Open Source Software (OSS) components are essential for most applications today, often making up more than 50% of the codebase. Many organizations struggle to implement the appropriate security measures to protect against open source vulnerabilities. Once a vulnerability is fixed, another one pops up, and open source security can often seem like a losing game.This article explains the dangers of open source threats and vulnerabilities, provides a few methods for uncovering and responding to vulnerabilities, and explains the risks of failing to secure your codebase against open source vulnerabilities.
Open Source Threats
Open source components are pieces of code that are made available for public use under an open source license.The good thing about open source code is that it helps reduce the time it takes to develop an application, as it frees you from writing the entire code from scratch. You can use the OSS code as a template and tweak it to fit the specs of the project. You also have the advantage of getting more eyes to help debug the code, as Linus’ Law
claims.The disadvantage of using open source is that it leaves your code open for attack. When you add open source components into your code, you introduce a foreign entity. The open nature of the OSS codebase makes it vulnerable. Anyone can get into the code and inject malware or a backdoor exploit.
Open Source Vulnerabilities
Open source vulnerabilities can be used by unauthorized parties for nefarious purposes. Whether the vulnerability was introduced into the open source on purpose or by mistake, once it’s inside your program it can be used to modify your code, inject malware, or gain root access to your network.The Open Source Perimeter
Unlike propriety code, open source components have no defined perimeter. The open source code just sits there, out in the open, vulnerable and exposed to random human errors or deliberate and malicious modification. There’s no designated organization responsible for the distribution and security of open source. It’s an open perimeter that, for better or worse, lets everyone contribute.
How To Uncover Open Source Vulnerabilities
Manual Vulnerabilities Research
Open source code contributed to and maintained by a community of developers. They invest their time and effort into making code resources available for public use. The open source community is highly motivated to uncover vulnerabilities and initiate appropriate responses. Below you’ll find some of the manual methods used to uncover vulnerabilities.Traditional Proprietary Code Testing Systems
The following testing tools can be used to analyze the source code and scan for pre-configured triggers of known threats:
Open Source Vulnerability Databases
- Static Application Security Testing (SAST)—performs an analysis of the code at rest.
- Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)—performs an analysis of the code at run time.You can use the testing systems to scan your code before and after deployment.
These contain lists of known vulnerabilities. The most popular database is the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), which was established by the US government. The NVD analysis explains how each vulnerability works and provides a scoring system that aids in response prioritization. For example, NVD uses the latest version of the Common Vulnerability Scoring System, or CVSS V3
. You can add information from the vulnerability databases to any automated search you run.Bug Bounty Programs
These deals are created for the sole purpose of uncovering vulnerabilities in a codebase. Many of the bug bounty programs are run by large corporations or government institutions and employ White Hat hackers to initiate attacks and report and vulnerability they find. For example, the Internet Bug Bounty
(IBB) initiative was created in 2014 for the purpose of uncovering vulnerabilities in open source software and Internet infrastructure.
Advanced Open Source Vulnerabilities MethodsIdentity and Access Management (IAM) Solutions
These solutions provide controls for regulating the access and privileges granted for each user. The key benefit of using an IAM system is the enhanced capabilities for protecting the security perimeter of the digital ecosystem. You can set up your IAM solutions like border control, to ensure that nothing and no one gets in or out without your approval.Software Composition Analysis (SCA) Solutions
These solutions provide enhanced visibility into the open source inventory. SCA tools offer a variety of capabilities, from creating a Bill of Materials (BOM) that lists open source components, to advanced license risk management modules, and continuous and automated monitoring processes.Prioritizing Vulnerabilities
Before responding to a vulnerability, assess your situation to determine:
- What is the likelihood that the vulnerability in question will be exploited?
- What is the estimated damage if the vulnerability will be exploited?
You can assess each detected vulnerability
manually, delegate the prioritization task to an automated solution, or create a combination of both methods.
Open Source Risks: Moving Forward
Open source vulnerabilities put everyone at risk. The consequences may change between companies and individuals, as follows:
- Companies may be subjected to fines for noncompliance with privacy and security regulations. Business disruptions may cause delays in supply chains, and once the vulnerability is made public, the company may face reputational damage and lawsuits.
- Individuals influenced by security breaches may find themselves victims of credit card fraud, identity theft, ransomware attacks, and emotional trauma. Individuals may be inclined to press charges against the organization.
To help ensure that your organization stays ahead of the game, you should maintain visibility into all your assets while keeping track of vulnerability databases. You can also run tests to discover vulnerabilities that may affect you, but you shouldn’t rely on in-house testing alone if you want to keep up with the changing security landscape.Open source applications and components provide a great shortcut for developers, with tried and tested functionality and a large dedicated community to empower you. However, you should remember that with great power comes great responsibility, and it is your responsibility to understand the risks and apply the necessary patches and response plans.