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The products you purchase are the result of massive collaborations. They do not just come straight from the company, as the items you buy, like a shirt, start as something smaller, and the materials get passed from a cotton farm to logistics providers to manufacturers to truckers and finally to the retailers, where you get your hands on the product. Just as physical products pass through this supply chain, so too does software.

Digital resources pass through many hands, which raises concerns regarding open-source supply chain security and how strong it is against attacks. Cybercriminals target an organization in a software supply chain to affect all the people down the line. Here’s a closer look at supply chain security threats, how to address them, and the critical role open-source logistic software plays in maintaining security.

 

What Is Supply Chain Security and Why Is It Important?

As the name suggests, supply chain security protects the resources being passed along in the trading process from any network security threats. Cybersecurity vulnerabilities are assessed during the development process so companies can stop weaknesses from affecting other companies in the open-source supply chain.

Such security is crucial because open-source supply chains have various network security issues to be aware of, as cybercriminals can find all kinds of risks that they can target. Just one open-source supply chain attack can affect hundreds or thousands of end-users. 

Open-source logistic software plays a vital role in stopping these network security threats. Many programs today build on open-source tools, which involve contributions from various developers and users who bring more cyber security vulnerabilities to the forefront so they can be addressed to ensure overall data and network security prior to any breach.

Supply Chain Security Threats to Be Aware Of

Cybersecurity vulnerabilities can arise at any point when utilizing the software supply chain, so let’s discuss the various components at risk:

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A software’s initial developers are the first link in the supply chain, where the first risks arise. Because this phase lays the groundwork for the entire project, how these developers approach their work has a massive impact on open-source supply chain security.

The reality is that even experienced developers can make mistakes, so network security threats in this phase often arise from simple failure to adhere to the best security practices, such as:

  • Using multifactor authentication on developer accounts.
  • Having a formal change-tracking process.
  • Giving each release a unique identifier.
  • Testing for bugs and unexpected behavior throughout the development cycle.
  • Documenting and managing a project’s dependencies.
  • Cryptographically signing a project’s integrity.
  • Tracking and addressing cyber security vulnerabilities in open-source network security toolkits used in development.

Developers may overlook these procedures due to distractions or time crunches. However, as simple as they are, ignoring these tactics can leave a company facing various network security issues in its software supply chain.

Repositories

The next phase in the software supply chain is a repository or a server that hosts publicly available software packages where developers place their open-source code for others to use. Repositories have been the most used app development for in-house or licensed code, and the Linux Foundation reports that now 70%–90% of software solutions use open-source resources.

Because these repositories are so large, managing them can lead to network security threat oversights. Code in them may lack notes or dependencies, creating future cyber security vulnerabilities or misconfigurations. Weak access controls could let cybercriminals inject malicious code into these repositories. Downloading a software package is also fairly easy without crucial security features.

Project Dependency Managers

After downloading software from a repository, developers and users often use Project Dependency Managers (PDMs), which are programs that automate installation, updating, or configuration tasks to help watch over the open-source supply chain and maintain data and network security.

Unfortunately, it is easy to over-apply PDMs, as they automate a lot, but they don’t modify the software and can’t check it for reliability issues or other cyber security vulnerabilities. As a result, teams may overestimate what these network security toolkits can do, thus missing critical security checks in the process.

Vulnerability Databases

Because modern programs are often the result of dozens or thousands of software packages, it’s almost impossible to keep track of all cybersecurity vulnerabilities and dependencies. Developers turn to databases like the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures Program and the National Vulnerability Database Programs to assist workers in maintaining open-source supply chain security.

However, this phase in the supply chain can introduce risks of its own. Databases need help to keep up with the rapidly changing world of cybercrime, so their records may need to be completed or made more accurate once other network security threats are identified. Consequently, teams relying on them may need to comprehend their vulnerability landscape.

End-User Practices

The final step in the supply chain is using the software. End-users can sometimes find or introduce new cybersecurity vulnerabilities as they use a program. Most network security issues and incidents result from end-user errors. However, if errors are manageable, then it could just be a design flaw that developers should try to fix.

In open-source supply chains for software, end-users can also be crucial in addressing network security threats, as they can discover and report problems to developers so they can patch them and update notes in repositories, creating a cycle of open-source supply chain security improvements.

Supply Chain Vulnerabilities in Open Source

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While open-source software offers the advantage of having multiple contributors that can find cybersecurity vulnerabilities, this can also introduce some unique risks. Most notably, malicious code has more chances to enter the open-source supply chain because so many people can contribute to repositories. Since open-source tools spread so widely, an attack on one storage or database could affect many parties down the line.

In one instance in 2021, an attacker compromised an open-source scripting language server to push two malicious updates in the repository. Later that same year, an attacker inserted password-stealing malware into two packages for a popular open-source PDM. One of these packages saw 14 million weekly downloads, so this one attack could have affected tens of millions of projects.

Statista reports that in 2022, there was a 742 percent year-over-year increase in Open-Source Software (OSS) supply chain attacks aimed at exploits in cyber security regarding any weaknesses in upstream ecosystems like JavaScript, Java, . NET, and Python. In 2021, the figure was 650 percent. This growth is easy to understand, as a single open source supply chain attack can have far-reaching consequences, and this software has become an industry standard, but now such supply chains have become a target to cybercriminals.

Security Concerns for the Open-Source Software Supply Chain and How to Address Them

Many businesses still overlook open-source software security because these cybersecurity vulnerabilities are easy to miss when focusing on internal processes. Teams are concerned with ensuring their workflows and in-house programs are secure, taking attention away from network security threats earlier in the open-source supply chain, where attacks are far more accessible.

Open-source software’s collaborative nature makes it easy for cybercriminals to insert malicious code into various aspects of the system. However, that same collaboration is also the key to better open-source supply chain security. The industry should encourage all supply chain parties, from initial developers to end users, to share their findings, discuss network security issues, and collaborate to label and review repositories effectively. Then, the community can benefit from others’ experience and expertise.

Following the NIST’s secure software development framework and engaging in the best security practices is also essential. If more teams adopt these principles and standards, the software supply chain will become more standardized, enabling more helpful collaboration.

Supply Chain Security Best Practices

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While every development cycle is unique, some practices apply to every software supply chain. That starts with a risk assessment. Map out your supply chain to see all your dependencies, revealing where cyber security vulnerabilities can arise. Once you know where you’re most likely to encounter network security issues, you can address them appropriately.

Next, modernize your processes. Outdated technology can create data silos, making it difficult to spot potential network security threats and risks, creating more room for human error, and taking too long to respond to security alerts efficiently. Modern network security toolkits with automation, encryption, data consolidation, and file and access monitoring are crucial to spotting and preventing open-source supply chain threats.

You should also review and update your permissions throughout the supply chain. Most companies should give supply chain partners less access. Restrict permissions throughout the supply chain so everyone can only access what they need, and use strict identification and verification tools to enforce these policies.

Be sure to verify every bit of code before deploying it. Scan everything before using it in the development process. If you find a vulnerability or bit of malicious code, alert others in the open-source community. Proactively hunting threats will ensure others’ oversight doesn’t affect you and verify that you have appropriate open-source supply chain security.

Final Thoughts on Improving Open-Source Software Supply Chain Security

Open-source software is a massive boon to the development cycle, but it makes supply chain risks more of a concern. When you know where and how these network security threats arise, you can create actionable tactics to stop them. If developers, managers, and end-users work together, open-source software can be just as — if not more secure — than proprietary alternatives.