What Is Open Source Security? 

Open source security involves practices and technology measures to protect open source software from vulnerabilities and attacks. It includes securing the software code, infrastructure, and data against unauthorized access and threats. Given open source software's public nature, and the availability of source code to attackers, security becomes crucial to prevent exploitation by malicious actors.

The process encompasses proactive vulnerability identification, patch management, and adopting security best practices. Key elements include community participation for continuous monitoring and updates, leveraging security tools for automated scanning, and adhering to open source licenses for compliance and risk mitigation.

This is part of a series of articles about DevSecOps.

In this article:

Adoption of Open Source in Enterprise Software Projects 

The adoption of open source software in enterprise projects has been on a significant upward trend. According to the OpenLogic State of Open Source Report, 80% of organizations reported an increase in their use of open source software in the past year, up significantly from previous years.

Organizations of all sizes are adopting open source. Organizations with 500-5,000 employees have the highest adoption, at 30%, compared to 16% for those under 100 employees. The most commonly used open source software are software development lifecycle (SDLC) tools, container orchestration, databases, and operating systems. Organizations say their primary motivation for using open source is access to innovative technologies and improved development velocity.

These statistics reflect the increasing importance and trust in open source technologies as integral components of enterprise software projects. At the same time, it means that open source security must become a central focus for organizations.

Open Source Security Risks 

Despite the convenience of open source software, its use also introduces significant security risks.

Unpatched Vulnerabilities

Open source projects can have vulnerabilities that, if not promptly patched, become gateways for cyberattacks. Since these vulnerabilities are public, they can be exploited by malicious actors before the community addresses them. The reliance on community contributions for patches can lead to delays in addressing security gaps.

According to the 2024 OSSRA report, 84% of codebases assessed contained at least one known open source vulnerability, and 74% contained high-risk vulnerabilities. Additionally, 91% of codebases contained components that were ten versions or more behind the most current version​​.

Unmaintained Packages

Unmaintained open source projects pose significant security risks. Without active development, vulnerabilities in these projects go unpatched, making them easy targets for exploitation. Organizations relying on these can inadvertently introduce security weaknesses into their systems.

The report found that 49% of the codebases assessed contained open source components that had no development activity within the past 24 months, increasing the likelihood of unaddressed vulnerabilities​​.

Malicious Packages

Malicious packages, intentionally designed to compromise security or functionality, are a major risk in open source ecosystems. They can be introduced through package repositories or as contributions to projects. Vigilance in vetting and monitoring dependencies is necessary to prevent incorporating malicious code into software projects.

The OSSRA report underscores the severity of this risk, noting that 88% of codebases analyzed in the Computer Hardware and Semiconductors sector, 87% in the Manufacturing, Industrials, and Robotics sector, and 84% in the Retail and eCommerce sector contained high-risk vulnerabilities.

License Compliance

Open source projects come with various licenses, each with specific compliance requirements. Failure to adhere to these can lead to legal issues or unintended software vulnerabilities. Understanding and complying with open source licenses is essential to mitigate risks associated with intellectual property and security.

The 2024 OSSRA report indicates that 53% of all codebases surveyed contained license conflicts, emphasizing the importance of thorough license compliance management.

Key Capabilities of Open Source Security Tools 

Due to the large number of open source components used in modern software projects, automated tools are essential for securing them. Here are key capabilities of tools that can assist with open source security.

Visibility of Packages and Dependencies

Open source security tools provide comprehensive visibility into software packages and their dependencies, which is critical given the complex web of dependencies that exist in modern software. These tools automatically scan and inventory all open source components in a project, creating a detailed map of direct and transitive dependencies. This visibility allows teams to assess the potential security impact of each dependency and identify components that could introduce vulnerabilities into their software.

In addition to mapping dependencies, these tools monitor for changes in packages over time. By tracking updates and modifications, they can identify when a new vulnerability is introduced or an existing one is patched, allowing organizations to respond swiftly. This continuous monitoring ensures that teams are always aware of their software’s risk profile and can prioritize remediation efforts.

Vulnerability Scanning

Vulnerability scanning is another crucial capability of open source security tools. These tools compare the software packages in a project to known vulnerability databases, flagging any that contain publicly disclosed security issues. This automated scanning process enables organizations to rapidly identify packages that need updates or patches.

Moreover, advanced scanning tools can provide contextual insights about each vulnerability, including its severity, exploitability, and remediation suggestions. This information empowers developers and security teams to prioritize fixes based on potential impact.

License Management 

Open source security tools with license management capabilities streamline compliance with various open source licenses. These tools automatically identify the licenses associated with each software package, helping organizations understand their obligations and ensure they don’t use open source components with restrictive (copyleft) licenses. 

By managing and ensuring compliance with legal requirements, they mitigate the risk of intellectual property disputes. Additionally, license management features help organizations maintain an inventory of open source components, fostering transparency and compliance across software projects.

Integration Into Developer Tools and Pipelines

Security tools that integrate directly into developer tooling, workflows, and automation pipelines enhance efficiency and streamline security practices. By fitting into existing development environments, these tools facilitate continuous security assessment without disrupting development processes. 

Automated scans and checks within integrated tools help identify vulnerabilities early in the software development lifecycle. This seamless integration promotes a culture of security within development teams, encouraging the adoption of secure coding practices.

Best Practices to Mitigate Open Source Risks

Here are some tips for ensuring the security of open source software.

Secure Your Repository

Securing your repository is a fundamental step in mitigating open source risks. Ensure that access controls are strictly enforced, allowing only authorized personnel to make changes to the repository. Use strong authentication methods such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an additional layer of security. Regularly audit access logs to detect any unauthorized attempts to access the repository. Additionally, encrypt sensitive data and communications to protect against eavesdropping and data breaches.

Implementing an Open Source Governance Policy

A robust governance policy helps manage the use of open source software within an organization. This policy should define the processes for selecting, using, and maintaining open source components. It should also include guidelines for regular security audits, patch management, and compliance with open source licenses. By establishing clear policies, organizations can ensure consistent and secure practices across all projects, reducing the risk of vulnerabilities and legal issues.

Adopt Advanced Threat Modeling

Advanced threat modeling involves identifying potential security threats to the software and developing strategies to mitigate them. This proactive approach helps in anticipating and addressing security issues before they can be exploited. Incorporate threat modeling into the development lifecycle to continuously evaluate the security posture of open source components. By understanding the potential attack vectors, organizations can implement appropriate defenses to protect their software.

Implement a Zero Trust Architecture

Zero trust architecture (ZTA) operates on the principle of never trusting and always verifying. This approach ensures that every access request is authenticated, authorized, and encrypted, regardless of its origin. Implementing ZTA in open source environments helps protect against unauthorized access and data breaches. It requires robust identity management, continuous monitoring, and the segmentation of networks and applications to minimize the impact of potential security incidents.

Implement Digital Signatures and Provenance Tracking

Using digital signatures and provenance tracking helps verify the integrity and authenticity of open source components. Digital signatures ensure that the code has not been tampered with and originates from a trusted source. Provenance tracking provides a history of the component’s origin and modifications, which is crucial for identifying any malicious or unauthorized changes. These practices help maintain the trustworthiness of open source software and protect against supply chain attacks.

Community Engagement

Active engagement with the open source community is essential for staying updated on security issues and best practices. Participate in community forums, contribute to projects, and collaborate with other users and developers to share knowledge and resources. This engagement helps organizations stay informed about the latest vulnerabilities, patches, and security trends. By being part of the community, organizations can also contribute to the overall improvement of open source security.

The Cloud Native Experts
"The Cloud Native Experts" at Aqua Security specialize in cloud technology and cybersecurity. They focus on advancing cloud-native applications, offering insights into containers, Kubernetes, and cloud infrastructure. Their work revolves around enhancing security in cloud environments and developing solutions to new challenges.