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What Is Code Stylometry?

What Is Code Stylometry?

 By Charles Joseph | Cybersecurity Researcher
 Published on August 1st, 2023
This post was updated on November 25th, 2023

Code Stylometry is a process that identifies unique elements or patterns within a piece of software or code. It’s a bit like looking at a person’s handwriting to recognize their distinct style.

This technique can help track down the creator of a specific code block, even when they’ve tried to anonymize themselves. It works by analyzing different coding habits like naming conventions, whitespace use, and use of certain syntax or structures.

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Code Stylometry Examples

#1. Author Identification

One of the common applications of code stylometry is author identification. Imagine a situation where a piece of suspicious code has been discovered inside a system. We might need to identify the person who wrote this code, especially if it’s causing problems or contains malicious elements.

In this case, cybersecurity experts could turn to code stylometry. They would take the suspicious code and analyze its stylistic elements, such as its syntax, structure, and specific coding habits like variable naming, and comment styles.

Then, they would compare these elements with a database of known coding styles. Think of it like comparing handwriting samples to identify who wrote an anonymous note. With a high enough match, the experts can illuminate the possible author of the code, contributing to the attribution of the source.

#2. Plagiarism Detection

Code Stylometry can also be applied in the academic and professional fields as a powerful tool for plagiarism detection. In situations where two pieces of code appear very similar or identical and are submitted by different individuals, an investigation may need to take place.

By deploying code stylometry, the coding style patterns of both pieces are closely scrutinized and analyzed. The analysis includes aspects such as naming conventions, code formatting preferences, and also common syntax usage of the developers in question.

Comparing these stylistic features with the known styles of the alleged original creator can provide strong clues about the true authorship. This way, code stylometry can help determine if the code was copied or whether two people working independently happened to produce similar results.

#3. Anonymity Breach

Developers often contribute to collaborative projects anonymously for multiple reasons. They may prefer to keep their identity hidden for privacy or may not wish to associate their real name with a project. However, anonymity can be undermined unintentionally, thanks to code stylometry.

All developers tend to have unique coding habits. They might prefer certain variable names, have a specific way to structure their codes, or use certain syntax more frequently. These habits can leave a distinctive mark on their code, which can be likened to fingerprints.

If a developer’s unique coding style is known, security analysts can, through code stylometry, potentially trace back the code to its original author, even if it was submitted anonymously. It’s analogous to identifying a person by their unique handwriting, hence breaching the veil of anonymity.


Code Stylometry serves as a significant tool in the realm of cybersecurity, academia, and professional programming. By analyzing unique coding styles and patterns it allows identification of authors, facilitates plagiarism detection, and can even breach anonymity, thereby adding an extra layer of potential accountability in the digital world.

Key Takeaways

  • Code Stylometry is the practice of identifying unique patterns and elements in software code to trace its creator.
  • It can be used in the field of cybersecurity for author identification, tracing suspicious code back to its potential origin.
  • Academia and professional environments also use code stylometry for plagiarism detection, verifying the originality of code submissions.
  • Despite intentions for anonymity in code contribution, distinctive coding styles can be traced back to authors, revealing their identity.
  • The technique analyzes coding habits like naming conventions, use of whitespace, and certain syntax or structures.

Related Questions

1. Can Code Stylometry be fooled?

While it’s a powerful tool to reveal unique coding styles, sophisticated programmers with a deep understanding of this process might be able to deliberately alter their coding style to evade detection or mislead investigators.

2. What kind of specific coding habits does code stylometry analyze?

It may include things like the usage of certain variables, favorite types of syntax, code structuring habits, handling of whitespaces, and naming conventions.

3. Can Code Stylometry lead to false positives?

Like any analytical technique, there is a risk of false positives. Two programmers may have similar coding styles due to similar training, which could lead to inaccurate attribution of code authorship.

4. How reliable is Code Stylometry for detecting plagiarism?

Code Stylometry is a powerful ally in detecting plagiarism but should be used in conjunction with other plagiarism detection tools and techniques for the most reliable results.

5. Can Code Stylometry be used to improve code?

While its primary uses are related to security and authorization, understanding code stylometry can also lead to better and cleaner code. Developers who learn about their coding style can work to make it more consistent and efficient.

"Amateurs hack systems, professionals hack people."
-- Bruce Schneier, a renown computer security professional
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