Weighing the Security Benefits & Drawbacks of Open-Source

These days, open-source software can be found everywhere as innovation is unmatched among organizations. That being said, the accessibility to open-source software creates significant security risks for the creation of vulnerabilities in products. Open-source can be seen in our daily lives, as it’s woven throughout the fabric of the Internet, in industries such as commerce, business, and even social media. For example, the recent Log4j vulnerability left experts racing to create and distribute a patch before attackers could wreak havoc on unsuspecting targets. This article will explore how open-source is a crucial part of improving security visibility while bringing different security silos together, how it is vital to national security, as well as the appeal it holds for cybercriminals.

What Is Open-Source Security?

Open-source security refers to the risks that are a part of third-party software, as well as tools and processes used to secure that software. Open-source security consists of four dimensions; open standards for facilitating interoperability between tools; open-source code for filling gaps in security products and creating new capabilities; analytics and threat intelligence, and sharing best practices. These combined qualities help to tear down security silos and enable more rapid innovations and source ideas from the community. Open security means organizations will no longer have to rely on one single supplier, or their own developers and security experts.

Open-source software libraries and frameworks are in high demand thanks to rapid developments and the simplicity of repetition. By reducing the time needed for custom coding, OSS also helps to cut down on costs and lessen the time-to-market cycle. 

A healthy approach for security and software teams is to work together in developing policies and a process where applications and software components are tested. Divided into three parts, organizations should scan and test code, address and fix vulnerabilities as they are discovered, and create an internal policy that sets the standard for how security issues are addressed.

Advantages of Open-Source Security and Bug Bounties 

Because open-source code is open to the public to create updates, users will often modify and distribute their own branch of coding. Bug bounties are programs that will pay interested parties to find and fix vulnerabilities in open-source code before the platforms that are using them can be affected, thus implementing an additional layer of security to software developed with OSS. Some other benefits of open-source include:

  • Transparency: Many companies prefer the openness of where open-source software comes from.
  • Tested code: An online community continuously testing your code provides peace of mind that the software is reliable and the platform is safe.
  • Immediate patches: Security patches are typically distributed quickly to maintain customer trust. 
  • Flexibility for users: Lack of flexibility in the use of software can lead to security issues for many companies. Open-source software allows for not only better flexibility, but also agility.
  • Sustainability: Online communities that are already developed will often continue to grow, meaning continual updates to the software your team developed, helping them stay on top of trends or features to stay competitive.
  • Speed for software: Saving time and money is also the best security for any enterprise. Offering open-source platforms expedites the process of providing software enterprises need today.

Open-source statistics show that roughly 70% of code databases are drawing on open-source. Unfortunately, that also means OSS-related risks have become critical to address. Open-source has never been more important in the software community and fast, responsive debugging must be a top priority. Gone are the days when a vulnerability could be identified years later and resolved.

How Cybercriminals Leverage Open-Source

Despite the aforementioned benefits, open-source software can also have security flaws that cybercriminals can exploit. Threat actors use an open-source attack method as it can be widespread and highly effective as well as others to disguise malicious changes made to open-source projects. Malicious changes may go unnoticed until after they've been distributed if strict controls are not in place.

Besides technology and devices, attackers can exploit open-source intelligence to gather sensitive data and create social engineering attacks, such as spear-phishing. For example, by identifying the social media accounts of a company's executives, attackers can learn about family members, friends, location, interests, and hobbies. The more information on the target, the easier it will be to create an undetectable social engineering attack.

Final Thoughts on Why Open-Source Is Fundamental to Security

The use of open-source software has become widespread in recent years thanks to the public and collaborative nature, something that has benefited both developers and threat actors. While it has proven to be innovative and vital to today’s digital transformation, it also comes with risks. As software development continues to grow, companies should implement measures to improve the security of open-source projects.  Open-source is used by companies of all sizes in every industry, but attackers can look to expose applications to known vulnerabilities and attack an application that was developed using that code. Utilizing software scanning tools will help identify codes for exploits and bugs, as well as bug bounties. After acknowledging the risks involved, it is important to follow up with investment and maintenance of a strong open-source security strategy that includes regular testing and monitoring. Regardless of security issues, open-source security can potentially be even more secure than closed-source code if best practices are maintained.

Author Bio

Justice is an ambitious, goal-oriented Communications Manager and content creator for Guardian Digital, where he writes about topics including email security, data encryption, and how to protect businesses from email and phishing attacks. Justice earned a BA in Communications with a concentration in Journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

July 22, 2022
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