzer status?


I have watched the Building a Checker in 24 Hours slide (). It mentioned that one limitation of the Constraint Solver is that it can’t handle multiple symbols (page 83). The talk was given in 2012. I’m wondering if this limitation has been removed now in 2018.

There were slight improvements, but our ad-hoc constraint solver quickly becomes unmaintainable (algorithmic complexity exponentially explodes) while we try to squeeze more features into it.

There was also an attempt to use Z3, i.e. a full-featured theorem prover, instead of our ad-hoc solver. Z3 supports everything, but makes the analyzer significantly slower (imagine 10x-20x). This is very experimental and was never supported, because it seems to be a dead end due to a huge performance hit.

Finally, last GSoC there was an attempt to use both constraint solvers: use ad-hoc solver during analysis (to quickly eliminate infeasible paths and report bugs), and then cross-check with Z3 only when the actual bug report is emitted. This fixes the problem when it comes to eliminating false positives, but it doesn’t allow the analyzer to find new classes of bugs. This completely avoids any performance problems and looks very promising, and while this is still not officially supported, we’ll probably be looking more into this to see if we’ll be able to ship this somehow, probably with a different SMT or SAT solver if we run into problems with Z3. See for more details. So if your main problem is false positives there’s much more hope to see a solution available soon-ish than if your main problem is being able to find these specific bugs.

Thank you for the updates!

I looked through the project report of using Z3 to remove false positives. It is very promising. It’s already in Clang 7.

But my problem is finding specific bugs that the static analyzer cannot find. For example, integer overflow which involves multiple symbols in an expression. I guess that the current static analyzer cannot handle this because Z3 only takes findings of the analyzer. The analyzer does not handle multiple symbols, so Z3 has no chance to see the entire expression even though Z3 can process multiple symbols.

I can rephrase this to taint propagation and integer expression by saying that an expression involving a tainted value is likely to cause integer overflow. What is the best way to implement this checker if I use this strategy? I’ve noticed that there is a taint propagation checker but haven’t figured out how to use it in another checker. Is there any example code that uses it?

Another thought of combining the static analysis and Z3 is developing another static analyzer which doesn’t use symbolic execution, just abstract interpretation. It’ll be more scalable but probably cause many false positives, then use the current Z3 integration to remove false positives. If I’ll go this route, where should I start with?

There’s one more trick that we didn’t try yet: include the state that shouldn’t be feasible in the report. For instance, normally we report division by zero only when the denominator must be zero on the current path. But what we can do is emit report from the checker anyway when the denominator is not known to be zero (but may potentially be zero), and only actually display the report to the user if Z3 agrees that the non-zero state is in fact infeasible (contains self-contradictory constraints, even if our constraint manager doesn’t realize it). That’s one of the potential approaches to finding more bugs with the help of Z3 refutation machinery. Also for integer overflows you may encounter a completely different problem that is currently in a worse shape than constraint solving, and it’s integral cast representation. Static analyzer currently models casts by ignoring them, so the solver doesn’t ever get a hold on this information. You’ll need to lift this restriction, but it’ll immediately upset the existing solver and a lot of other entities in the analyzer, so you’ll have to make them prepared for seeing casted symbols. This may involve implementing the trick i mentioned above in all checkers, because otherwise many checkers will fail to find most of their bugs. Now, the way we treat taint, we don’t ever actually remove taint from symbols, but instead we consult both taint information and normal program state information before we emit the bug. For example, if the denominator is tainted and was not checked to be non-zero on the current path, we can report the bug without making sure that the denominator must be zero on the current path, just knowing that it may be zero is enough. By finding such path we already know that the attacker can forge the denominator to be zero and bypass all checks. In other words, taint problems are “per-path” “may” problems, while normal problems are “per-path” “must” problems. And for that purpose the existing refutation scheme is enough to solve all the problems. You still have problems with casts though. In its current shape the static analyzer is, like, 20 man-years of work. Part of that is because it’s source-based; if you try to analyze, say, LLVM IR instead of Clang AST, you might reduce the amount of work you need to do (but it’ll be trickier to explain the bugs you find to the user in terms of the original source code), but that’s still a huge investment. You may also try to re-use transfer functions from our static analyzer in your analyzer (i.e., only augment the static analyzer with a “state merge” operation). This might work, and that’s something we consider trying some day, but there are a lot of known and unknown unknowns here, so i wouldn’t outright recommend rushing in this direction either.

Forgot to answer about re-using taint across checkers. It’s quite trivial because taint tracking is done directly through API of ProgramState, which is available everywhere. So you can just say “State->isTainted(Sym)” any time and that’s it, it’ll pick up info that was put there by the taint propagation checker.

There’s actually a plan to remove this API from ProgramState and turn it into a usual program state trait, and then expose it through a header, so that not to clutter ProgramState API with special getters for all sorts of stuff you can put in there. I might look into this soon, but it shouldn’t obstruct your progress.

As for casts, can you point me to the current code in the analyzer that ignores them? Does the following method possibly work?

I introduce another method or a few methods that handle cast operations and use them when I process integer expressions. Or ideally using one or few default parameters to control if the casts should be ignored (the default), so that handling casts doesn’t disturb the existing solver and checkers.

Also, I think that I still need to change the current solver not to discard constraints involving multiple symbols.

Is this a practical investigation work? What other issues and places should I pay attention to, and what’s the best steps to start with?

Casts are discarded in SimpleSValBuilder::evalCastFromNonLoc(), see the huge comment in the middle. The correct behavior would be to add SymbolCast.

Symbol-symbol relations are now discarded very rarely, usually due to complexity limits (i.e., the symbol becomes huge and other parts of the Analyzer explode exponentially). There are a few other operations that get discarded, most noticeably unary minus/logical not/bitwise not over symbols.

Just re-enable everything you need under a flag and later enable your implementation by default together with Z3 when it becomes stable enough. Apart from false positives and false negatives caused by poor constraint solving there are no other downsides of adding cast support, as long as the rest of the code is ready for it. For instance, checkers ideally wouldn’t need to be updated.