The unbridled use of open source components within the software supply chain is on a major uptick, according to new research. Even as this surge in open source dependencies fuels faster innovation, the study shows that it comes with high cybersecurity costs, as the number of breaches related to these components is similarly on the rise.
However, the numbers also indicate there are some clear practices used by the best DevSecOps teams to minimize the risk while maximizing the speed and agility that third-party components offer.
Sonatype and research partners from IT Revolution and Galois made a thorough analysis of download patterns, software component makeup and DevSecOps behaviors around open source components and third-party libraries for the “2019 State of the Software Supply Chain Report.” Their analysis found that the rate of open source component releases has picked up by 75% in the last two years and that download requests from teams using these components have risen 68% year over year.
Most tellingly, the study showed that among modern applications today, 85% of the average code base is comprised of open source componentry. Not only are the majority of applications using open source components and libraries, but also they depend on them heavily.
“The practice of assembling open source component releases into the form of an application screams of efficiency. Developers no longer need to code every line from scratch,” according to the report. “Developers can download component releases in seconds that deliver new capabilities, built by experts outside of their organizations who make their code freely available to others.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, the study noted a parallel rise in breaches associated with open source component use. Last year 1 in 4 organizations suspected or verified they experienced a breach related to open source components in the last 12 months. That’s a slight improvement over last year’s stats, which had it pinned at 1 in 3 organizations. But since 2014, that rate of breaches has risen by 71%.
The point the report hammered home is that not all components are created equally. There exists a certain class of well-run open source projects that release updates more frequently, update problematic vulnerabilities faster and remediate flaws more quickly. It is up to DevSecOps teams to systematically manage components, so they leverage more of these high-quality open source projects and try to avoid the riskier open source dependencies.
“Management of software supply chains is not simply ensuring quality at velocity. Our supply chains are being attacked by adversaries in new and creative ways,” according to the report. It found that organizations that actively manage their supply chains are able to reduce the proportion of vulnerable components by 55% compared to those who do not.
The report found several software supply chain practices contributed to this reduction of risk, with the following five standing out as the most impactful:
Develop a governance program: Foundational to this is having some sort of open source governance or standards policies in place, according to the report, which noted that among the best DevSecOps organizations at managing risky components, nearly 3 in 4 have such policies in place.
Have a process for evaluating and adding new components: As a part of that open source policy, the best teams have standardized processes for how developers add new open source components. This includes how these components are evaluated, approved, standardized and so on. The exemplary organizations are 11 times more likely to use this kind of process for new dependencies.
Proactively remove problematic components: New vulnerabilities are discovered every day, so simply evaluating a dependency upon its first inclusion in an application can only take an organization so far. The best organizations also take the initiative to look for potential sources of open source vulnerabilities in existing code. That includes proactively seeking out and removing known vulnerable dependencies, as well as reducing the attack surface of the code by eliminating open source dependencies that aren’t being used. The best organizations are 9.3 times more likely to do so.
Aim to always use the latest versions of components: It should go without saying that the latest version of any given component has the least vulnerabilities. The report showed that component releases that are 3 years or older have a 65% higher defect rate compared to newer components. Exemplary organizations strive to use the newest updates of all of their open source components and are 6.2 times more likely to do so than other organizations. That doesn’t happen accidentally—these teams are 10 times more likely to schedule update dependencies as part of the daily work of DevSecOps teams.
Use Enforcement Automation: Just having a policy in place is not enough—organizations need to enforce the open source standards to reduce risk meaningfully. The study showed that DevOps practices combined with automated enforcement of policies increase developer adherence to standards by 150%. The exemplary teams with the lowest open source defect rates are 12 times more likely to have automated tools to track, manage and/or ensure policy compliance of open source dependencies.
All of these best practices add up to less risk from components, as well as less pain for DevSecOps teams, who are three times less likely to consider the process of updating components as painful.