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4 Tips for Reducing Security Risks Caused by Using Open Source Code

December 15, 2022 No Comments

Featured article by Bernadine Racoma, Content Manager of eTranslation Services

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Security is a top priority for all modern digital businesses. Valuable assets and data need to be protected from scammers and cybercriminals, as does sensitive customer data and personal details.

Open source is an idea that has only recently entered the public vernacular. As with any new technical system, businesses must make themselves aware of the potential and take steps to mitigate them. Open source code can come with many benefits, but companies must take measures, such as software composition analysis, to ensure it is safe. Let’s take a look at what open source code is, what kind of risks are involved, and how these risks can be reduced. Read on to find out more.

What is Open Source?

Open source code is the name given to code that is available to the general public. This means that anyone can access this code and edit or modify should they wish to. Open source code allows for a decentralised and community-based software development model, where the users of the software are themselves integral to the process of designing and developing it.

Despite being something of a new term, open source code has been in use for decades. The early Internet was developed using an open source process, allowing for researchers and engineers to work collaboratively on what was a major project. However, with modern day communication and Internet technology, open source programming has really come into its own, and it is an increasingly popular way of developing new software.

Open source software is released under what’s called an Open Source License. This means that anyone can modify or alter the code without breaching copyright laws. Generally, participants will be involved with things like user tests and bug finding, but do also occasionally assist with larger tasks related to the software’s overall function.

However, open source is not without risk. Let’s take a look at some of these risks and discuss how best to defend against them.

Vulnerabilities can be Identified

Perhaps the most obvious risk of making source code available to the public is that any potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the code will be easy to identify. This is actually something that programmers will hope for, as people looking to help with the code will flag these issues and the developers will be able to fix them. However, there is also a risk that criminals will be able to exploit these weaknesses and potentially access sensitive information or private databases.

To prevent this from happening, programmers must ensure they are using up-to-date systems and the correct components to avoid scammers exploiting weaknesses in the code.

Compliance Risks

Open source components can each come with individual licenses. With any number of people contributing to the code at any one time, software developers can often find that their code is composed of components that fall under various different licenses.

Problems can then arise when there is conflict between these licenses. Software developers must be vigilant and keep track of all the licenses in use. Failure to do so can give rise to compliance issues that can result in legal action being filed against them.

Software composition analysis is an incredibly effective way of mitigating potential compliance issues. These tools can be used to scan code and flag any conflicting licenses, while also identifying potential security vulnerabilities.

Quality Issues

Developing software in an open source way can offer companies a number of benefits. However, participants can have varying levels of skill and experience, and these are often difficult or impossible to quantify. This can lead to code that is unbalanced, with parts that perform much more efficiently than others.

One way developers can mitigate this risk is to publish a set of technical standards that all participants must adhere to. This can help establish a standard of quality that will be reflected in the code itself.

Project Sustainability

People who contribute to open source code are often amateurs or hobbyists who have jobs, responsibilities, and commitments outside of their coding lives. Software that relies on these contributors to maintain and update the code can find itself neglected if some or all of these participants move on to other things. This means that the developer team will have to pick up the slack themselves, which can prove extremely detrimental to businesses that have to make time and resource sacrifices to cope with the demands.

To avoid this from happening, development teams must be active in their open source communities and should be constantly measuring activity to ensure the code is receiving the attention and maintenance that it requires to function properly.

Conclusion

Open source isn’t a new concept, but we have seen its popularity increase as our lives become ever more interconnected through the Internet. The process can offer software development companies many benefits, but it is not without its risks. This means that developers must implement a range of measures to ensure their open source initiative is safe and secure, and that it doesn’t end up hurting the software in the long run.

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Bernadine Racoma is the Content Manager of eTranslation Services. Her long experience in an international development institution and extensive travels have provided her a wealth of knowledge and insights into cultural diversity. She writes to inform, engage, and share the idea of the Internet being a useful platform for communicating, knowledge sharing, educating, and entertaining. You can find Bernadine Racoma at Google Plus, on Facebook and Twitter.

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