Mininode: Reducing the Attack Surface of Node.js Applications


Igibek Koishybayev and Alexandros Kapravelos, North Carolina State University


JavaScript has gained traction as a programming language that qualifies for both the client-side and the server-side logic of applications. A new ecosystem of server-side code written in JavaScript has been enabled by Node.js, the use of the V8 JavaScript engine and a collection of modules that provide various core functionality. Node.js comes with its package manager, called NPM, to handle the dependencies of modern applications, which allow developers to build Node.js applications with hundreds of dependencies on other modules.

In this paper, we present Mininode, a static analysis tool for Node.js applications that measures and removes unused code and dependencies. Our tool can be integrated into the building pipeline of Node.js applications to produce applications with significantly reduced attack surface. We analyzed 672k Node.js applications and reported the current state of code bloating in the server-side JavaScript ecosystem. We leverage a vulnerability database to identify 1,660 vulnerable packages that are loaded from 119,433 applications as dependencies. Mininode is capable of removing 2,861 of these vulnerable dependencies. The complex expressiveness and the dynamic nature of the JavaScript language does not always allow us to statically resolve the dependencies and usage of modules. To evaluate the correctness of our reduction, we run Mininode against 37k Node.js applications that have unit tests and reduce correctly 95.4% of packages. Mininode was able to restrict access to the built-in fs and net modules in 79.4%and 96.2% of the reduced applications respectively.

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@inproceedings {259707,
author = {Igibek Koishybayev and Alexandros Kapravelos},
title = {Mininode: Reducing the Attack Surface of Node.js Applications},
booktitle = {23rd International Symposium on Research in Attacks, Intrusions and Defenses ({RAID} 2020)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-18-2},
address = {San Sebastian},
pages = {121--134},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = oct,