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Code scanners. Two new security related tools were announced this week, both relating to code scanning: RATS and flawfinder. Both tools perform tests on source code in an attempt to find common coding problems that can lead to security vulnerabilities. Such problems are limited to function calls for both RATS and flawfinder. Any functions specified in a flawfinder database are known as hits and will cause any references to them in the source to be examined to be flagged. Flawfinder and RATS join another application its4, which was noted by LWN.net late last year.
According to David Wheeler, author of the Secure Programming for Linux and Unix HOWTO, flawfinder is Python based and was developed in response to issues surrounding Cigital's use of the term open source with its its4 product. Additionally, both flawfinder and RATS developers have agreed to work together.
The developers [of flawfinder and RATS] didn't know about each other's efforts until just before their releases, but they have agreed to coordinate in some way to create a "best of breed" source code scanner.
These scanners are very useful for finding function calls that are often the cause of security problems. Unfortunately, RATS wouldn't compile even though the required Expat library was installed under /usr/lib. Flawfinder worked out of the box, as did its4. Each produced varying results on the same piece of code.
While such tools are helpful, they shouldn't be considered cures for security illnesses in any software. They should be used in conjunction with memory checkers to catch potential buffer overflows. And, of course, nothing beats following some simple programming guidelines.
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