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The complete guide to open-source security

Everything you need to know about open-source security, including 7 best practices to shield your organization from a breach.

Roy Horev | May 2, 2024

This article explores the threats, opportunities and best practices for open-source security. Following high-profile vulnerabilities such as the XZ backdoor threat, the unique challenges presented by open-source technology have come to the fore. 

Here’s what you need to know. 

TL;DR: Open-source security at a glance

Open-source security is comprised of best practices and measures designed to protect open-source software (OSS) from major threats and vulnerabilities. 

Open-source is less secure than proprietary software since it is publically available and anyone can contribute to code in repositories, including malicious actors.

7 best practices include:

  • Performing regular code reviews and audits
  • Securing your Git repositories
  • Implementing automated security testing
  • Understanding license compliance policies
  • Searching vulnerability databases for vulnerable OSS packages
  • Conducting a thorough OSS assessment
  • Implementing threat modeling

What is open-source security? 

Open-source security encompasses best practices and security measures designed to protect open-source software (OSS) projects from threats and vulnerabilities.

Open-source software (OSS) remains a staple for developers thanks in part to many connected communities, ease of use, and contributors to help review code. 

However open-source software (OSS) presents major security challenges for organizations. A prime illustration of this is the case of GitHub, where a critical vulnerability was discovered in an open-source repository, leading to the exposure of over 4,000 repositories in a repojacking attack. 

The npm registry alone contained 691 malicious packages, potentially installed inadvertently by developers.

700+

malicious open-source packages found in npm and PyPI registries. 

Yet, despite these challenges, developers made 301 million total contributions to open-source projects across GitHub in 2023.

There are numerous open-source security tools available to scan third-party libraries and dependencies for critical vulnerabilities. 

 

Which is better for security: Open-source or proprietary software?

When we talk security, both open-source and proprietary software have their advantages and disadvantages.

Open-source has many dedicated communities with incredibly talented and helpful developers who contribute to projects together.

If a bug arises, it will be most likely discussed, giving you a head start in patching or upgrading any software to the latest version. 

The bad news is that open-source is public, which means anyone can access it at any given time, including a malicious actor. 

44%

Applications built with open-source code contain an average of seven vulnerabilities and 44% of those programs contain critical vulnerabilities.

Public access to open-source code increases the risk of backdoors or introducing insecure code into the CI/CD pipeline, potentially compromising the security of the entire software supply chain.

Third-party open-source libraries can also contain hidden vulnerabilities that can impact other projects if left unpatched.

Let’s dive deeper into the overall advantages and disadvantages of open-source vs proprietary software. Which is the right fit for your organization and existing infrastructure?

Open-source vs proprietary software

Open-source

Proprietary software 

Advantages

  • Freemium models
  • Lots of active communities of developers available for support
  • Open standards that increase transparency
  • Licensing is simple to manage
  • High scalability
  • Fewer bugs and faster fixes
  • No vendor lock-in 

Advantages

  • High product scalability
  • More secure
  • Limited liability protection for end-users
  • Total ownership over the software
  • Ongoing customized support
  • Improved usability 
  • Outstanding technical support

Disadvantages

  • Integration challenges
  • Lacks any competitive advantage
  • Dependency risks
  • Security concerns 
  • Support slower for enterprises
  • Reduced usability
  • Limited compatibility 

Disadvantages

  • Compatability issues
  • Vendor lock-in
  • A la carte pricing model for any customizations required
  • Limited flexibility
  • Higher costs
  • Less control over the product roadmap

7 best practices and strategies to maintain security posture across open-source projects

Perform regular code reviews and audits

Research found that 84% of codebases have at least one open-source vulnerability. Without proper code reviews and audits, these vulnerabilities can remain undetected and make it into production.

Not only is the organization at risk, but their customers face potential malicious attacks as a result. Regular code reviews are also essential for ensuring that the project’s codebases meet compliance best practices.  

Secure your Git repositories:

Storing credentials in repositories is risky business. In 2023, 12.8 million secrets were accidentally leaked on public GitHub repositories by developers – a 28% increase from the previous year.

The exposed secrets contained API keys, OAuth tokens, TLS/SSL certificates, and credentials to log into cloud services.

Organizations must routinely review their repositories and remove any stored credentials that are no longer in use to prevent secrets exposure. Limit access to code contributors and ensure that 2FA is always enabled. 

Implement automated security testing

Testing for vulnerabilities early in the SDLC is imperative. Automated security scanning tools such as Sast, Dast, and SCA can easily identify potential security risks in the codebase before they escalate into more serious issues during later stages of deployment.

These tools provide DevOps teams with plenty of time to remediate critical vulnerabilities and patch software before it gets pushed into production.

Understanding license compliance policies

Open-source projects often utilize third-party libraries that are governed by specific licenses. Understanding the various license policies can help prevent potential copyright lawsuits or violations of any licensing agreements.

This is especially important as most open-source projects are heavily dependent on collaborations and contributions from a large connected community of developers such as GitHub or Stack Overflow. 

Search vulnerability databases for vulnerable OSS packages

Routinely check vulnerability databases such as CVE details and the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) from NIST for OSS packages that might have been impacted in a potential breach.

The XZ Utils backdoor (CVE-2024-3094) recently made headlines when malicious actors exploited a massive software supply chain vulnerability, causing ripples in the Linux community.

Vulcan Cyber suggests following CISA recommendations of downgrading to an unaffected XZ Utils version (v5.6.0 and previous versions) and conducting thorough checks for any signs of suspicious activity on systems running the affected versions.

Conduct a thorough OSS assessment 

A cyber risk assessment performed early can spare you the expenses of a potential breach later on. A security assessment of your OSS packages should include a thorough code review, license compliance check, and dependency analysis to remove any outdated components if needed.

Comprehensive vulnerability scanning should also be performed to identify any potentially malicious OSS packages.

Implement threat modeling:

Threat modeling helps identify all assets that are at high risk for a potential attack. These assets include user credentials, source code, and sensitive data.

Once identified, security teams are then able to determine appropriate mitigation strategies, such as implementing tighter access controls to Git repositories and cloud services.

Learn >> The best free and open-source tools for cyber risk assessment and mitigation

 

Top 10 open-source security tools and integrations

Sonatype

Category: Code scanning

About: The Sonatype code scanner automatically enforces open-source security policies and blocks bad component downloads.

GitHub Code Scanning

Category: Code scanning

About: Analyze code in a GitHub repository to find security vulnerabilities and coding errors.

GitHub Dependabot

Category: Dependency review

About: Dependabot allows you to review code-project vulnerabilities and fix vulnerable dependencies in your repository. 

MISP

Category: Threat intelligence

About: MISP is a threat intelligence and visibility tool. You can import and integrate MISP, threatintel, or OSINT feed from third parties.

Nmap

Category: Network scanning

About: Network Mapper, commonly known as Nmap, is an open-source network scanning tool that allows users to discover hosts and services by sending packets and analyzing their responses.

GitLab

Category: Code collaboration

About: GitLab is an open-source code repository and collaborative software development platform for DevSecOps. 

JFrog Artifactory OSS

Category: Artifact/binary scanning

About JFrog Artifactory OSS enables you to manage Java binary artifacts centrally.

Vulcan Cyber integrates with JFrog Xray to keep your software supply chain secured. 

JFrog Xray is a SCA solution that natively integrates with Artifactory. It identifies vulnerabilities in open-source and license compliance violations.

Prometheus

Category: K8s cluster monitoring

About: Prometheus is an open-source monitoring and alerting toolkit originally built at SoundCloud. 

It offers insights into the health and performance of Kubernetes clusters through a collection of metrics which it stores as time series data.

Wazuh

Category: Threat intelligence

About: Wazuh is an open-source security platform that blends XDR and SIEM capabilities for endpoints and cloud workloads. 

It provides threat intelligence features such as vulnerability detection and log data analysis.

Jenkins

Category: CI/CD security

About: Jenkins is an open-source CI/CD server that helps developers automate the process of building, testing, and deploying software applications.

 

Strengthen your open-source security with Vulcan Cyber

A malicious open-source package can create a ripple effect in your software supply chain and put your entire organization at risk for a breach. 

The Vulcan Cyber platform provides total visibility over your entire software supply chain in a single operational view.

Get a better understanding of your assets at risk and prioritize mitigating vulnerable application code. Vulcan Cyber provides security teams with contextualized insights from 20+ threat intelligence feeds. 

Improve application vulnerability management and open-source security with Vulcan Cyber.

Get a demo to learn more.  

 

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