For a number of organizations, open source software presents an interesting challenge. Some are hesitant to use it because they believe it is less secure than its proprietary counterpart. Others believe that because the code is being reviewed by so many people, security flaws must be addressed promptly.
The situation, however, is more complicated than either of these. Excessive dependence on proprietary software for closed-source code is just as risky as thinking open-source has been thoroughly scrutinized by a team of knowledgeable engineers.
The Appeal for Threat Actors
Threat actors are drawn to the open source attack strategy because it is both widespread and very successful. Attackers can disguise malicious changes made to open source projects using a variety of approaches, and the thoroughness with which code is reviewed for security implications varies greatly between projects. Without strict controls in place to detect malicious alterations, they may go undetected until they have been spread and included in software across multiple organizations.
Patch Updates or Timely Review Is Not Guaranteed with Open Source
One of the key arguments in favor of open source is that the transparency of the code encourages more people to check it for flaws. Regrettably, this isn’t always the case. Not every piece of open source software has a dedicated user base that will meticulously review each line of code for errors, and even if one does, it isn’t assured that the team will have the knowledge or experience to find and fix all issues. And just because open source software has vulnerability-scanning techniques doesn’t indicate they have been deployed on a given program.
However, tracking the time it takes for a team to deliver a patch when a vulnerability is detected can provide a reasonable insight of a software’s security. In general, a quick turn-around time on patch releases indicates an active security team, though users should also consider the severity of the threat and the quality of the patch
Software Testing and Protection
Rather than avoiding open source entirely, security and software teams should collaborate to set policies and a testing methodology for apps and software components. Businesses should consider this as a three-part process. Scanning and testing code, having a clear method for identifying and patching vulnerabilities as they appear, and developing an internal policy with rules for dealing with security issues are all required.
When it comes to using tools to test the resilience of the open source environment, static code analysis is a good place to start. Organizations must keep in mind, however, that this is merely the first level of testing. Static analysis, however, cannot detect all malicious threats that may be present in open source code. The next step should be additional testing in a sandbox setting. Other methods that can be used include dynamic code analysis, code reviews, and unit testing.
Organizations must have a clear strategy in place to remedy any found vulnerabilities after the scanning is completed. Developers may be working against a deadline, or the software fix may necessitate reworking the entire program, putting pressure on schedules. By providing clear next steps for addressing vulnerabilities and mitigating concerns, this method should help developers in making difficult decisions to protect the organization’s security.
The policy-change step should result in a documented plan for how all decisions will be made and who should be included throughout the process. Organizations can also use certification and accreditation programs to add multiple controls for their open source components. However, they should keep in mind that this will increase overhead costs and hinder open source project development.