23.Tablet Connections

A common misconception is that open-source software is less secure than proprietary software. To help dispel this myth, we'll highlight the benefits of open-source software in terms of security and show that the trust placed in the open-source community is well-founded.

How Secure Is Open-Source Software?

Open Source MonitoringOpen-source software is ubiquitous, with 90% and 98% of the world's software being open-source. A community member emphasizes the importance of trust in open-source software: "We're all taking code written by other people—standing on the shoulders of giants—and implicitly trusting every author, maintainer, and contributor that's come before us." This quote should resonate with security practitioners, reminding them of the inherent trust placed in the open-source community when utilizing their code.

The positive effect of source code transparency in open-source software should be noted. The network effect of many eyes on the source code leads to vulnerabilities being identified and remediated faster. Unsurprisingly, 90% of the known exploited vulnerabilities are proprietary software, even though around 97% of all software is open-source. This data challenges the misconception that proprietary software is inherently more secure, highlighting the benefits of community-driven security practices in Open Source.

High-profile vulnerabilities like Log4shell must be acknowledged, but these cases demonstrate the power of open-source security rather than failure. In the case of Log4shell, the maintainers were able to patch the vulnerability and roll out fixes in a matter of days, showcasing the responsive nature of the open-source community's security practices. However, enterprises often lag in responding to such vulnerabilities, with more than one in three Log4j applications still using vulnerable versions.

The Importance of Trust in the Open-Source Ecosystem

Trust is crucial in the open-source ecosystem, particularly concerning Linux distributions. Linux distributions play a pivotal role in establishing trust by pioneering approaches to software supply chains and establishing strict methods for vetting package maintainers. Debian is a notable example, using the PGP key sign system to codify trust within the distribution.

However, concerns about trust in the modern software supply chain exist regardless. The shift to programming language package managers and Docker images has introduced challenges in ensuring trust and security. The lack of curation in language package managers has led to concerns that anyone can upload a package, and Docker images have introduced a transitive trust issue. Docker's efforts to address the trust gap with Verified Builds are commendable; however, Helm and its federated model have introduced complexities.

These trust issues have significant implications for security practitioners. There is a need for greater awareness of vulnerabilities introduced through transitive dependencies and the difficulty of detecting and patching malicious software packages. Efforts to close the gaps in software supply chain security are ongoing, but questions remain about the scalability and effectiveness of these measures.

Our Final Thoughts on Open-Source Security

This article aims to challenge misconceptions about the security of open-source software and highlight the benefits of source code transparency and community-driven security practices. Analyzing trust within the open-source ecosystem and the potential risks in the modern software supply chain should provide valuable insights for security practitioners. As security practitioners, it is essential to understand the trust models and potential vulnerabilities within the open-source software we rely on and actively participate in efforts to strengthen software supply chain security.