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Open Source Security Challenges and How to Overcome Them

As with any technology, there are some challenges that you might come across when using OSS—the biggest of which is that it is freely available for the community to use and modify. In this article, we break down what those challenges are and give you the tools you need to overcome them.

6 October 2021

by Sapnesh Naik

What You Will Learn

If you’re looking to adopt open source software or solutions and you’re concerned about any security vulnerabilities that may come with it, we’re here to help! In this article, we’re going to dive into some of the common security issues that open source software poses and provide you with solutions to mitigate them. Before we get started, though, let’s jump into some basics of open source software.

What Is Open Source Software, and Why Should We Use It?

Open Source Software (OSS) is a source code that is released without any copyright restrictions and is accessible for the community to reuse, enhance, and modify. Most OSS is free, which makes it an ideal option for beginners, budding engineers, developers, and businesses.

For a source code to be considered OSS though, there is a list of criteria it should meet as per the OSI (Open Source Initiative). For all intents and purposes, it should be free to redistribute, not place restrictions on other software that is distributed along with the licensed software, and rights attached to the program must apply to all to whom the program is redistributed without the need for execution of an additional license by those parties.

Open Source Software comes with an abundance of advantages and future vision of every enterprise. Here are a few reasons why you might consider adapting OOS:

Now that we’ve addressed the benefits of using OSS, let’s take a look at some of the challenges an organization may face adopting it.

Open Source Security Challenges

As with any technology, there are some challenges that a developer or an organization might come across if they use OSS—the biggest of these being that it is freely available for the community to use and modify.

1. Attacks Due to Publicity

In the open source community, the source code is readily available to everyone. This free accessibility has a lot of advantages, like allowing a developer to mark potential loose ends in the code, but it is also how hackers exploit code and cause potential harm to its users.

Open source vulnerabilities are made public at the National Vulnerability Data (NVD) platform, and this is how hackers find vulnerabilities in the code and abuse them. More than anything else, this vulnerability is one of the biggest challenges that come with adopting an OSS solution because even a minor vulnerability could lead to a security breach.

2. Risks Due to Legacy Code

Every organization aims to achieve higher production speed. To speed up the development phase, developers have a tendency to reuse code that has been around for years, blindly putting their faith in it based on its popularity. But this is less than ideal since the legacy code has many intertwined dependencies that can potentially open up the application to security risks.

3. Absence of Standardized License Compliance

Open source software comes with a license that allows the users to use, enhance, and modify the source code. If you, as a developer or an organization, are consuming the software, you are subject to the legal conditions bound within the OSS. The problem, however, is that not all licenses are compliant with OSI’s rules, and using such software poses a significant security threat.

Not all the products released under a banner comply with the same license, and software under different banners occasionally comply with different licensing rules. This absence of a standardized licensing body makes it difficult for users to use a combination of products in their projects, and the variations of compliance opens up even more vulnerabilities.

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How Do We Tackle These Challenges?

Now that we know what kind of security challenges may come with OSS adoption, let’s jump into how to overcome them!

1. Adapt Automation to Find Vulnerabilities

Testing the OSS and probing for vulnerabilities is absolutely vital for any organization that uses or deploys open source code. It’s important to do this as early as possible because it becomes a rather tedious job to track the health of your software once you start to scale. Fortunately, automation tools can help make this process easier! In addition to monitoring for risk factors, automated tools can prevent us from making human errors.

These automation tools run tirelessly around the clock scanning your software for threats, risks, and vulnerabilities and will notify you via a notification system in the event that a possible breach has been detected. If you’re looking for some specific tools to use for this, we highly recommend either Acunetix or Netsparker.

2. Staying Up-to-date on Security Patch Releases

The source code of any OSS is constantly being tested for flagged vulnerabilities brought up in community posts, and when the vulnerability is fixed, the code owner will release a security patch to help users deal with the threat. As users, it is absolutely essential to stay up-to-date with these releases to protect your application from the risks involved.

3. Scanning the Reused Code or Third Party Applications

Agile methodology has grown increasingly more popular over the years because it encourages reusing code. While this methodology should absolutely be utilized, it’s important to run standard security checks before using any piece of code. Blindly importing libraries or carelessly copying and pasting code into your application in the name of reusability should be avoided at all costs.

As a precautionary measure, you could also deploy the reused code locally in order to test it and then use it in your production. To avoid having to spend a lot of time on this though, you could use a tool like PVS Studio that helps you scan, analyze, and structure your code better.

4. Developers Can Be Cross Trained

When building your team with a “security first” approach, it’s not always easy or even possible to hire individuals with an abundance of experience in both development and security. It is, however, possible to cross-train your teams so that they can approach any issues from both sides. Holding regular cybersecurity awareness training for all of your teams may be a bit of a stretch on your resources, but it’s really quite critical for the overall security of your projects.

At the very least, organizations should ensure that their developers have a general understanding of cybersecurity and that they’re able to identify some common security issues that may arise in open source code, if not fix them outright. Similarly, your security team should have a hand in the early stages of your development process.

Secure Open Source Development at Crowdbotics.

There are managed services that can help you stay on top of all applications, resources, security threats, and deployments. At Crowdbotics, we offer managed services and open source development of applications.

Crowdbotics’ RAD Stack development methodology leverages a number of open source React Native libraries to create custom applications for clients. If you’re looking for high-quality open source app development, get in touch with one of our experts today.