Understanding Open-Source Library Risk

Open-source software is open to the public for use and modification. Most software engineers and modern organizations have adopted this software development approach to build enterprise and web applications. In many software applications that we use today, as much as 80 percent of the code is open-source.

We can categorize software into two main groups: proprietary and open-source. The significant difference between the two categories is the right to modify source code.

With proprietary software’s source code, you can’t copy, change, or even view it. In contrast, open-source software and libraries have licenses that allow access to anyone who wants to read, improve, and discuss the source code with others.

Open-source libraries foster collaboration and exchange of ideas. They also help unite efforts and significantly increase the range of possible improvements to the library.

Other significant advantages of using open-source libraries include reducing an application’s overall cost and increasing its stability. These stem from a community of developers usually supporting these libraries, actively improving the code, and fixing issues as someone spots them.

Open-source also improves application delivery time because developers don’t have to build every component from scratch: They import the needed pre-built libraries or pieces of code into the application. This means they can focus on delivering the application’s main functionality rather than peripheral aspects.

We can safely say that open-source libraries help developers stand on the shoulders of giants by leveraging existing code to develop new applications. Yet, there are security risks associated with utilizing open-source libraries. We’ll explore some of these risks and discuss ways to mitigate them as you make the most of open-source resources.

Open-Source Software Introduces Security Risks

Despite all of open-source software’s advantages, it’s wise to consider the possible risks of using open-source libraries and how we can guard against issues.

First, vulnerabilities exist in these open-source libraries that cause significant risk. Over the last three years, open-source security vulnerabilities have grown by about 250 percent. These vulnerabilities present a lucrative opportunity for hackers.

Many developers erroneously believe that open-source code is innately safe — or at least safer than proprietary software — because the code is developed and maintained by many people who must have already identified problems in the software. In reality, this even makes applications built with open-source libraries even more prone to vulnerabilities. This is because attackers can disguise themselves as contributors to the open-source library, and use that window to sneak malware into the project, unsuspected.

With no one in particular publishing, fixing, or patching vulnerabilities in open-source code, the risk continues to plague development teams globally. Few teams perform vulnerability testing to secure open-source code.

Organizations regularly push proprietary software updates to users, but open-source libraries typically require manual updating. These manual updates leave the users responsible for tracking and applying new updates and patches as developers churn them out.

Manual updates may not be much of an issue when you have just one or two open-source components embedded in your application. However, there are typically many open-source components in the project to track, and developers will inevitably miss updates, leaving the entire application vulnerable. Also, without a dedicated person or team responsible for overseeing security and code quality, many open-source libraries include bugs and code inconsistencies — loopholes for attackers to exploit.

Many open-source projects have other open-source dependencies, which may also have their own dependencies in a chain. This chain of dependencies may introduce new vulnerabilities that developers are oblivious to, especially if they do not thoroughly verify or properly manage versions.

Common open-source vulnerabilities include Heartbleed, Shellshock, DROWN, npm left-pad, and more. In some cases, hackers can exploit vulnerabilities, and in other cases, the library is no longer available.

Mitigating Security Risks

We have seen the tremendous gains of using open-source libraries, and we have also examined the potential risks. We will now explore how to use open-source libraries safely.

One option is to monitor and track vulnerabilities manually, but this is a crude approach. Development teams are too busy churning out new features and bug fixes, leaving them little or no time to track and mitigate vulnerabilities in the application. This manual process is inefficient with a high chance of missing an issue since most vulnerabilities do not come from direct dependencies but dependencies of dependencies.

You can push this responsibility to the security team instead. However, this is still a challenge because the security team is usually responsible for monitoring many different applications and ensuring that they cover any loopholes attackers can exploit. Tracking hundreds or thousands of libraries across all these applications would be a huge manual task for the security team.

The best way to bridge the gap between DevOps and SecOps, and make their jobs more manageable, is to automate finding security vulnerabilities in open-source software. Good security software automatically monitors risks across all applications and provides expert advice, so SecOps get early insight to mitigate potential risks before bad actors exploit these risks.

Trend Micro Cloud One – Open Source Security by Snyk does this (and more). This service is the first-ever purpose-built solution for SecOps teams. With Cloud One – Open Source Security, organizations access security insight on the go so they can identify, manage, and resolve open-source software risks. This security tool removes the burden of error-prone manual security monitoring by automatically finding, prioritizing, and reporting vulnerabilities and risks in open-source dependencies embedded in software applications.

How it Works

Cloud One – Open Source Security helps curb many issues development and security teams face. It mitigates risk through continuous monitoring, prioritizing threats and recommendations, and encouraging SecOps and DevOps collaboration.

Continuous Monitoring

You can integrate Cloud One – Open Source Security directly into your continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline or a source control repository like GitHub or Bitbucket to track changes and monitor the application. This integration makes it easy to automatically detect vulnerable components early in the development cycle to prevent such vulnerabilities from ever reaching the production environment.

Cloud One – Open Source Security also provides valuable guidance on what updates and changes you need to mitigate these risks. You gain a clearer view of the chain of dependencies, such that you can see not just vulnerable components you use directly but also hidden vulnerable dependencies. The image below shows a software’s dependency tree and some vulnerable libraries color-coded according to risk severity.

You can integrate many different CI tools with Cloud One – Open Source Security, illustrated in the image below, such as Jenkins and Circle CI.

Prioritizing Risks and Recommendations

As security teams track and prioritize open-source risks, it can be challenging for them to decide which vulnerability to attack first. Using Cloud One – Open Source Security, security operations teams can automatically generate open-source Bill of Materials reports. These reports instantly specify risk and priority scores so SecOps can quickly deal with vulnerabilities and license issues.

This tool categorizes risks according to their severity level: low, medium, and high. This categorization includes zero-day threats it detects early in the pipeline to ensure security awareness. The image below illustrates the different levels of security risks you may encounter.

Encouraging SecOps and DevOps Collaboration

Cloud One – Open Source Security also fosters collaboration between DevOps and SecOps teams. The security tool helps them mutually establish best practices around the use of open-source components, accelerating cybersecurity risk remediation and leading to overall improved management of applications in development and production.

Next Steps

In this article, we briefly overviewed what open-source libraries are and why they are continuously gaining popularity. We compared open-source to proprietary software and peeked into the tremendous gains, as well as the potential risks, of using them. We observed that as much as there are risks, we can almost not do without open-source libraries since they make our lives so much easier.

Finally, we looked at a reliable and cost-effective solution to open-source library risks: Trend Micro Cloud One – Open Source Security by Snyk. This security tool helps you trace vulnerabilities through hidden dependencies, categorizes their risk level, and suggests solutions.

The best way to determine this is the best solution for your needs is to try it with your applications for 30 days. Claim your free trial today to start weeding out your open-source vulnerabilities and please your customers with more secure applications.

If you’re interested in developing expert technical content that performs, let’s have a conversation today.



If you work in a tech space and aren’t sure if we cover you, hit the button below to get in touch with us. Tell us a little about your content goals or your project, and we’ll reach back within 2 business days. 

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap