Open Source: How to Avoid the Common Security Challenges

Published: November 20, 2019Updated: May 16, 2022
3 min to read
Open Source: How to Avoid the Common Security Challenges

Open-source software is often used in app development and has been a key driving force in tech development.

That said, comes with its own set of security challenges.

What Are the Main Risks?

Both open-source and paid-for applications are open to attack from hackers who reply on finding exploits in the software to get past the security systems. This can range from anything such as small coding errors to back-doors. Most proprietary apps are very secure but open source products are increasingly under threat.

Despite this, many software development teams revolve around using these products. Some of the most commonly used include code libraries, operating systems, performance testing tools and so on. At present, around 96% of paid-for products include open source elements in their structure.

The Main Reasons for the Popularity of Open-source:

It’s cost-effective — it takes a lot of the time-consuming work out of development by using existing tools and libraries.

It’s flexible — there are so many tools available it is easy to find a way to configure a project exactly how you want it.

It’s fast — less time is spent learning new tools or testing allowing the team to focus on the development

The Main Areas of Vulnerability Are:

DoS — Denial of Service — the service is overloaded, shut down or cannot be used.

Data breach — sensitive data is accessed by an unauthorized person.

Anyone using open source should be aware of the following:

The Code Is Public

The public can see and contribute to the code to improve it, but it also leaves it vulnerable to hackers by exposing vulnerabilities which they can take advantage of. Sadly, it all boils down to who gets there first; either someone fixes the code or the hacker will breach it.

The National Vulnerability Database is managed by NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) and is a valuable resource for developers to keep on top of the current exploits found in open source applications. However, it pays to remember that hackers also have access to this and they are more than happy to note any exploits and take advantage of them.

Infringement Issues

Open source products are free for all and are therefore not covered by certain commercial infringement regulations. The contribution is made to the community rather than the product, however, it could be that an open-source tool contains someone’s intellectual property in the base code. This is fine while the product remains open-source but if it is used in a commercial development it could become a case of infringement.

Licensing Issues

While proprietary products use open-source components these elements are often released under a license which requires compliance leading to a set of different and complicated licensing rules. If the company has not complied with the rules it is left open to legal action. Tools are available to help analyze the license requirements of composite parts of the software and highlight any potential issues.

Operational Inefficiency

This is the main challenge with open-source software. Software updates, the discovery of new exploits and so on can mean losing valuable time during the development phase. All these updates and new exploits continually change the goalposts and must be dealt with to avoid potential security breaches.

Incorrect Copy and Paste

Developers often copy and paste open-source code and one of the problem issues is that the code itself may contain an exploit which is then imported into the product and, once there, it can be hard to remove. Copy and paste should be forbidden and each code checked before implementing.

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