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Cybercrime is on the mind of every business — from the largest enterprise to small and mid-sized companies that may have limited technical expertise. Traditionally, the duty for addressing threats fell to dedicated security teams, but modern approaches like DevSecOps are treating security as a shared responsibility between development, security, and operations teams.
The risk is real: cybercrime cost an estimated $6 trillion worldwide in 2021 alone. One of the key areas of concern for developers is open source software. Open source components are becoming ubiquitous in software development, with a 259% increase over 2016-2020 (Synopsys).
Open source software is public and visible by definition, allowing a worldwide community of developers to monitor and share information about vulnerabilities they discover in open source packages — but malicious actors can also see that information. This means that known vulnerabilities in open source packages must be addressed from the very beginning of application development.
Why have businesses invested in open source?
Open source code is used by developers to simplify and speed the process of developing applications. This collaboration has made the development and deployment process faster and more economical than “reinventing the wheel” by writing basic functionality from scratch.
Developers use open source libraries and frameworks in their application to satisfy business requirements. This results in useful programs that address business needs without a heavy time and resource investment in standard functionality. But by incorporating open source components, developers potentially add dependencies with vulnerabilities that expose your applications and networks to attack.
State of Open Source Security 2022
A look at software supply chain complexity and risk in collaboration with The Linux Foundation.
Open source frameworks and libraries can be effective tools for creating robust applications quickly, but there are risks that need to be considered.
Developers and maintainers of open source code are unknowns
Open source software brings the benefits of rapid development and free packages, but the author of the code is often unknown. Their knowledge of and adherence to secure coding techniques may be excellent — or absent.With no way to know at first glance, certain open source security risks are taken when employing open source libraries. Additionally, the developer has no responsibility to maintain the integrity of the code, so even if it’s secure when introduced, it may become vulnerable down the road.
Lack of security best practices
Adopters of open source technology may fall victim to code that doesn’t adhere to security best practices. This exposes the applications — and business — to potential vulnerabilities, including:
Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks
Exposure of sensitive data
There are several common vulnerabilities that seasoned developers know of, but many open source projects have left unaddressed, such as:
SQL injections — Code permits alteration of SQL scripts, allowing attackers to manipulate or compromise information in databases by modifying parameters.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) — Compromised web pages enable attackers to inject client-side scripts that will be executed by other users who view the web page. The damage may include extracting cookies, exposing sensitive data, or defacing the existing website.
Insecure Direct Object References (IDOR) — An access control vulnerability where the code refers to an object directly through user-supplied input. This can be a name or ID supplied as a URL parameter, and might expose data unintentionally and give hackers useful information for other attacks on the site.
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) — When an end-user is forced or tricked into executing unwanted web requests for which they are currently authenticated. An attacker tricks the user into executing the actions of the attacker’s choosing. This can enable cyberthieves to modify or create profiles or user accounts for use in additional attacks.
Security misconfiguration — This vulnerability is often the result of using default configurations. Developers may not even know about these default settings, but they can allow attackers to access the system and retrieve important user information or even specific data regarding the application. This opens the door for future attacks that compromise those specific technologies.
Users and software providers continuously uncover security flaws. One such CSRF vulnerability was even detected on a popular social media site. Millions of users could have been impacted if there had been a successful attack utilizing the weakness. Fortunately, the provider resolved the issue quickly once it was brought to their attention.
These are only a few of the vulnerabilities lurking in open source code, waiting for unethical hackers to discover and use to their advantage.
While many developers are well aware of secure coding practices, there is no guarantee that all practices have been adhered to or corrected when the vulnerabilities are identified. Some may still be present in available code for several years.
Open source vulnerability scanners work by identifying open source components or dependencies in any application, and referencing them against vulnerability databases. The earliest vulnerability scanners tested software in production, but the emergence of cloud-native applications has made this obsolete. The distributed nature and scale of cloud-native applications, and the fast pace of modern DevOps practices requires a new security approach that detects and fixes vulnerabilities throughout the SDLC:
Software Composition Analysis (SCA)
The way in which open source packages are introduced in software creates a formidable visibility challenge. A developer will often introduce an open source package that contains other packages. These nested, or transitive, dependencies can go several layers deep. SCA methodologies and tools are a way to track these dependencies and gain a deep understanding of how an application uses open source components. SCA tools can provide full visibility into the dependencies used in an application, detect any present vulnerabilities, then apply steps to prioritize and remediate them.
By scanning packages, an open source vulnerability scanner can help you understand how many dependencies a package has, its age, maintenance level, and other insights to evaluate its reliability.
Checking open source license compliance
Open source packages permit the use, sharing, and modification of the code, but are also subject to legal terms and restrictions depending on the type of open source license . For example, an open source license may stipulate whether you are allowed to modify code in the package and whether you have to make any modifications publicly available. Open source vulnerability scanners can help you identify and remain compliant with the open source licenses in your projects, simplifying the process of legally validating software.
Monitoring for new vulnerabilities
Vulnerabilities are constantly being discovered and published to public vulnerability databases. It’s important to monitor open source components for any such vulnerabilities because once they are public, unethical hackers can use them to compromise networks and data.
Open source vulnerability scanners can automatically monitor open source components and notify developers whenever a new vulnerability affects their applications. The Snyk monitor command, for example, allows you to continuously track projects for vulnerabilities and license issues.
Measuring open source package health
Open source packages differ in their risk profile. An open source vulnerability scanner will analyze the health of various packages to give developers insight into the risks associated with each. Snyk Advisor, for example, develops a metric for package health based on the number of weekly downloads, level of maintenance activity as measured by commit frequency, number of vulnerabilities, and how many contributors the package has.
Open source vulnerability scanners offer advantages to application developers and security teams such as finding known vulnerabilities, remediation, documentation, licensing, and security.
1. Finding known vulnerabilities
As vulnerabilities are discovered in code libraries, scanning offers a simplified process to determine if those libraries are present in a company’s technology stack. This allows for faster remediation of any exposure.
2. Remediating vulnerabilities
Once vulnerabilities are identified, vulnerability scanning allows the prompt discovery of all instances of the issue, allowing a quick response and successful remediation of security problems and lock out potential attackers.
3. Documentation of open source packages
Scanning open source code quickly reveals the open source frameworks and libraries included in applications. It tracks where the code is used, what version is used, and more. This also highlights any dependencies between open source components.
4. Ensuring license compliance
Some open source code requires licensing, even if it’s available at no cost. Vulnerability scanning tools reveal open source modules to ensure compliance with any license requirements that could have legal implications.
5. Implementing security from the start of development
Using open source scanners as a standard practice for open source packages provides security for both management and developers. By detecting vulnerabilities early in the development process, secure open source packages are used in the applications from the beginning — not after applications have been compromised.
6. The open source community
Vulnerability scanners use a variety of sources to uncover new vulnerabilities, including public vulnerability databases, threat intelligence systems, and community sources. The Snyk Open Source Vulnerability Database incorporates sources such as GitHub and social media to uncover vulnerabilities and monitor their impacts.
7. Open source package maintenance
Since using open source packages effectively outsources maintenance to a team of volunteers — or a single person in some cases — it’s important to continuously monitor applications for any new vulnerabilities.
When a vulnerability is identified, the next step is to upgrade or apply a patch to fix it in the least disruptive manner possible. Snyk automatically identifies the minimal upgrade required to remediate a vulnerability, or develops a proprietary patch in collaboration with the package maintainer.
Many companies use open source components, operating systems, or containers to enhance applications that have been developed in-house.
Regardless of how open source packages are utilized in application development and deployment, anyone that uses open source functionality should incorporate an open source vulnerability scanner.
Open source software scanning tools help development and security teams discover security issues before hackers and cybercriminals can exploit them.
Security best practices mandate that companies take responsibility for the integrity of open source components. Unknown vulnerabilities present unnecessary exposure to the corruption of applications, denial of service attacks, and data theft.
Organizations should make open source vulnerability scanning a standard procedure in application development and distribution. This offers continuous protection from cyberattacks and protects vital information.
Open source components are one of the top application security risks facing developers and organizations. In fact, OWASP highlighted vulnerable and outdated components as number six on its list of the OWASP Top 10 Vulnerabilities 2021.
In response, several types of tools have been developed to address the risks around open source:
1. Static image vulnerability scanners
These detect vulnerabilities in open source packages and libraries. They often provide a customized breakdown of risks by in-house experts, to help developers select which components they want to use.
2. Container security tools
These allow you to uncover vulnerabilities in container images. They can either scan images statically or integrate with CI/CD tools.
3. Penetration testing tools
These allow you to automatically detect and attempt to exploit vulnerabilities to evaluate their potential ramifications.
4. Dependency management tools
5. Production testing tools
These continuously scan applications during production to check for XSS, SQL injection, and other vulnerabilities.
Each open source scanning tool has its uses, but modern security approaches, like DevSecOps, increasingly make developers responsible for the code they write. Instead of conducting security tests externally or on applications in production environments, this new security paradigm integrates security testing throughout the SDLC.
Now, there are DevSecOps tools that allow you to scan open source components within the IDE, meaning security is built into applications as you write them. Automating security checks is a key aspect of these tools, since manual checks become a bottleneck to fast and efficient delivery.
This includes automatically auditing and enforcing policies around access controls, encryption, and gateway security. Static analysis tools should be run automatically at build-time, and any open source components should be scanned for vulnerabilities and license issues using SCA as they are pulled into the pipeline.
These tools give real-time insights to developers, allowing them to uncover vulnerabilities as they code, remove roadblocks to development, and avoid wasted time from fixing vulnerabilities down the road.
Open source vulnerability scanning is a key component in Snyk’s collection of cloud-native developer security tools:
Snyk Open Source is a SCA tool that integrates into developer tools, workflows, and CI/CD pipelines. It automatically detects dependency vulnerabilities and notifies you within your IDE or CLI, scans code directly from the repository before merging, and monitors applications in production to ensure they aren't exposed to new or existing vulnerabilities.The dependency tree view helps you see the dependency path through which vulnerabilities are introduced. Vulnerabilities are analyzed based on risk and exploitability data, while Snyk's dedicated research team analyzes alerts to minimize false positives — allowing you to focus on fixing vulnerabilities that are most likely to expose you to risk at runtime.
Snyk Website Scanner is powered by Snyk's proprietary vulnerability database, which includes hand-curated intelligence on open source vulnerabilities. The website scanner integrates with other development tools to identify vulnerabilities and provide insights into fixes and remediations.
Snyk Container scans container images, helping developers to quickly find and fix container issues. You may not have access to the source code that runs in containers, but vulnerabilities are still important. Snyk can detect and monitor open source dependencies for vulnerabilities during the container scan.
Snyk Open Source Advisor helps you compare open source packages based on security, licensing, and other metrics.
Secure your applications
Automatically find, prioritize and fix vulnerabilities in the open source dependencies used to build your cloud native applications.
How do I scan source code with an open source vulnerability scanner?
You can use an open source vulnerability scanner to check production code for known vulnerabilities in public GitHub repos, npm packages, and Docker images, or use it to fix vulnerabilities as part of your CI (Build) system.
What is open source vulnerability scanning?
Open source scanning helps you to identify and fix vulnerabilities in your dependencies, and remain compliant with the open source software licenses in your projects. It offers continuous protection from cyberattacks and provides vital information about how your application consumes open source components and dependencies.
How do vulnerability assessment tools work?
Open source vulnerability assessment tools find vulnerabilities in an application’s source code, much like how antivirus software scans your device and locates threats. The difference is antivirus software works on the perimeter of applications, while open source vulnerability assessment tools integrate with developer tools and workflows to uncover vulnerabilities during the development process.
What is the best free vulnerability scanner?
Snyk is considered one of the leading open source vulnerability scanners. It empowers developers to take ownership of application security with a scalable, intuitive approach to finding and fixing vulnerabilities. Snyk integrates seamlessly into existing workflows and provides automated remediation via its curated, best-in-class vulnerability database.
Why should I scan open source packages with open source vulnerability scanners?
Open source packages are among the top application security risks that developers, security teams, and operations teams must address. OWASP even highlighted vulnerable and outdated components in its list of the OWASP Top 10 Vulnerabilities 2021. It’s important to scan open source packages with open source vulnerability scanners so you can identify, monitor, and fix them before they’re exposed to exploitation in production environments.
Next in the series
Software dependencies: How to manage dependencies at scale
The benefit of software dependencies is that they allow developers to more quickly deliver software by building on previous work.Keep reading