Addressing Cybersecurity Challenges in Open Source Software: What you need to know
The Linux Foundation | 01 September 2022
by Ashwin Ramaswami
June 2022 saw the publication of Addressing Cybersecurity Challenges in Open Source Software, a joint research initiative launched by the Open Source Security Foundation in collaboration with Linux Foundation Research and Snyk. The research dives into security concerns in the open source ecosystem. If you haven’t read it, this article will give you the report’s who, what, and why, summarizing its key takeaways so that it can be relevant to you or your organization.
Who is the report for?
This report is for everyone whose work touches open source software. Whether you’re a user of open source, an OSS developer, or part of an OSS-related institution or foundation, you can benefit from a better understanding of the state of security in the ecosystem.
Open source consumers and users: It’s very likely that you rely on open source software as dependencies if you develop software. And if you do, one important consideration is the security of the software supply chain. Security incidents such as log4shell have shown how open source supply chain security touches nearly every industry. Even industries and organizations that have traditionally not focused on open source software now realize the importance of ensuring their OSS dependencies are secure. Understanding the state of OSS security can help you to manage your dependencies intelligently, choose them wisely, and keep them up to date.
Open source developers and maintainers: People and organizations that develop or maintain open source software need to ensure they use best practices and policies for security. For example, it can be valuable for large organizations to have open source security policies. Moreover, many OSS developers also use other open source software as dependencies, making understanding the OSS security landscape even more valuable. Developers have a unique role to play in leading the creation of high-quality code and the respective governance frameworks and best practices around it.
Institutions: Institutions such as open source foundations, funders, and policymaking groups can benefit from this report by understanding and implementing the key findings of the research and their respective roles in improving the current state of the OSS ecosystem. Funding and support can only go to the right areas if priorities are informed by the problems the community is facing now, which the research assists in identifying.
What are the major takeaways?
The data from this report was collected by conducting a worldwide survey of:
- Individuals who contribute to, use, or administer OSS;
- Maintainers, core contributors, and occasional contributors to OSS;
- Developers of proprietary software who use OSS; and
- Individuals with a strong focus on software supply chain security
The survey also included data collected from several major package ecosystems by using Snyk Open Source, a static code analysis (SCA) tool free to use for individuals and open source maintainers.
Here are the major takeaways and recommendations from the report:
- Too many organizations are not prepared to address OSS security needs: At least 34% of organizations did not have an OSS security policy in place, suggesting these organizations may not be prepared to address OSS security needs.
- Small organizations must prioritize developing an OSS security policy: Small organizations are significantly less likely to have an OSS security policy. Such organizations should prioritize developing this policy and having a CISO and OSPO (Open Source Program Office).
- Using additional security tools is a leading way to improve OSS security: Security tooling is available for open source security across the software development lifecycle. Moreover, organizations with an OSS security policy have a higher frequency of security tool use than those without an OSS security policy.
- Collaborate with vendors to create more intelligent security tools: Organizations consider that one of the most important ways to improve OSS security across the supply chain is adding greater intelligence to existing software security tools, making it easier to integrate OSS security into existing workflows and build systems.
- Implementing best practices for secure software development is the other leading way to improve OSS security: Understanding best practices for secure software development, through courses such as the OpenSSF’s Secure Software Development Fundamentals Courses, has been identified repeatedly as a leading way to improve OSS supply chain security.
- Use automation to reduce your attack surface: Infrastructure as Code (IaC) tools and scanners allow automating CI/CD activities to eliminate threat vectors around manual deployments.
- Consumers of open source software should give back to the communities that support them: The use of open source software has often been a one-way street where users see significant benefits with minimal cost or investment. For larger open source projects to meet user expectations, organizations must give back and close the loop by financially supporting OSS projects they use.
Why is this important now?
Open source software is a boon: its collaborative and open nature has allowed society to benefit from various innovative, reliable, and free software tools. However, these benefits only last when users contribute back to open source software and when users and developers exercise due diligence around security. While the most successful open source projects have gotten such support, other projects have not – even as open source use has continued to be more ubiquitous.
Thus, it is more important than ever to be aware of the problems and issues everyone faces in the OSS ecosystem. Some organizations and open source maintainers have strong policies and procedures for handling these issues. But, as this report shows, other organizations are just facing these issues now.
Finally, we’ve seen the risks of not maintaining proper security practices around OSS dependencies. Failure to update open source dependencies has led to costs as high as $425 million. Given these risks, a little investment in strong security practices and awareness around open source – as outlined in the report’s recommendations – can go a long way.
We suggest you read the report – then see how you or your organization can take the next step to keep yourself secure!
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