What security questions do developers ask? A large-scale study of stack overflow posts

Xin Li Yang, David Lo, Xin Xia, Zhi Yuan Wan, Jian Ling Sun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Security has always been a popular and critical topic. With the rapid development of information technology, it is always attracting people’s attention. However, since security has a long history, it covers a wide range of topics which change a lot, from classic cryptography to recently popular mobile security. There is a need to investigate security-related topics and trends, which can be a guide for security researchers, security educators and security practitioners. To address the above-mentioned need, in this paper, we conduct a large-scale study on security-related questions on Stack Overflow. Stack Overflow is a popular on-line question and answer site for software developers to communicate, collaborate, and share information with one another. There are many different topics among the numerous questions posted on Stack Overflow and security-related questions occupy a large proportion and have an important and significant position. We first use two heuristics to extract from the dataset the questions that are related to security based on the tags of the posts. And then we use an advanced topic model, Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) tuned using Genetic Algorithm (GA), to cluster different security-related questions based on their texts. After obtaining the different topics of security-related questions, we use their metadata to make various analyses. We summarize all the topics into five main categories, and investigate the popularity and difficulty of different topics as well. Based on the results of our study, we conclude several implications for researchers, educators and practitioners.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)910-924
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Computer Science and Technology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • empirical study
  • security
  • Stack Overflow
  • topic model

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