Towards Causal Deep Learning for Vulnerability Detection



Deep learning vulnerability detection has shown promising results in recent years. However, an important challenge that still blocks it from being very useful in practice is that the model is not robust under perturbation and it cannot generalize well over the out-of-distribution (OOD) data, e.g., applying a trained model to unseen projects in real world. We hypothesize that this is because the model learned non-robust features, e.g., variable names, that have spurious correlations with labels. When the perturbed and OOD datasets no longer have the same spurious features, the model prediction fails. To address the challenge, in this paper, we introduced causality into deep learning vulnerability detection. Our approach CausalVul consists of two phases. First, we designed novel perturbations to discover spurious features that the model may use to make predictions. Second, we applied the causal learning algorithms, specifically, do-calculus, on top of existing deep learning models to systematically remove the use of spurious features and thus promote causal based prediction. Our results show that CausalVul consistently improved the model accuracy, robustness and OOD performance for all the state-of-the-art models and datasets we experimented. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work that introduces do calculus based causal learning to software engineering models and shows it’s indeed useful for improving the model accuracy, robustness and generalization. Our replication package is located at

In proceedings of the 46th International Conference on Software Engineering, ICSE ’24, Lisbon, Portugal, April 2024.
Md Mahbubur Rahman
Md Mahbubur Rahman
PhD Student at Computer Science

My research interests include AI for Code, Software Engineering and Deep Learning.