In today’s connected world, software development environments focus a lot on faced-paced development. Organizations that adopt agile development practices such as DevOps and use Open-Source (OS) software and components to their advantage have a much better chance of keeping up with demand and shorten the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC).
However, incorporating OS components into applications does not come without risks, as they often contain bugs or vulnerabilities, and are highly exposed to exploits. In this article, we will cover what is Open-Source Software (OSS) and OS components, discuss the importance of security for open source and cover five best practices for managing open-source components.
What Is Open-Source Software?
Open source refers to any software with accessible source code that anyone can modify and share freely. You can head over to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) and see a detailed list of criteria for the definition of OSS. While OSS allows many more modifications over proprietary software, you must still accept the terms and conditions defined in its license.
The Benefits of Open-Source Components
Open-source components are software units that meet the definition provided by the OSI. Modern development environments put a lot of pressure on developers to build and deploy applications more quickly. To successfully achieve their goals within short software release cycles, developers frequently use OS components.
The Importance of Security for Open-Source Components
OS components are incorporated into the vast majority of software and applications. Even though they allow developers to be more efficient and get more done, they can also introduce new vulnerabilities and jeopardize the integrity of the entire code.
Since OS components are developed in a distributed system, they are often more vulnerable to exploits than proprietary code. Some of the reasons for this are:
- Distributed development: Compared to a distributed OSS developed by many individuals, it is much easier to track and manage a code developed in-house and ensure you follow policies and protocols.
- Fast release cycles: OSS development is much quicker and agile, which means that very often, by the time a new software release passes all the quality and vulnerability checks, it has already become obsolete with the release of a newer cycle. This makes it almost impossible and in most cases useless to run the necessary tests and ensure the safety of using the code.
- Lack of quality standards: OSS elements do not pass the same quality and standard checks as proprietary code. Thus, unless you evaluate each OS component before implementing it, you can often incorporate low-quality code that is exposed to vulnerabilities, lowering the overall quality of your code.
- The double-edged sword: When members of the open-source community discover a vulnerability, they publicly share the details of the problem in online forums to help developers learn about the risk and how to patch it. Unfortunately, this solution is often a double-edged sword. While this is a step in the right direction, it exposes the details of the vulnerability to threat actors as well, who can exploit it against systems that have not yet patched the vulnerability.
- Lack of security measures: The problem with OSS is even greater for smaller companies, who prefer to use it to save time and resources but lack the necessary security measures to ensure the components they are implementing are secure enough to be implemented into the code.
Now, let’s take a look at the five best practices for OS components management.
Form a Policy
Establish a clear policy on how to incorporate and manage OS components. This step will give usage guidelines to your developers and ensure OSS elements are incorporated responsibly without damaging code quality. Additionally, if you are facing problems with OSS elements, this policy can act as a playbook and give instructions to your security teams on how to handle the threat.
Carefully Choose Software
It is important to choose the right software for you. While it might be tempting to use many kinds of software and enjoy all their possible benefits, you have to consider your requirements and ensure the software you use can answer all your demands. You should consider the amount of support you require and the risks you might face. One of the most crucial aspects is how secure the software is. A good way to measure the software’s security is the Open Web App Application Security Project (OWASP) dependency-check, a utility tool that identifies project dependencies and checks if they contain any open-source vulnerabilities.
Track and Update OS Components Regularly
Track your OS components throughout the entire product life cycle and ensure transparency to find critical security vulnerabilities. Updating OS components versions frequently is typically the best way to deal with bugs and vulnerabilities.
One of the best features of OSS is (as long as you keep up with the policies) you can modify the source code and customize the software to fit your needs. Thus, you can take software intended for specific use-cases and modify it to provide a better solution for your situation. However, this process can be intensive and take effort and time. Thus, before you attempt forking, consult with other community and team members to ensure you have the right idea and execution.
Use Automated Tools
Cybersecurity is highly time-sensitive—the first moments of dealing with an attack are the most critical. Automated tools, such as Security, Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR), can help you identify threats quicker and make mitigation efforts much faster to minimize and dramatically minimize the attack’s potential damage to your system. You can also use automated tools to enforce policies and check your OS components for vulnerabilities, making the process much faster and more secure.
OSS and OS components have many advantages for developers and facilitate agile development. However, the flip side of their ease of use is the danger they pose in terms of open-source vulnerabilities. To mitigate this risk, you should incorporate the right practices for managing OS components into a clear strategy. This will allow you to enjoy all the benefits of OS components without exposing your application, network and systems to unnecessary risks.