Love Your Developer: How to maintain & secure your open source components?

6min read

Happy Valentine’s Day! Meterian is feeling the love, so we want to share it by telling you the best way your business can love their developers! In this article we highlight the benefits and costs of using open-source software.  We’re also going the extra mile to give you tips on how to secure and maintain these components without slowing down your developers – the guardians of your business’ software that can propel you ahead of competitors.  

Here’s a little history lesson for you to begin with! Back in the 1940s-70s, software innovated at a slow pace. It wasn’t even regarded as a valuable asset in the working environment. The 1980s came and we see how software copyright was introduced, commencing a period where there was a boom in software innovation and a burst in software companies.  As the decades went on, people started to realise the value of open source software.

In 2000, the use of open source projects as well as components, began to grow significantly. Market research has predicted the global market size to grow from USD 11.40 billion in 2017 to USD 32.95 billion by 2022. Open source software has lowered development costs and accelerated innovation by reducing time to market. Now we see that companies who innovate early are 67% more likely to outperform.

Benefits of open source software 

Sometimes taking advantage of free resources is better. For example, in 2010 the use of open source was so common, it became a table stake. All companies were using it, otherwise they would fall at a disadvantage to their competitors. Open source solutions speed up software/hardware solutions, save money, provide flexibility and help companies stay on top of technological developments. This is supported by a survey which found 53% of companies have an open source program or plan to establish one in the near future

Developers are able to become creative and help solve problems in the software space when using open source solutions. It is the consumer and producer relationship that makes open source software thrive. As a result, there is more software availability for all users without having to reinvent the wheel. This in turn helps organizations. Recent research from Harvard Business School has shown that open source contributing companies capture up to 100% more productive value from open source than companies that do not contribute back. It creates a snowball effect: the more companies use it, the more the community is able to survey, criticize and praise it. Therefore, this strengthens the quality of the software used, including its security, usability and stability.

Open source software also comes with management benefits. Organizations tend to struggle when managing huge volumes of structured and unstructured data. This is where open source solutions can help! It helps to simplify business processes, as well as saving resources for things which are not needed for the success of a business. Essentially, it provides more flexibility for the company.

Taking a look at customer value is important. Due to the flexibility of open source software solutions, companies are able to customize to suit the needs of their particular customers. For example when you integrate two pieces of software. This requires less time than if the company were to write the integration software from scratch themselves. Therefore, it benefits both the company and their customers as well. Customers might even be willing to pay more for better solutions if they see this software is meeting their needs so efficiently and rapidly. It is all about viewing open source software as a resource and a powerful motivator.  

Costs 

When it comes to the law, open source solutions can sometimes be restricted to certain countries. For example, GitHub made headlines when it made it difficult for developers in Cuba, Iran, North Korea and Syria to access private repository services. There have been changes for open source licences in response to these types of situations, as it should be allowed to continue to expand and not interfere with international rules on software access. So companies should always know what licences are tied to the software they are using to avoid an IP breach. Read our past blog post on how the wrong licence can harm your business, if you haven’t already!

Moreover, open source components are attractive to cyber attackers. Firstly, open source vulnerabilities within components are discovered daily. Secondly, traditional testing tools and methods are ineffective in identification and therefore few companies understand the components being used in their applications. This lack of awareness leaves organizations increasingly exposed to an attack. For example Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in California suffered a ransomware attack due to an outdated JBoss server software. The attacker uploaded malware to the out-of-date server without any interaction with a victim. This resulted in delayed patient care and the hospital had to pay $17,000 to recover access to files and the network.

A further cost or strain is the need to constantly maintain, test and secure these components. For example, in 2018 Sonatype released its fourth annual State of the Software Supply Chain Report and showed how software developers had downloaded more than 300 billion open source components in the past 12 months, 1 in 8 of those components having contained known security vulnerabilities.

Not catching these security bugs early on in the development process can lead to very costly and damaging outcomes.

How to maintain and secure open source components?

Firstly, you can start by making an inventory of all your open source components used when developing software. This inventory must include all the components, versions in use and the download locations for each project. Software bill of materials (SBoM) would be this inventory.

There is also a need to map out any known security vulnerabilities. The National Vulnerability Database (NVD) is a great place to provide information on publicly disclosed vulnerabilities in open source software. However, make sure you do not use this as your sole source for vulnerability information, as sometimes not all vulnerabilities are reported and the format of NVD records make it difficult to see which versions have been affected.   Meterian uses several sources in addition to the NVD.

Open source solutions are a brilliant resource. But to maintain its benefits there needs to be an effort to secure the open source components to lower the risk of them being vulnerable to cyber attacks. For example, a study conducted by Kula et al. on migrations of 4600 GitHub projects showed that 81.5% of them do not update their direct library dependencies, sometimes even in cases when they have been affected by publicly known vulnerabilities. This emphasizes the lack of awareness about security vulnerabilities within open source software. For this reason, to secure your open source components there is an urgency to upgrade software and keep on top of the known vulnerabilities.

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Security is a community effort. There is a testing process for each project that is open to everyone. Developers using open source software are able to judge. This community of users are constantly evaluating and testing the security of certain components. Following this, there will be feedback on issues that have been found. For this reason, building open source software is safer than proprietary software because more people can test and contribute to its security. At the same time, there must be care about the code contributions accepted. A governance process and reviews in regards to any open source contribution should be made.

Constant vigilance is key. More than 3,600 new open source vulnerabilities are discovered every year and a significant amount appear daily.  Developers need to make sure their use of open source software is secure. Asking questions such as, is the code I am using good? Does it have any bugs? Due to vulnerabilities being identified on a daily basis–some have more high risk than others–there needs to be a practice within organizations to monitor or test each time the software changes. 

Meterian helps businesses get the most out of their software investments

Open source software has been changing how our world works, giving us a sustainable ecosystem that can work for everyone as long as it is looked after.

Meterian can automatically inventory your open source components and analyse them to check if they are up-to-date or have any publicly disclosed security and licence risks. Get started on building a proactive defence for your customer data and software IP.  Love your developers and let them innovate freely while using Meterian to secure your open source components. We can block insecure code before it goes live.  It will save you and your developers time and money, allowing your business to be less vulnerable to cyber attacks.  

Check if there are any open source security holes in your company’s website that puts your business at risk of a data or IP breach before it’s too late.

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Love Your Developer: How to maintain & secure your open source components?