Sonatype today released a report that finds there has been a 650% year-over-year increase in supply chain attacks aimed at upstream public repositories. Cybercriminals hope to compromise these repositories by injecting malware into software components that many organizations might be using, according to the report.
Over the course of 2021, developers also downloaded more than 2.2 trillion open source packages from the top four ecosystems, a 73% increase over the prior year.
However, despite the huge available supply of open source software, use of this software is primarily concentrated in a small number of popular projects. Production applications are only using 6% of available open source projects.
Not surprisingly, popular projects are more vulnerable to compromise. A total of 29% of popular project versions contain at least one known security vulnerability. Conversely, only 6.5% of projects that are not widely used have vulnerabilities.
Stephen Magill, vice president of product innovation for Sonatype, said popular open source projects tend to have better security practices in place because of the larger number of maintainers and contributors working on the project. The paradox is that less-popular open source software is not likely to be targeted by cybercriminals who tend to focus on targets that represent the best chance to infect downstream applications, said Magill. Popular open source projects were 2.8 times more likely to contain vulnerabilities, the report found.
Projects with a faster mean-time-to-update (MTTU) are also generally more secure. They are 1.8 times less likely to have vulnerabilities, the survey found.
The report also found developers make suboptimal choices 69% of the time when updating third-party dependencies, even when newer versions of projects are generally available. Developers may be avoiding those updates because they may be perceived to be not as stable as they would like. However, those updates generally contain the latest security patches needed to address a recently discovered vulnerability. Commercial engineering teams only manage 25% of the components they use, leaving the majority of their open source dependencies stale and susceptible to increased security risks, the report found.
Finally, the report suggested there is a greater need for automation. Equipped with intelligent automation, a medium-sized enterprise with 20 application development teams would save a total of 160 developer days a year. Sonatype estimated that could save organizations $192,000 a year.
In general, Magill noted that the security of software supply chains should continue to improve in the wake of an executive order issued by President Biden. In the meantime, however, most organizations would be well-advised to start reviewing the components and dependencies that make up their software supply chain sooner rather than later. After all, chances are good that cybercriminals are already doing much the same thing.