Function Extraction Technology:
Automated Calculation of Computer Progam Behavior

Prinicpal Investigator: Richard C. Linger
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FX Project

Function extraction (FX) is a disruptive new technology with potential to improve the economics of software development and increase the dependability of software systems.

Function Extraction Concepts

Present-day, labor-intensive methods of software engineering are increasingly overwhelmed by the scope and complexity of modern systems. We believe software engineering must be transformed into a more computational discipline based on science foundations that enable fast and dependable software development. Other engineering disciplines have made this transformation to rigorous computational analysis of subject matter to their everlasting benefit. In particular, it is vital that software engineers understand all of the behavior of software, because unknown behavior can harbor incorrect functionality and security vulnerabilities. What is needed is a precise and comprehensive "all cases of behavior" view of what software does, something that is unavailable with current software engineering technology.

The SEI's CERT Program is developing the emerging technology of function extraction, which applies mathematical foundations to automate calculation of the behavior of software to the maximum extent possible. The objective is to replace slow and fallible manual methods of code reading and inspection with fast and correct computation of behavior. Computing the behavior of software requires deriving its net functional effect, that is, how it transforms inputs into outputs in all circumstances of use. That information can be presented to analysts in non-procedural behavior databases that define all the possible effects a program can have, essentially, the "all cases of behavior" view. The result is to move from an uncertain understanding of software derived in human time scale (days) to a precise understanding computed in machine time scale (seconds). Controlled experimentation shows FX automation is substantially faster than manual methods for determining software functionality, and that programmers are many times more productive in analyzing software with FX. An FX system that computes behavior for programs written in, or compiled into, Intel assembly language is currently under development. This system is initially targeting malware analysis, to help provide analysts with fast understanding of intruder intentions and strategies.

Function Extraction Application

FX technology can be applied to any language, and promises to be particularly valuable in meeting dependability requirements for DoD systems. Function extraction will impact many aspects of the software engineering lifecycle, including:

  • Development: A few lines of code can be written and submitted to a function extractor to determine if they indeed do what is required.
  • Verification: Programs can be submitted to a function extractor to derive their "as-built" specifications for verification against requirements.
  • Security: Security properties of software can be expressed in functional form and checked against the behavior databases produced by function extractors.
  • Testing: Because function extraction computes software behavior, testing for functional correctness provide little additional information, and can be reduced.
  • Legacy systems: Function extraction can be applied to legacy systems to recover specification and design information to enable informed modification and evolution.
  • Malware detection: Malicious code embedded within software has functional effects that are revealed in the behavior databases produced by function extractors.
  • Malware analysis: The functional intentions of malicious code can be quickly revealed by function extractors in order to develop countermeasures.
  • Assurance: Potential problems with tampering, unknown sourcing, or malicious content in software can be revealed through behavior computation.


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Last updated March 2, 2011