Security is an important consideration in both open source and closed source software. The debate rages on with regards to which one is more secure. However, with proprietary software, the company who developed the product is often more concerned about reputation than open source software creators. They are blamed and critiqued when a security flaw comes to light. In the world of OSS, there is no defined software owner, no reputation to uphold, and no blame to assign.
While open source software source code is available for anyone to review and use, it is also exposed to malicious users. Proprietary software code, on the other hand, isn’t readily available. Thus, it is more difficult for attackers to see and exploit the software.
Many experts claim that the open availability of source code makes OSS more secure. As many developers work on the code, the possibility of flaws being caught and resolved as per Linus’s Law is strong. Additionally, firms and individuals voluntarily scan open source products for vulnerabilities and release the findings.
In recent years, we’ve observed OSS vulnerabilities (e.g., Heartbleed, ShellShock) that put organizations’ assets at serious risk. To manage these risks, firms must have an OSS security initiative in place. This provides a degree of assurance that OSS is free of inherent security risks.
To securely implement an open source software security initiative, ensure that the following best practices are in place:
- Employ an analysis of OSS matching your firm’s security policy requirements.
- If your firm’s security policy doesn’t include OSS, one must be put in place.
- Create and maintain a repository of OSS in-use within your firm—including clear ownership.
- Ensure that vulnerability information such as the Common Vulnerability Enumeration (CVE) or NIST Vulnerability Database (NVD) is mapped to a repository and kept up to date.
- Ensure that OSS in-use within your firm is up to date.
- If OSS is abandoned or slow to update, establish a process to mitigate or accept risks.
- Perform security evaluations for all OSS currently in use (e.g., with Software Composition Analysis or Fuzz Testing)
- If you don’t have in-house security experts, consult a vendor to conduct this evaluation.
- Establish a security assessment plan for ongoing and future OSS that is incorporated in projects.
Maintain these best practices to avoid the introduction of security flaws within your organization. Invest in OSS security today to avoid a much more costly and damaging security breach in the future.