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Monday, October 18, 2021

Open-source Software: An analysis from security perspective

Since the beginning from the computer software, programmer has been sharing their codes in order to develop software. In recent times, the usage of open-source software has grown exponentially and in recent times more and more organizations are embracing open-source and using modules which are found in public domain. The shift in the corporate environment can be seen and even commercial organizations are also using open-source systems or developing products or tools which can be benefited by everyone. Moreover, not only corporations but also government entities are also shifting towards open-source software because dependency on a propitiatory system or file format can be a limiting factor.

In this article we will mostly focus on the security aspects of using open-source software so that we can better understand in which areas we need to focus on prior to deploying any open-source system.

Advantages:

Bug fixing

Many changes are done on the code are not only directly done by the developer but rather by the community. In most cases critical bugs are detected and resolved quite quickly. Moreover, anyone can submit their solution in the codebase with notes so the maintainer can easily understand and solve such problems with ease.

Additionally, as more and more critical organization are using open-source as part of their computing environment, more attention is being given on stability and security of these community driven software thus more cases are discovered and resolved much faster.

Update and patch distribution:

The changes performed in the codebase are done quite frequently either by community or by the developer. As more and more renowned organizations start to use open-source systems, such updates become crucial. Thus, the developers are now acknowledging the requirement for faster patching and delivering them faster.

The rollout of patches are also quiet fast because the updated code is immediately pushed into the public server. If needed, the code can be downloaded and complied into production environment. But in most cases, such advanced procedures are not required but they can wait for the gradual update system.  Usually, the updates are easily rolled out to using the packager managers found in the operating system and if that is not available some program can update themselves.

Until recently, update and patch distribution were not in focus but after the Solarwinds security incident where a attacker were able to push malicious codes into the update package, which were eventually download by various sensitive organizations. Open-source software also provides its users the opportunity to track change. The update can be also be tracked back to the bug or feature request and observe the exact changes in the codes and view logs.

Transparency:

One of the advantages of open-source software is, the code can be reviewed by anyone. In most of the cases, they are found in various public repositories from where you can download the code to your own workstation and follow intricate guide to compile the code into executable. This creates many opportunities as anybody can take a look into the code and check whether it is secure enough.

This process of auditing of code could be overwhelming for many but it can be considered important for critical organizations.

Cost:

The price of the software can obviously affect the security of any software because in many cases it is seen that updates from on version to another require some sort of purchase. This forces the consumer to use the outdated version. Updates for those systems might not be available or difficult to obtain thus creating an obstruction towards secure environment.

Because open-source software is free from such financial burden, consumer can get the latest version as soon as they are released thus creating a more secure environment.

Drawbacks:

Open-source systems does have some weaknesses which we need to address when using them.

Malicious attacker can inspect code too:

While it is true that being open-source more people will be able to view a potential problem and consequently resolve the matter, the opposite is also true where a malicious programmer might search for exploits in the code and use it against the software. This exploit will be valid until it is being discovered, giving the attacker an advantage.

Lack of auditing:

As most of the open-source software is usually stems from a personal hobby, they are not built using security and auditing in mind. The software can contain main bugs and problems which can be used by a malicious user.

However, this trend is changing where many open-source code auditing tools are available in the market which can analyze the code and point out possible problems with the code which can be then resolved by the developer.

Lack of support:

Support for the software is mostly driven by the community and in many cases, it is seen that they are not properly trained. Although the community undoubtedly tries their best to provide support but in reality, it cannot be compared with professional support which propitiatory vendors provide.  This can lead towards various other complications like lack of interest towards upgrades.

Rezaur Rahman
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