Quick Start

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This tutorial teaches the basics of navigating in the Code Property Graph (CPG). Ocular can also be used to navigate Security Profile (SP) which is generated on top of CPG. The tutorial focuses on analysis using CPG and demonstrates how the tooling can be used to:

  • Interactively query the code property graph to uncover attack surface

  • Formulate ad-hoc queries to identify vulnerabilities

The philosophy behind our tooling is that, while creating a "one-fits-all" vulnerability scanner borders on the impossible, you can certainly provide the tooling that vulnerability researchers require to explore code bases in order to determine vulnerability patterns, formulate these patterns in concise and expressive languages, and persist them, such that code can be automatically scanned for these patterns in the future. Instead of only showcasing the tooling's default capabilities, in this tutorial we also demonstrate the many ways in which the tooling can be adapted and extended to suit your specific needs.

Step 1: Install Ocular


Ocular runs on top of the Java virtual machine. Please make sure you have a Java Runtime Environment >= 1.8 installed.


Begin by decompressing the provided ZIP file shiftleft-cmd-distribution.zip. This will create the directory shiftleft-cmd-distribution.

unzip shiftleft-cmd-distribution.zip
cd shiftleft-cmd-distribution

Run the installer and follow the prompts:

bash ./install.sh

The install script will:

  • ask you where you want to install it to (defaults to ~/bin/shiftleft-cmd)

  • check if there is an existing installation and offer to delete it

  • unpack the ShiftLeft dynamic policy to ~/.shiftleft/policy/dynamic and offer to delete it, if it already exists

  • unpack the ShiftLeft static policy to ~/.shiftleft/policy/static and offer to delete it, if it already exists.

  • not touch anything outside these directories (installation and policy)

Additional Configuration for Large Projects

Code analysis can require lots of memory, and unfortunately, the Java Virtual Machine (JVM) does not pick up the available amount of memory by itself. While tuning Java memory usage is a discipline in its own right, it is usually sufficient to specify the maximum available amount of heap memory via the Java virtual machine's -Xmx flag. The easiest way to achieve this globally is by setting the environment variable _JAVA_OPTS as follows:

export _JAVA_OPTS="-Xmx$NG"

where $N is the amount of memory in gigabytes. You can add this line to your shell startup script, e.g., ~/.bashrc or ~/.zshrc.

Note: The above option will affect all JVM instances that are started henceforth on the machine.

In order to restrict the JVM option to only the parts of Ocular tools that you intend to use, you can provide it individually as well (such as in Step 3) For example to set 12 GB available heap memory to java2cpg, cpg2sp or ocular, we can just provide this option directly:

./ocular.sh -J-Xmx12g
./java2cpg.sh -J-Xmx12g <...>
./cpg2sp.sh -J-Xmx12g <...>

Step 2: Prepare the Target Application

This tutorial is based on the sample application "Hello-ShiftLeft" which you can find in the directory subjects provided with the ShiftLeft Command Line Tools distribution.

Hello-Shiftleft is a Spring-based Web application which contains different sample vulnerabilities, including typical injection vulnerabilities and leakages of sensitive information. Throughout this guide, we focus on an object deserialization vulnerability in the AdminController shown in the listing below.

public class AdminController {
@RequestMapping(value = "/admin/login", method = RequestMethod.POST)
public String doPostLogin(
@CookieValue(value = "auth", defaultValue = "notset") String auth,
@RequestBody String password, HttpServletResponse response,
HttpServletRequest request) throws Exception {
if (!auth.equals("notset")) {
if(isAdmin(auth)) {
return succ;
private boolean isAdmin(String auth) {
try {
ByteArrayInputStream bis = new ByteArrayInputStream(
ObjectInputStream objectInputStream = new ObjectInputStream(bis);
Object authToken = objectInputStream.readObject();
return ((AuthToken) authToken).isAdmin();
} catch (Exception ex) {
System.out.println(" cookie cannot be deserialized: "
return false;

In this code fragment, a cookie is received via HTTP and eventually deserialized to create a Java object, an optimistic practice that can often be exploited by attackers for arbitrary code execution.

Step 3: Generate Code Property Graph

Once the tools are installed, we begin by generating a code property graph (CPG) for the hello-shiftleft.jar:

cd $shiftleft
./java2cpg.sh subjects/hello-shiftleft-0.0.1-SNAPSHOT.jar -o cpg.bin.zip

This command creates a file named cpg.bin.zip containing the code property graph in a binary format.

Step 4: Uncovering Attack Surface

The code property graph contains information about the processed code on different levels of abstraction, from dependencies, to type hierarchies, control flow, data flow, and instruction-level information. Like the SP, the CPG can be queried interactively via Ocular or via non-interactive scripts. We now illustrate interactive querying, however, all queries can also be used as-in in interactive scripts.

The CPG is loaded via the loadCpg command:


This creates an object named cpg, which provides access to the code property graph. We begin by exploring the program dependencies:


This provides a list of all dependency names. We support functional combinators. For example, to output (name, version) pairs, we can use the following expression:

cpg.dependency.map(x => (x.name, x.version)).l

which yields

List[(String, String)] = List(
("zt-exec", "1.9"),
("httpclient", "4.3.4"),
("lombok", "1.16.6"),
("commons-io", "2.5"),
("joda-time", "unknown"),
("jasypt", "1.9.2"),
("jackson-databind", "unknown"),
("spring-boot-starter-web", "unknown"),
("jasypt-spring-boot-starter", "1.11"),
("spring-boot-starter-test", "unknown"),
("spring-web", "unknown"),
("hsqldb", "unknown"),
("jackson-mapper-asl", "1.5.6"),
("spring-boot-starter-actuator", "unknown"),
("spring-boot-starter-data-jpa", "unknown"),
("logback-core", "1.1.9"),
("spring-web", "4.3.6.RELEASE"),
("tomcat-embed-websocket", "8.5.11"),

It is also possible to process CPG sub graphs via external programs by exporting them to JSON. For example,

cpg.dependency.toJson |> "/tmp/dependencies.json"

dumps dependency information into the file "/tmp/dependencies.json" is JSON format. Fields of the CPG can be queried using regular expressions. For example, to determine whether an application uses the spring framework, a quick query could be

=> true

Since the application uses Spring, it makes sense to look for the typical Java annotations that indicate attacker-controlled variables.


From annotations, we can jump to parameters using these annotations:


which yields

List[String] = List("customerId", "customerId", "customerId", "accountId", "accountId", "accountId", "accountId", "auth", "auth")

We can now track these attacker-controlled variables to see all data flows originating at them. To do this, we first define the set of sinks to be all parameters annotated by CookieValue or PathVariable:

val sources = cpg.annotation.name(".*(CookieValue|PathVariable).*").parameter

We then define the set of sinks to be all parameters:

val sinks = cpg.method.parameter

Finally, we enumerate all flows from sources to sinks:


The flows can be examined manually or automatically. For example, we can determine parameters we control as a result of data flows as follows:


The query determines sinks reachable by sources and examines the corresponding data flows. The last flow element is extracted of each flow via the pathElemens.last directive, and the corresponding parameter is retrieved. The result of the query can be stored in a variable for further processing, which comes in handy when determining a large number of data flows:

val controlled = sinks.reachableBy(sources).flows.sink.parameter.l

We can now retrieve the parameter index ("ast child number" and method full name):

controlled.map(x => s"Controlling parameter ${x.astChildNum} of ${x.start.method.fullName.l.head}")


"Controlling parameter 1 of java.lang.Long.valueOf:java.lang.Long(long)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of java.lang.Long.valueOf:java.lang.Long(long)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of java.lang.Long.valueOf:java.lang.Long(long)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of java.lang.Long.valueOf:java.lang.Long(long)",
"Controlling parameter 0 of java.lang.String.equals:boolean(java.lang.Object)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of java.io.ObjectInputStream.<init>:void(java.io.InputStream)",
<b>"Controlling parameter 0 of java.io.ObjectInputStream.readObject:java.lang.Object()",</b>
"Controlling parameter 0 of io.shiftleft.model.AuthToken.isAdmin:boolean()",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.repository.AccountRepository.findOne:java.lang.Object(java.io.Serializable)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.repository.AccountRepository.findOne:java.lang.Object(java.io.Serializable)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.repository.AccountRepository.findOne:java.lang.Object(java.io.Serializable)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.repository.AccountRepository.findOne:java.lang.Object(java.io.Serializable)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.repository.CustomerRepository.findOne:java.lang.Object(java.io.Serializable)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.repository.CustomerRepository.exists:boolean(java.io.Serializable)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.repository.CustomerRepository.exists:boolean(java.io.Serializable)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.repository.CustomerRepository.delete:void(java.io.Serializable)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of java.util.Base64$Decoder.decode:byte[](java.lang.String)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of io.shiftleft.controller.AdminController.isAdmin:boolean(java.lang.String)",
"Controlling parameter 1 of java.io.ByteArrayInputStream.<init>:void(byte[])",
"Controlling parameter 2 of javax.servlet.http.HttpSession.setAttribute:void(java.lang.String,java.lang.Object)",

In particular, we see that the instance parameter (with an index of 0) of the method ObjectInputStream.readObject is controlled, that is, the deserialization vulnerability exists. This shows a more exploratory way of identifying the vulnerability.