Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC) 2023

On the Feasibility of Cross-Language Detection of Malicious Packages in npm and PyPI

Current software supply chains heavily rely on open-source packages hosted in public repositories. Given the popularity of ecosystems like npm and PyPI, malicious users started to spread malware by publishing open-source packages containing malicious code.

Recent works apply machine learning techniques to detect malicious packages in the npm ecosystem. However, the scarcity of samples poses a challenge to the application of machine learning techniques in other ecosystems. Despite the differences between JavaScript and Python, the open-source software supply chain attacks targeting such languages show noticeable similarities (e.g., use of installation scripts, obfuscated strings, URLs).

In this paper, we present a novel approach that involves a set of language-independent features and the training of models capable of detecting malicious packages in npm and PyPI by capturing their commonalities. This methodology allows us to train models on a diverse dataset encompassing multiple languages, thereby overcoming the challenge of limited sample availability. We evaluate the models both in a controlled experiment (where labels of data are known) and in the wild by scanning newly uploaded packages for both npm and PyPI for 10 days.

We find that our approach successfully detects malicious packages for both npm and PyPI. Over an analysis of 31,292 packages, we reported 58 previously unknown malicious packages (38 for npm and 20 for PyPI), which were consequently removed from the respective repositories.

Piergiorgio Ladisa
SAP Security Research, Université de Rennes 1, INRIA/IRISA

Serena Elisa Ponta
SAP Security Research

Nicola Ronzoni
SAP Security Research

Matias Martinez
Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya-BarcelonaTech

Olivier Barais
Univ. Rennes, Inria, CNRS, IRISA

Paper (ACM DL)