Open Source Software: Why Is It Dangerous and How Can You Protect Yourself?
The number of cyberattacks directed at governments, commercial organizations, and ordinary people is growing every day. One of the serious threat vectors is so-called open source applications and software – without which it is impossible to imagine modern development.
Since open source projects are developed by enthusiasts and participating users, serious vulnerabilities are often spread in open libraries.
What’s the difference between open and closed source? Read more here.
Against the background of various world events and bans on the use of certain applications and services in some countries, companies are urgently looking for replacements so that business processes do not sink. Due to several restrictions, it may be impossible to quickly switch to another commercial software; businesses actively use open source either as a replacement for commercial software that has left the market or to integrate its elements into their development.
In this article, we will talk about what surprises Open Source has and what developers and information security specialists should do to minimize cyber risks from its use.
What is open source software?
Open source is software whose source code is freely distributed and available for modification. This includes various user programs, components, and libraries that developers use to create their projects.
Such software is released as public domain or under the terms of free licenses, for example, GNU General Public License, BSD License, etc.
Open source solutions are often used even in the corporate sphere as a substitute for expensive commercial products. Open source components can also be elements of other applications and information systems.
The best open source web filter solutions are here.
The main danger of popular open source solutions is that developers widely use them inside other applications. Vulnerability in one or another free component can lead to serious threats to information security around the world.
It is enough to recall the recent history of Apache Log4j, a library that is used by millions of corporate applications and Java servers. The discovered vulnerability allowed attackers to execute arbitrary code on a server or device to steal data or inject malware.
Even earlier, in 2014, a serious Heartbleed vulnerability was found in the OpenSSL open source component, which was used on almost all websites that process payments using a bank card.
Usually, in such cases, we are talking about unintentional vulnerabilities. However, in the modern world, the distribution of open access software with vulnerabilities may be intentional.
Open source projects are developed by enthusiasts and participating users, and no one guarantees the security of this software. Developers form communities, make edits, add new features, and fix bugs in the code. Under the guise of an improvement, attackers can themselves add a code element with a vulnerability to a particular library.
It is not so difficult to collect data on which companies and which popular applications use a certain open source component. Developers share their experiences on forums, in articles, in interviews, etc.
As a result, attackers who have introduced malicious code into free software know exactly who and how to attack. Risks that seemed unlikely yesterday are becoming extremely high today.
Further actions of the attackers depend on their goals. This may be the above-mentioned theft of confidential data and the introduction of a cryptographer for ransom.
In recent weeks, the number of attacks in the information war has increased dramatically: hackers are hacking web resources and applications to post certain appeals, spread fake news, etc.
Read more about the danger of DDoS attacks here.
Open source danger
It should also be noted that open source code has some security costs. Specifically:
- It is publicly accessible and open. This means that an attacker can easily study it and find vulnerabilities in it. With closed code, they would need to decompile the program, solve the problem of obfuscation and conduct further analysis of proprietary software.
- There are no guarantees. Open source programs are usually free. And the developer does not bear any responsibility for either the code or the program.
- From this code, everyone can “assemble” their own program. And an inexperienced programmer may make a program with glitches and bugs, and a cunning hacker will introduce a virus there. Yes, often the working version of the program compiled from the code is “next” to this code. But still, the spread of various versions of open and free software with viruses inside takes place.
- The source of code and programs is often GitHub. And this is normal, and so it’s accepted. But an inexperienced developer can post an unstable release or source code with serious errors. Even experienced developers sometimes do this.
How to protect yourself
Analysis of the source code for vulnerabilities as one of the elements of improving the security of the IT infrastructure has been relevant before. Today, in an environment where open-source solutions can pose a great danger, scanning freely distributed libraries and applications is becoming mandatory.
In companies that develop software themselves, the best option is to implement secure development processes. The central element of these processes must be an advanced code analyzer that supports many programming languages and uses complex effective algorithms for finding vulnerabilities and undeclared features.
If the company uses open source software or software that contains open source components, it is important to check it regularly with a reliable scanner. Ideally, it will be a tool with an intuitive interface that does not require a user who is experience in development.
Most likely, it will not be a programmer who will work with the analyzer, but an employee of the security team who, based on the results of the scan, should receive comprehensive information about the threat level and recommendations for eliminating vulnerabilities.
In both cases, minimizing the number of false positives is of great importance. If they are frequent, the use of the analysis tool will increase the burden on both developers and information security specialists.
The structured process of obtaining up-to-date information about cyber threats from various sources allows you to respond on time to the emergence of new vulnerabilities and promptly add new rules for their search to the code analysis tool.
Just as it is impossible to imagine the modern world without digital tools, so it is impossible to imagine the modern development of these very tools without the widespread use of Open Source.
The main thing is to take into account the increased risks associated with free software and freely distributed libraries, and use advanced software solutions to find vulnerabilities and eliminate them.
Open source programs should be trusted as well as closed source programs. Open source code is not an advantage of the program, but its feature.
What does the future web look like? Find out more here.