Risks, Including the Defense, of Using Open-Source Software
Open-source software is widely used by many organizations as it helps to save costs. However, it is not without risks, and security professionals must take note of these risks to prevent cybersecurity breaches. In this blog post, we will discuss the risks of using open-source software and how to defend against them.
Risks of Using Open-Source Software
1. Vulnerabilities are Public Knowledge
Vulnerabilities in open-source software are made public knowledge by contributors themselves, as well as by organizations like the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) and National Vulnerability Database (NVD). If you are part of the community for a specific project, you often get advanced warning before it is made public to groups like OWASP and NVD, but so does anyone else that is part of the community. This means that if you are lax in maintaining the latest versions or updating components you are leaving yourself open to risks, as vulnerabilities are often identified and exploited by cybercriminals.
2. Lack of Security
Open-source software comes with no claims or legal obligations for security, and community support informing you how to implement it securely may be lacking. The developers responsible for creating software are often not security experts and may not understand how to implement best practices. Although resources like the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities list are publicly available and targeted towards open-source communities, they don’t always provide instructions on how to implement security features to protect against these flaws.
Often open-source software includes or requires the use of third-party libraries, pulled in from package managers without inspection. The black-box nature of these libraries makes it more difficult and time-consuming to identify and patch any vulnerabilities they might inject.
3. Intellectual Property Issues
There are over 200 types of licenses that can be applied to open-source software, including Apache, GPL, and MIT. Many of these licenses are incompatible with each other, meaning that certain components cannot be used together since you have to comply with all terms when using open-source software. The more components you use, the more difficult it becomes to track and compare all of the license stipulations.
Some licenses include “copyleft” clauses that require you to release any software created with the covered components as open-source, in its entirety. This makes it impossible to use in proprietary software and less attractive for use in commercial purposes.
4. Lack of Warranty
Open-source software does not come with any warranties as to its security, support, or content. Although many projects are supported, they are done so by volunteers and the development of them can be dropped without notice.
Community members typically evaluate the software for security issues and provide support through open forums but they are not obligated to do so nor are they liable for faulty guidance.
Since open-source software is created by communities of sometimes anonymous contributors, it is difficult to verify that the code being contributed is original and not taken from a third-party source with established intellectual property rights. What this means in practice is that if you use open-source software that is found to contain code with infringed rights, you can be held responsible for the infringement.
5. Relaxed Integrations Oversight
Teams often have insufficient or non-existent review processes when it comes to which open-source components are being used. Multiple versions of the same component might be used by different teams or developers might be unaware of conflicting functionality or licensing.
These issues can occur due to lack of knowledge of software or security functionality, lack of communication between teams or team members, or insufficient or absent tracking and documentation protocols.
Unlike third-party proprietary software, which has built-in controls to prevent the use of multiple or incompatible versions, open-source components typically rely on the user to verify proper use.
6. Operational Insufficiencies
The use of open-source components can create a lot of additional work for already time-crunched teams and it often isn’t clear.
The use of open-source software can bring many benefits to organizations, including cost savings and flexibility. However, it also comes with inherent risks that organizations must be aware of and actively manage. Cybersecurity risks, intellectual property issues, lack of security, operational inefficiencies, poor developer practices and relaxed integration oversight are just a few examples of the risks that come with using open-source software. To defend against these risks, organizations must use proper tools and have proper processes in place, including implementing DevSec teams, automation tools for tracking open-source components, and conducting regular vulnerability scans and penetration testing. By taking these steps, organizations can more effectively manage the risks associated with open-source software and enjoy the benefits it can bring.