The adoption of open-source software is continually on the rise, thanks to its endless benefits to modern business environments. Most companies, especially startups, prefer open-source databases to reduce the cost and time used for software development. Open-source applications also give businesses a level playing field and the freedom to leverage the latest technology without high upfront costs.
Unfortunately, like other comparable applications, open-source software has security defects. A recent survey found that approximately 78% of audited open-source codebases have vulnerabilities. 54% of these were high-level risks that hackers could potentially exploit.
However, these risks arise not because of open-source code quality but due to several factors surrounding open-source models. Below are common open-source vulnerabilities and how companies can avoid them.
Risks Posed by Open-Source Applications
1. Publicity of Vulnerabilities
Open-source projects generally avail codes to anybody. Ideally, this enables the open-source community to scrutinize and flag vulnerabilities in source codes, allowing project managers to fix issues before revealing vulnerabilities to the public. Unfortunately, such potential exploits are made public through the National Vulnerability Database.
Since anybody can access these exploits, hackers and malicious players can use the publicly available vulnerabilities to exploit startups and businesses that majorly depend on open-source databases and are slow to patch these risks. A perfect example of such an occurrence was the Equifax breach in 2017.
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2. Operational Risks
Operational inefficiencies are another major challenge of relying on an open-source database. Operational issues primarily arise from the failure of project managers and businesses to monitor key open-source components and relevant updates. Updates and new versions are meant to address high-risk vulnerabilities, and delaying can cause issues.
Through constant tracking, businesses can identify abandoned projects in their open-source frameworks. Some open-source projects begin with a lot of active involvement from members of the open-source community before rescinding. If you have such projects in your apps as frameworks or libraries, you should either remove them or assign your developers to fix future vulnerabilities.
3. Developer Malpractices
Some open-source risks also arise from developer malpractices, commonly copy-pasting codes from random open-source libraries. This is a pertinent issue because the copied code could contain vulnerabilities. Secondly, there’s no way of tracking updates of code snippets once you’ve pasted them into your database. This makes all projects created from the copied codes vulnerable to any attacks that arise in the future.
4. Intellectual Property Issues
More than 200 types of licenses can be used on open-source applications. This includes Apache, MIT, and GPL. Unfortunately, not all licenses are compatible. This means some components of open-source apps with different licenses cannot be bundled together unless you comply with all provisions. Using more components makes it impossible to track license stipulations.
For instance, “Copyleft” clauses in most licenses require project developers to release all applications created with this clause as open-source, making it less attractive for commercial and proprietary software.
How to Mitigate Open-Source Applications Risks
While these risks cannot be prevented, project developers can mitigate and secure open-source apps in the following ways:
1. Be part of the Community
Project managers and businesses have the ethical responsibility of contributing to the open-source community. Contributing to the community involves proactively reporting any vulnerabilities and sharing knowledge. Open-source community members should actively share security knowledge throughout the software development life cycle.
2. Inventory Open-source Assets
Inventory of your open-source assets is another prudent method of securing open-source apps. You can only protect software and apps that are identified, accessible, and can be tracked. Therefore, you should maintain an open-source inventory outlining all the open-source products, current versions, and pending updates.
Use the inventory to track the location of project downloads and regularly used projects that contain open-source codes. Having a detailed inventory makes it easier to protect open-source codes and apps.
3. Track Updates and Warnings
Tracking updates and warnings also help secure open-source products. Maintaining an active connection with open-source communities makes it easy to discover bugs and learn new updates and security patches. You’ll also learn more about general software security and protection. This is beneficial as it helps project managers develop high-quality programs that are efficient, secure, and productive.
4. Use Advanced Security Tools
You should also implement advanced security tools that accurately identify, mitigate, and address potential vulnerabilities in open-source codes. Project managers and businesses should constantly look for reliable software development tools and technologies to include in their development pipeline.
For instance, most programming teams leverage software composition analysis solutions that integrate security into their workflows. Integrating these tools enables development teams to deliver trusted applications faster. SCA tools scan the development pipeline continuously to uncover present zero-day vulnerabilities in open-source products. They also detect suspicious code injections that can cause later catastrophes.
5. Embrace Automation
Embracing automation also actively protects open-source applications. AI-powered automated solutions help startups and development teams with restricted resources manage their open-source security issues effectively. Artificial intelligence helps development teams scale, maintain and protect open-source frameworks with minimal human interventions.
Artificial intelligence also boosts productivity, eliminates human error, and simplifies control. Automated resources run automatic security checks, promoting access control and risk mitigation. Some also patch identified vulnerabilities without requiring human intervention.
6. Adopt a Responsible Disclosure Policy
There’s undoubtedly no fully secure system. Vulnerabilities are always present, and development teams should accept that applications might have vulnerabilities and develop a mechanism for third-party reporting. Software providers and development teams should create a responsible disclosure policy, which outlines how security researchers can report bugs.
This can include an incentivized reporting program or a simple way for security experts to disclose threats. Handling vulnerabilities requires extensive communication and collaboration. Therefore, you should standardize third-party communication for better reporting.
The Bottom Line
Interestingly, open-source vulnerabilities can last for over four years before detection because most developers prioritize quick software development over writing secure codes. Besides, most open-source experiments don’t follow the security protocols of production environments. Nonetheless, the measures listed above can help startups and project managers keep their open-source applications secure.