Open Source Security Risks
Explore the basics of open source security and examine several best practices you can use to prevent open source risks.
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What Are Open-Source Vulnerabilities?
While open-source software drives rapid innovation, it introduces many challenges. On the one hand, it provides developers with ready-made software to add functionality to existing applications or even use it as the foundation for a new product. However, it also introduces security risks.
Open-source security has become a cornerstone of modern application security. Open-source vulnerabilities emerge when open-source software contains or creates security risks. A vulnerability may occur due to careless integration of components, lack of security functionality, poorly written code, and malicious code. Threat actors exploit open source vulnerabilities to launch various attacks, which enable them to abuse resources, steal data, and damage systems.
Another aspect of open source security is third-party risk. Open source components are created by open communities, and threat actors can freely join these communities. It is relatively easy for an attacker to add a vulnerability or backdoor to an open-source component in order to compromise users of that open source component. This makes it critical to test the integrity of open source components and ensure they are not tampered with over time.
Open Source Security Risks
High Development Velocity
Modern continuous delivery pipelines deploy new software versions every day or even multiple times per day. Most enterprise software projects contain a large number of open source components. With this high velocity, it is difficult to keep track of which open source components are used, which of them contain vulnerabilities, and understand when new vulnerabilities or risks occur. Manual checks are not effective in such a fast-moving environment.
Vulnerabilities are Public Knowledge
Project contributors are responsible for disclosing open source vulnerabilities to the public. Additionally, organizations like the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) and Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) provide information on vulnerabilities disclosed and discovered in numerous open-source projects.
Active open-source communities often provide advanced warning to users before it is disclosed to organizations like NVD and OWASP. Typically, the project’s community works on fixing the issue and releasing a patched version or an update. However, users must keep up with these changes and keep their systems up to date to avoid exploitation.
Lack of Security Guarantees
Typically, open-source projects do not offer guarantees, make claims, provide legal assurances, or security support. Open source users are responsible for ensuring that the open-source components are secured. You can use resources like the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities list, but this information does not include security implementation instructions.
License Compliance Risks
There are more than 200 open source licenses, each stipulating unique privileges, and restrictions. It is critical to understand software license types in all open source packages to ensure you are using the code in compliance with the licensing. You can track and enforce open source licenses only by achieving visibility into all open source components and continuously monitoring licenses because copyright owners may occasionally change the license for a library.
Lack of Warranty
Open source projects do not provide security, content, or support warranties. While contributors support open source projects, these are volunteers, which means they are free to stop the development without notice. Typically, community members assess the software for security issues, providing support through forums. However, they are not obligated to offer support and are not liable for faulty guidance.
Best Practices to Find and Fix Open-Source Vulnerabilities
Here are best practices to help you find and remediate open-source vulnerabilities:
Identifying Open-Source Components
Identify and find all open source components in your codebase. After identifying all components, you can begin scanning and monitoring them to detect vulnerabilities.
Enforcing Strict Security Rules and Protocols
A security policy can help ensure you are introducing only secure open source components into your codebase. Organizations can use these policies to standardize open source usage and enforce these standards across the organization. It helps minimize the number of risks introduced into the development lifecycle and ensures a code quality remains high.
Educating Employees on the Risks of Using Open-Source Elements
It is critical to inform employees of the security risks associated with open source components. Once employees understand the risks associated with open source software, they can identify unsafe components and avoid or fix them before introducing them into the codebase.
Always Use Updated Libraries
You must use updated libraries to ensure you use open source components that include the latest security patches and fixes. It helps minimize the number of vulnerabilities and ensures you are not running a version with critical, active risks.
Use Automated Security Tools
Cybersecurity is time-sensitive. Automated security tools help minimize the scope of damage caused by cyberattacks. You can use security tools to automatically identify open source components within the entire code and scan these components for vulnerabilities. These tools provide alerts with detailed findings and push notifications once a new patch is released. For example, security, orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) solutions can autonomously respond to low-level threats.
In this article I explained the basics of open source security and provided several best practices you can use to prevent open source risks:
Identify open source components: Discover which open source tools you are using in your software projects.
Enforcing strict security protocols: Scan for vulnerabilities in open source components and ensure you know the security risks of any new package.
Educating employees: Ensure developers know the risks of open source and share responsibility for security.
Always use updated libraries: Update open source libraries as much as possible, especially when there are security advisories.
Use automated security tools: Automate the entire open source security process to ensure it happens continuously as part of the development lifecycle.
I hope this will be useful as you improve the security posture of your software projects.
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