Rust— the new language shaking up the open source programming world

Rust is a relatively “new” software language across all the available ones at this time and rising in popularity among developers. Having been voted ‘most loved’ language for the past five years1, it is no wonder that Rust is gaining more attention. Read on to hear why we think Rust is worth your time.

Why a developer should consider Rust

Rust is a system language, along the lines of C and C++, but at the same times it incorporates many of the features of higher level languages, such as:

  • A reliable memory management (without a garbage collector)
  • An extremely low overhead
  • The use of static typing
  • A build design that prioritises performance (at the level of C and C++)
  • The use of a modern package management ecosystem

Remember Go? Rust will almost be faster than Go in run-time benchmarks because it has superior fine-grained control over how concurrency works in terms of threads and shared resources2

Additionally, Rust is being considered for use in the Linux Kernel3 by Linus himself, which is no small feat. Rust also supports WebAssembly4, just in case you fancy writing some web stuff 🙂

Rust has also become the ideal candidate for  IoT application development. Labeled as fast, reliable, and secure by Smart Device Management organisation Dwello5 who switched to Rust for their IoT platform. As they build IoT applications, developers have many programming languages to choose from. Some popular options are Java, C, JavaScript and Python. C and C++ are especially popular for device-run code. Another, less popular, option today is Rust, but that is likely to change. Let’s start with the characteristics of any programming language that makes it a good candidate for IoT development.

Application performance is a top priority, especially for code running on devices with minimal CPU and memory resources.  Developers can develop highly performant applications with C and C++, but at a cost. C and C++ developers know all too well the risks and challenges of dealing with bugs related to memory management such as unhandled null pointers and failing to deallocate unused memory.

Another component of a good IoT development language is developer productivity. Productivity is often a byproduct of skills, tools, and programming language abstractions and patterns. Popular programming languages are well supported by development environments. Additionally, developers acquire build tools and skills with time and experience; as a result, language abstractions and patterns are a key consideration with regards to developer productivity.

For those looking for both application performance and developer productivity, Rust is an increasingly popular option. The IoT market size is expected to grow from $250.72 billion in 2019 to $1,463.19 billion by 20276. Clearly, this is an area of the tech world that is only set to expand in influence. Meterian prioritises remaining at the forefront of innovation and supporting languages that have a vital role in ever advancing tech trends.

Why Meterian has decided to add Rust to its supported languages

First of all, Rust is big in open source, so it’s a natural continuation in our mission to support open source. Although security is extremely important in the Rust philosophy, there are vulnerable packages appearing in the wild. The GitHub advisory database7 does not have an entry for Rust (although some advisories do surface here and there) and the NVD database contains only a portion of all the vulnerable Rust components. Meterian is ingesting not only the NVD and other official security Rust databases, but it’s also actively monitoring many Rust open source projects at their source. Our ongoing efforts for getting the optimal coverage of all known vulnerabilities for open source dependencies extends our mission to Rust developers so we can maximise preventative care for Rust coding projects. 

Rust is important to pay attention to because on average every single rust open source project we scanned contains at least 1 vulnerable component that often could be patched.

Sizing up the risks in the Rust ecosystem

Rust, like all other modern languages, has an ecosystem of components, called “crates”, that are available from the open source community, which is accessible at crates.io. Although as a Rust developer you will always prefer writing some code from scratch (at the end of the day, this is a system language), it’s highly likely you won’t be reinventing the wheel. As shown on the screenshot from May 6th, over 60,000 crates with over 6.8 billion downloads, this is a significant size.

There’s a good chance that, if you never checked, you have been using a crate affected by a publicly disclosed vulnerability. Unless you are in application security and unless you spend half of your time reading bulletin boards, advisories, mailing lists, you won’t know about it. However, hackers do. They keep an eye on these vulnerabilities and routinely develop automated attacks to exploit them. In fact, hackers have it nailed to a T. The vulnerabilities are made public on open source vulnerability databases, the code is open source, they already have a botnet to run them (maybe even your Amazon Alexa or Google Play). All of a sudden, your shiny new service written with the latest cutting edge technology is vulnerable, and it can be used to exfiltrate confidential user data from your backend!

Let’s assume, for example, that you are using hyper, an HTTP library:

Screenshot taken from: https://www.rust-lang.org/

Since hyper is a relatively low-level library, it’s meant to be a building block for other libraries and applications. It may be a transitive dependency, a crate that is pulled in your code as the result  of another crate that is used. In particular version 0.12.34 of hyper has an interesting vulnerability: it allows an attacker to remotely execute code on the machine where your code is running. Check out this Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures ID CVE-2020-35863 for more details.  This security vulnerability would allow the attacker, for example, to install a very simple bot on your server, open an undetected tunnel and start pulling data from your proprietary system.

This is the beauty of a tool that detects the problem automatically and informs you promptly. We prioritise your time so that you can focus on the solution to remediate the issue, maximising productivity whilst maintaining high standards of open source security. 

What can Meterian do for you?

Sign up for a free account to see how our invisible security platform can work seamlessly in your software development life cycle (SDLC) and auto-remediate vulnerable components.

1 https: //insights.stackoverflow.com/survey/2020#overview

2 Howarth, Jesse. “Why Discord is switching from Go to Rust”. Discord, 4 Feb 2020, https: //blog.discord.com/why-discord-is-switching-from-go-to-rust-a190bbca2b1f

3 Salter, Jim. “Linus Torvalds weighs in on Rust language in the Linux kernel”. Arstechnica, 25 March 2021, https: //arstechnica.com/gadgets/2021/03/linus-torvalds-weighs-in-on-rust-language-in-the-linux-kernel/

4 “Why Rust?”, https: //www.rust-lang.org/what/wasm

5 Hiner, Jeff. “We Rewrote Our IoT Platform in Rust and Got Away With It”. Medium, 31 July 2019, https: //medium.com/dwelo-r-d/we-rewrote-our-iot-platform-in-rust-and-got-away-with-it-2c8867c61b67

6 Fortune Business Insights, https: //www.globenewswire.com/en/news-release/2021/04/08/2206579/0/en/Global-IoT-Market-to-be-Worth-USD-1-463-19-Billion-by-2027-at-24-9-CAGR-Demand-for-Real-time-Insights-to-Spur-Growth-says-Fortune-Business-Insights.html

7 https: //github.com/advisories

Rust— the new language shaking up the open source programming world

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