Hexbyte Tech News Wired Machine Learning Can Identify the Authors of Anonymous Code

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Researchers who study stylometry—the statistical analysis of linguistic style—have long known that writing is a unique, individualistic process. The vocabulary you select, your syntax, and your grammatical decisions leave behind a signature. Automated tools can now accurately identify the author of a forum post for example, as long as they have adequate training data to work with. But newer research shows that stylometry can also apply to artificial language samples, like code. Software developers, it turns out, leave behind a fingerprint as well.

Rachel Greenstadt, an associate professor of computer science at Drexel University, and Aylin Caliskan, Greenstadt’s former PhD student and now an assistant professor at George Washington University, have found that code, like other forms of stylistic expression, are not anonymous. At the DefCon hacking conference Friday, the pair will present a number of studies they’ve conducted using machine learning techniques to de-anonymize the authors of code samples. Their work could be useful in a plagiarism dispute, for instance, but it also has privacy implications, especially for the thousands of developers who contribute open source code to the world.

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