Supervised Authorship Segmentation of Open Source Code Projects

Authors: Edwin Dauber (Drexel University), Robert Erbacher (United States Army Research Laboratory), Gregory Shearer (ICF International), Michael Weisman (United States Army Research Laboratory), Frederica Nelson (United States Army Research Laboratory), Rachel Greenstadt (New York University)

Volume: 2021
Issue: 4
Pages: 464–479

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Abstract: Source code authorship attribution can be used for many types of intelligence on binaries and executables, including forensics, but introduces a threat to the privacy of anonymous programmers. Previous work has shown how to attribute individually authored code files and code segments. In this work, we examine authorship segmentation, in which we determine authorship of arbitrary parts of a program. While previous work has performed segmentation at the textual level, we attempt to attribute subtrees of the abstract syntax tree (AST). We focus on two primary problems: identifying the primary author of an arbitrary AST subtree and identifying on which edges of the AST primary authorship changes. We demonstrate that the former is a difficult problem but the later is much easier. We also demonstrate methods by which we can leverage the easier problem to improve accuracy for the harder problem. We show that while identifying the author of subtrees is difficult overall, this is primarily due to the abundance of small subtrees: in the validation set we can attribute subtrees of at least 25 nodes with accuracy over 80% and at least 33 nodes with accuracy over 90%, while in the test set we can attribute subtrees of at least 33 nodes with accuracy of 70%. While our baseline accuracy for single AST nodes is 20.21% for the validation set and 35.66% for the test set, we present techniques by which we can increase this accuracy to 42.01% and 49.21% respectively. We further present observations about collaborative code found on GitHub that may drive further research.

Keywords: Stylometry, code authorship attribution, segmentation

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