New open-source Facebook tool hopes to find security flaws in Android apps

A developer writing code
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Elle Aon)

Facebook today released a home-brewed tool that it uses internally to discover security and privacy flaws in its Android and Java applications.

Named Mariana Trench (MT), the static analyzer is licensed under the open source MIT license, and is designed to spot vulnerabilities in large codebases made up of tens of millions of lines of code.

According to Facebook’s software engineer Dominik Gabi, developers within the company have banked on automated tools like MT to find more than 50% of all security bugs in the company’s mobile apps.

Gabi adds that the company built MT to focus on smartphone apps, which require a different approach for mitigating security bugs as compared to web apps.

Prevention is better than cure

In the post Gabi gives a technical overview of how the tool actually works, and points to Facebook’s tutorial that’ll help Android developers roll MT in their pipeline.

Unlike web apps, which can be updated instantly to fix a bug, patching Android apps requires the help of users, adding a costly time delay, which can be exploited by attackers to exploit the vulnerabilities.

This is why tools like MT help detect security gaffes during development before they land in the finalized app. 

“MT is designed to be able to scan large mobile codebases and flag potential issues on pull requests before they make it into production,” notes Gabi, adding that MT was the result of a collaboration between security and software engineers at Facebook.

Written in Python, MT is currently available on GitHub and Facebook has also released a binary for the tool in the Python Package Index (PyPI) repository. 

Mayank Sharma

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.