Programming Assignment 8

A8: Taint Analysis

Course “Static Program Analysis” @Nanjing University
Assignments Designed by Tian Tan and Yue Li

1 Assignment Objectives

  • Implement a taint analysis for Java.

Welcome to the last programming assignment of this course! ヾ(o◕∀◕)ノ

In this assignment, you will implement a taint analysis for Java based on the context-sensitive pointer analysis (that you implemented in Assignment 6). In addition, we will teach you a technique, called taint transfer, to detect more security vulnerabilities in practice. We have provided a configurable taint analysis framework in Tai-e so that you can conveniently configure sources, sinks, and how taint can be transferred in the program.

Similar to Assignment 7, this assignment is also open. You need to figure out how taint analysis interacts with pointer analysis and how to implement taint transfers by yourself.

Now, we suggest that you first setup the Tai-e project for Assignment 8 (in A8/tai-e/ of the assignment repo) by following Setup Tai-e Assignments.

2 Implementing Taint Analysis

2.1 Scope

In this section, we define the taint analysis that you need to implement in this assignment. Same as the taint analysis introduced in Lecture 13, in this assignment, we consider calls to the specific methods (typically data source APIs) as taint sources, which return tainted data (also called taint objects in the analysis); and certain arguments of specific methods are treated as taint sinks. For better precision, you will implement a context-sensitive taint analysis following the rules below to handle sources and sinks (modified based on the rules given in page 76 of slides for Lecture 13):

KindStatementRule (under context c)
Call (source)l: r = x.k(a1,...,an)c:lct:mCG
m,u Sources
Call (sink)l: r = x.k(a1,...,an)c:lct:mCG
m,i Sinks
j,l,i TaintFlows

Here, Sources is a set of pairs, denoted as m,u, where m is the signature of the source method, and u is the type of the returned taint object. We use tlu to denote a taint object, where u is type of the object, and l is the call site where the object is created. For simplicity, you just need to use empty context as the heap contexts of taint objects.

Taint Transfer. Although taint analysis and pointer analysis are similar as they both track data flow in the program, they have a subtle difference. Compared to object, taint is a more abstract concept. Taint is associated with the contents of the data (refer to this paperopen in new window), so that it can be transferred among objects, and such phenomenon is called taint transfer. Below we use an example to illustrate this concept.

String taint = getSecret(); // source
StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
sb.append(taint); // taint is transferred to sb
String s = sb.toString(); // taint is transferred to s
leak(s); // sink

Suppose that we consider getSecret() and leak() as source and sink, respectively. In this example, the code at line 1 retrieves secret data (in form of a string) and stores it in variable taint, and the secret data will finally flow to sink (line 7) via two taint transfers:

  1. The method call to append() at line 4 appends the contents of taint to sb, so the StringBuilder pointed to by sb contains the secret data and should also be treated as tainted data; in other words, append() at line 4 transfers taint from taint to sb.
  2. The method call to toString() at line 6 converts the StringBuilder to a String, which contains the same contents of the StringBuilder, so the String includes the secret data; in other words, toString() transfers taint from sb to s.

Such patterns are common in real code, and if we cannot handle them properly, many security vulnerabilities would be missed. The reason is that regular taint analysis is unaware of the semantics of the APIs in the program, e.g., methods append() and toString() can transfer the contents (together with sensitive data) among different objects as shown in the above example, thus the taint analysis would fail to propagate taints without handling these methods properly.

To address this problem, we need to tell taint analysis which methods can trigger taint transfers and how they transfer taints. In this assignment, we consider three common patterns of taint transfers when a (taint-transfer-relevant) method foo is called:

Transfer Pattern
  1. Base-to-result: if the receiver object (pointed to by base) is tainted, then the return value of the method call (pointed to by result) should also be tainted, e.g., StringBuilder.toString().
  2. Arg-to-base: if a specified argument is tainted, then the receiver object (pointed to by base) should also be tainted, e.g., StringBuilder.append(String).
  3. Arg-to-result: if a specified argument is tainted, then the return value of the method call (pointed to by result) should also be tainted, e.g., String.concat(String).

Note that static methods will not cause base-to-result and arg-to-base transfers as they do not have base variables. Besides, some methods may cause multiple taint transfers, e.g., String.concat(String) triggers not only arg-to-result but also base-to-result transfers, as its result contains the contents of both argument and receiver object.

Handling Taint Transfer. The essence of taint transfer is that the method calls to some methods will trigger propagation of taints from specific variables to some other variables of the call sites. We call source of taint transfer from-variable, and target of taint transfer to-variable, e.g., for a base-to-result transfer, the base variable of the call site is from-variable, and the LHS variable of the call site is to-variable.

We define another input of taint analysis, called TaintTranfers, which is a set of four-element tuples, denoted as m,from,to,u, where m indicates the method that triggers taint transfer, from the from variable to the to variable, and u is the type of the transferred taint object (pointed to by to). Specifically,

  • m is a signature of the method that triggers taint transfer, and
  • from is either an integer value (starting from 0) when it represents an argument, or the string “base” when it represents a base variable, and
  • to is either the string “base” when it represents a base variable, or the string “result” when it represents an LHS variable of the call site, and
  • u is the type of the transferred taint object. As a taint transfer may change the type of the taint object (e.g., StringBuilder.toString() transfers a taint object of type StringBuilder to a taint object of type String), then we need u to tell the taint analysis what the type of the transferred taint object is. It would be particularly useful when the type of the transferred object (pointed to by to) differs from the type of the taint object pointed to by from.

Based on TaintTransfers, we define the rules to handle the three patterns of taint transfers as follows:

KindStatementRule (under context c)
Call (base-to-result)l: r = x.k(a1,...,an)c:lct:mCG
m,“base”,“result”,u TaintTransfers
Call (arg-to-base)l: r = x.k(a1,...,an)c:lct:mCG
m,i,“base”,u TaintTransfers
Call (arg-to-result)l: r = x.k(a1,...,an)c:lct:mCG
m,i,“result”,u TaintTransfers

Configuration for Taint Analysis. To make the taint analysis flexible, we design a configurable taint analysis which allows you to configure sources, sinks and taint transfers in one YAMLopen in new window file. As an example, you could read src/test/resources/pta/taint/taint-config.yml in this assignment package.

The format of a source entry is:

{ method: <METHOD_SIGNATURE>, type: <TYPE_NAME> }


  • <METHOD_SIGNATURE> is the signature of the source method
  • <TYPE_NAME> is the name of the type of taint object returned from the call to the source method

In pointer analysis, each object has a type, so do taint objects. We need to specify the types of the taint objects in the configuration, as the taint analysis should create a taint object of this type when handling the calls to the source method.

The format of a sink entry is:

{ method: <METHOD_SIGNATURE>, index: <INDEX> }


  • <METHOD_SIGNATURE> is the signature of the sink method
  • <INDEX> is the index of the sensitive argument, starting from 0 (typically, only arguments are considered as sinks)

The format of a taint transfer entry is:

{ method: <METHOD_SIGNATURE>, from: <INDEX>, to: <INDEX>, type: <TYPE_NAME> }

where the four elements exactly correspond to the ones in TaintTransfers defined above.

2.2 Tai-e Classes You Need to Know

The classes related to context-sensitive pointer analysis have been introduced in Assignment 6. Below we introduce the classes that are specific to taint analysis.

  • pascal.taie.analysis.pta.plugin.taint.Source

    This record class represents sources.

  • pascal.taie.analysis.pta.plugin.taint.Sink

    This record class represents sinks.

  • pascal.taie.analysis.pta.plugin.taint.TaintTransfer

    This record class represents taint transfers. In this class, we use integers to identify from- and to-variables. Specifically, if the value of the integer is 0 or larger number, it represents the corresponding argument of a call site (of the method specified in the TaintTransfer); if the value is -1, it represents the base variables of a call site; if the value is -2, it represents the LHS variables of a call site.

  • pascal.taie.analysis.pta.plugin.taint.TaintConfig

    This class represents configuration of taint analysis. It provides APIs to parse configuration file and obtain the sources, sinks, and taint transfers specified in the configuration.

  • pascal.taie.analysis.pta.plugin.taint.TaintManager

    This class manages taint objects in taint analysis.

  • pascal.taie.analysis.pta.plugin.taint.TaintFlow

    This record class represents the detected taint flows (described by the call sites of the taint source and sink), i.e., the result of taint analysis.

  • pascal.taie.analysis.pta.plugin.taint.TaintAnalysiss

    This class implements taint analysis. It is incomplete, and you need to finish it as explained in Section 2.3. (Note that the class name is TaintAnalysiss in this assignment as TaintAnalysis has already been used in the non-assignment-version of taint analysis in Tai-e 😕)

2.3 Your Task [Important!]

In this assignment, you need to finish the methods of two classes listed below:


  • void addReachable(CSMethod)
  • void addPFGEdge(Pointer,Pointer)
  • void analyze()
  • PointsToSet propagate(Pointer,PointsToSet)
  • void processCall(CSVar,CSObj)


  • Set<TaintFlow> collectTaintFlows(): returns a set that contains all taint flows detected by the taint analysis. You could implement the rule to handle sink (given in Section 2.1) in this method.

The five methods of Solver to be finished are the same as in Assignment 6, but this time, you need to add some code to some of these methods for supporting taint analysis. Do not directly replace by your implementation of Assignment 6, as the skeleton file in this assignment contains some code related to taint analysis.

In this assignment, you may need to read points-to results to help develop and debug taint analysis. Other context sensitivity variants add context information to points-to results, which may increase reading difficulty. Thus, we choose CISelector (context insensitivity) as the default context selector to ease the development and debugging. After you finish TaintAnalysiss and Solver, you could try other context sensitivity variants as explained in Section 3 to observe the precision differences of taint analysis under different context-sensitivity variants.

As for TaintAnalysiss, in addition to collectTaintFlows(), you also need to implement the logics to handle sources and taint transfers in this class. Again, this assignment is open, and thus you need to resolve the implementation details by yourself, including how to design and implement your APIs of TaintAnalysiss.


  1. In the constructor of TaintAnalysiss, we have provided the code to parse configuration file and store the result in field config, so that you could directly use it. Besides, we initialize a TaintManager and store it in field manager, and you could use it to manage taint objects. If your implementation of TaintAnalysiss requires initialization work, you could also do it in the constructor.
  2. In this assignment, pointer and taint analyses depend on each other. Both Solver and TaintAnalysiss hold a reference to each other, i.e., field taintAnalysis in Solver and field solver in TaintAnalysiss. You need to figure out how to use the references to implement the interactions between two analyses. You can add APIs and fields to both classes if necessary.

3 Run and Test Your Implementation

You can run the analyses as described in Set Up Tai-e Assignments. In this assignment, Tai-e performs context-sensitive pointer analysis and taint analysis together for the program, and outputs the points-to sets of all kinds of pointers and detected taint flows:

Points-to sets of all variables
Points-to sets of all static fields
Points-to sets of all instance fields
Points-to sets of all array indexes
Detected 0 taint flow(s):

Points-to sets are empty and none of taint flows are detected as you have not finished the analyses yet. After you implement the analyses, the output should be like (points-to results are omitted):

Detected 4 taint flow(s):
TaintFlow{<SimpleTaint: void main(java.lang.String[])>[0@L4] temp$0 = invokestatic <SourceSink: java.lang.String source()>(); -> <SimpleTaint: void main(java.lang.String[])>[2@L5] invokestatic <SourceSink: void sink(java.lang.String)>(s1);/0}
TaintFlow{<SimpleTaint: void main(java.lang.String[])>[0@L4] temp$0 = invokestatic <SourceSink: java.lang.String source()>(); -> <SimpleTaint: void main(java.lang.String[])>[16@L11] invokestatic <SourceSink: void sink(java.lang.String,int)>(s3, %intconst0);/0}
TaintFlow{<SimpleTaint: void main(java.lang.String[])>[3@L7] temp$1 = invokestatic <SourceSink: java.lang.String source()>(); -> <SimpleTaint: void main(java.lang.String[])>[5@L8] invokestatic <SourceSink: void sink(java.lang.String)>(s2);/0}
TaintFlow{<SimpleTaint: void main(java.lang.String[])>[3@L7] temp$1 = invokestatic <SourceSink: java.lang.String source()>(); -> <SimpleTaint: void main(java.lang.String[])>[16@L11] invokestatic <SourceSink: void sink(java.lang.String,int)>(s3, %intconst0);/0}

In addition, Tai-e outputs the IRs for the classes of the program it analyzes to folder output/. The IRs are stored as .tir files which can be opened by general text editors.

We provide class pascal.taie.analysis.pta.TaintTest as the test drivers for taint analysis, and you could use it to test your implementation as described in Set Up Tai-e Assignments. Note that in this assignment, we only compare detected taint flows with the ones given in the expected files. Other analysis results, e.g., points-to sets, are ignored. Some test cases require context-sensitive pointer analysis, thus, to pass all test cases, you need to copy the six context selectors from Assignment 6.

We encourage you to analyze some test cases (e.g., with other context sensitivity variants (as explained in Assignment 6), e.g., context insensitivity and 2-object sensitivity, and observe how the precision of pointer analysis affects the precision of taint analysis.

4 General Requirements

  • In this assignment, your only goal is correctness. Efficiency is not your concern.

  • DO NOT distribute the assignment package to any others.

  • Last but not least, DO NOT plagiarize. The work must be all your own!

5 Submission of Assignment

Your submission should be a zip file, which contains your implementation of


6 Grading

You can refer to Grade Your Programming Assignments to use our online judge to grade your completed assignments.

The points will be allocated for correctness. We will use your submission to analyze the given test files from the src/test/resources/ directory, as well as other tests of our own, and compare your output to that of our solution.

Good luck!

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