19 Apr 2023 · Software Engineering

    The Importance of Open-Source Security

    9 min read

    In the age of digitalization, open-source security has become a critical issue for organizations. With more and more companies relying on open-source software to power their applications, ensuring its security is essential. Unfortunately, many companies tend to view  open-source components as being more secure than in-house development and fail to take adequate measures to protect their systems from malicious actors.

    This post focuses on the importance of open-source security and how it can be managed effectively to safeguard an organization’s data and IT infrastructure. We will explore critical topics such as understanding the threats posed by vulnerable open-source components, identifying potential risks within your system, implementing best practices for secure development processes, and utilizing tools that help you maintain a secure environment. By taking these steps now, businesses can ensure that they remain safe from cyber attacks in the future.

    Benefits of Open-Source

    Open-source software has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and with good reason. Open-source solutions offer a variety of benefits that make them an attractive option for organizations looking to get the most out of their technology investments.

    • Collaboration and Innovation: open-source projects have the potential to be more collaborative than traditional software development as they allow users, developers, and companies around the world to come together to create powerful new products. This enables teams to work together on complex projects quickly and efficiently while providing invaluable insight into how others approach similar problems. Additionally, open-source projects often provide users with access to cutting-edge technologies, allowing them to stay on top of industry trends and develop innovative solutions that can set them apart from the competition.
    • Flexibility and Customization: open-source solutions also allow organizations to customize their applications according to their specific needs. With open-source software, organizations are not limited by vendor features or licensing restrictions, meaning they can tailor products to fit their exact requirements without worrying about compatibility issues or prohibitive costs. This makes it easier for businesses to flexibly meet customer demands and cost-effectively.
    • Lower Costs: open-source solutions offer significant cost savings compared to traditional proprietary software. They eliminate upfront license fees and generally require less maintenance and support due to the large community of contributors who help maintain the codebase. As a result, businesses can save money on IT infrastructure costs while still getting access to high-quality software that meets their specific needs.

    Risks of Open-Source Software

    Open-source software is unfortunately too often given a security “pass” within organizations, which can result in data breaches or system outages if not managed correctly.

    Vulnerabilities in Code

    Just because a software is “open-source” doesn’t mean there are no vulnerabilities in its source code. Most reliable open-source projects release updates faster than your company can keep up. Keep an eye on their release notes and be on the lookout for security fixes you should incorporate into your application. In addition, many open-source packages are developed for general use, meaning that specific components may be abused/misused by the organization relying upon it. This can lead to potential security loopholes that malicious actors could exploit.

    Lack of Security Updates

    Before importing/relying on open-source libraries, take the time to review their update cycles and disclosure policies. Many companies fail to update their included open-source libraries when new vulnerabilities are discovered or when patches are released. Without timely security updates, organizations may be unaware of potential risks and leave their systems vulnerable to attack.

    Dependency on Third-Party Code

    Organizations using open-source code must also be aware of the dependency on third-party code. As more and more businesses rely on open-source libraries and frameworks, they can become dependent on these components for critical applications and services. An organization must ensure that any third-party libraries they are using are up-to-date and secure to reduce the risk of exploitation via malicious or outdated code.

    Limited Support

    Open-source software often has limited or no support from its developers and contributors, making it difficult or impossible to receive assistance when issues arise. Furthermore, many open-source components are available as “as-is” packages with no warranties, meaning that organizations must take responsibility for ensuring the security of any products they use.

    Difficulty in Monitoring & Managing Security

    Monitoring and managing security is an essential aspect of software development, regardless of whether an organization uses open-source or closed-source software. While some may argue that open-source software is more susceptible to vulnerabilities due to the increased number of contributors and the lack of official support, the reality is that any software can have security issues.

    It’s essential to prioritize due diligence in the selection of open-source software and keep the libraries up-to-date to ensure the security of an organization’s systems. Companies must take responsibility for the security of their applications and services, regardless of whether they rely on open-source or closed-source software.

    In some cases, organizations may face challenges in monitoring and managing security. Still, these challenges are not unique to open-source software development.

    Impact of Security Breaches

    Security breaches can devastate organizations, resulting in financial losses, damage to reputation, and the loss of sensitive information. These risks are particularly pronounced for businesses that rely heavily on poorly maintained open-source components to power their applications and services.

    If these systems become compromised due to vulnerabilities or outdated code, it could lead to severe consequences. Financial losses may include costs associated with fixing the breach and potential fines or legal action if data is stolen or leaked.

    Reputation damage is also a significant concern as customers may lose trust in an organization that fails to adequately protect its data and IT infrastructure. Also, there is always the risk of sensitive information being exposed through an open-source security breach, which could have severe implications for an organization’s long-term success.

    Case Study of NPM Package

    Node-IPC is an open-source interprocess communication package that enables developers to quickly and easily create reliable remote connections between programs written in JavaScript.

    In March 2022, a security incident involving their software occurred when an author of the Node-IPC package added malicious code to find geolocation and update all files with a heart emoji for all Russian and Belarusian IPs. This was dubbed “Protestware” due to its use for political protests in Russia.

    The security incident caused alarm among Node-IPC users, particularly those in Russia who were worried about their data being compromised. It also highlighted the potential security risks that come with blindly relying on open-source software packages, especially when they are developed by third-party contributors rather than the original authors.

    The incident served as a stark reminder of why organizations need to be aware of potential vulnerabilities associated with open-source software packages, even when famous authors or organizations develop them.

    Best Practices for Open-Source Security

    Organizations should take certain steps to ensure the security of their integrated open-source software and libraries.

    Review Open-Source Packages

    First, they should review all open-source components they are using and ensure they are kept up-to-date with the latest patches and updates. This will help mitigate the risk of vulnerabilities being exploited by malicious actors. Also, organizations should establish clear policies for selecting and using open-source components to minimize their reliance on third-party code and reduce their risk exposure.

    Implementing Security-Focused Development processes

    Organizations should also implement security-focused development processes and ensure that all open-source code is adequately tested and reviewed for potential vulnerabilities. Companies should conduct security testing throughout the software lifecycle to identify vulnerabilities early, and during post-release audits to ensure that there are no new risks.

    Additionally, companies should provide developers with the necessary education and training on secure coding practices so they can write and maintain secure applications.

    Conducting Security Audits and Testing

    Conducting security audits and testing is essential to ensure software security. Organizations should undertake security audits regularly to identify potential vulnerabilities, such as outdated code, insufficient authorization checks, unencrypted data storage, or lack of logging and monitoring.

    Security testing should also be performed throughout the software development lifecycle in order to detect and mitigate any vulnerabilities during the design phase. This includes static code analysis tests, which allow developers to analyze their code for any potential flaws without executing it; dynamic tests, which involve executing the code in a test environment; and penetration testing, which simulates attacks on specific parts of the system to determine its vulnerability.

    Integrate SCA Solutions in your CI/CD Pipeline

    The best practice for open-source security is to integrate Software Composition Analysis (SCA) solutions into your CI/CD pipeline. SCA solutions provide automated scanning of codebases for potential vulnerabilities and outdated components, which helps identify issues quickly and efficiently before they become exploited by malicious actors.

    Additionally, developers can easily integrate these solutions into existing development processes without disrupting workflow or slowing down release cycles. Integrating SCA solutions into your CI/CD pipeline is an effective way to ensure that your organization’s software remains more secure.


    Open-source software packages have been popular among developers and organizations since the 1990s, for their cost-effectiveness and ease of use. However, with the growing digital transformation and adoption of online services by larger, more risk-averse companies, there is a greater emphasis on open-source software’s potential security risks. To ensure the security of their open-source code, organizations should take steps such as reviewing all open-source components and establishing clear policies for their selection and use, implementing security-focused development processes, conducting security audits, and testing and integrating Software Composition Analysis (SCA) solutions into their CI/CD pipeline.

    By taking these steps, organizations can reduce the risk of vulnerabilities being exploited by malicious actors, identify any potential issues early on in the software lifecycle, and ensure that developers are trained in secure coding practices. Additionally, integrating security solutions into your CI/CD code commit/build pipeline can help automate scanning for vulnerabilities and outdated components in order to quickly and efficiently detect any potential issues before they become a problem.

    Ultimately, open-source security is essential to ensure that organizations can effectively manage their resources while also protecting themselves from potential threats. By taking proactive measures such as those outlined above, organizations can prevent sensitive information from being compromised while continuing to leverage the benefits of open-source software packages that have been popular for decades.

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    Writen by:
    This post was written by Keshav Malik, a highly skilled and enthusiastic Security Engineer. Keshav is passionate about automation, hacking, and exploring different tools and technologies. With love for finding innovative solutions to complex problems, Keshav constantly seeks new opportunities to grow and improve as a professional. He is dedicated to staying ahead of the curve and is always on the lookout for the latest and greatest tools and technologies.
    Reviewed by:
    I picked up most of my soft/hardware troubleshooting skills in the US Army. A decade of Java development drove me to operations, scaling infrastructure to cope with the thundering herd. Engineering coach and CTO of Teleclinic.