Can OSS Security Solutions Finally Secure Open Source in 2024?
May 09, 2024

Dotan Nahum
Check Point Software Technologies

Open source projects thrive on community contributions, but this openness can be a double-edged sword. Consistency, collaboration, and diligence are critical when prioritizing open source security. Still, questions linger about the impact of new trends and developments on OSS security best practices and the wider community.

What is the State of the Open Source Landscape?

Open source software in 2024 has its strengths and weaknesses. One of the biggest strengths of open source software is its transparency. Since the source code is publicly available, anyone can review, audit, and scrutinize it, potentially leading to more secure software.

However, open source projects often involve numerous contributors and dependencies, making it difficult to monitor and manage security across the entire ecosystem and leading to unnoticed vulnerabilities. There is a focus on large-scale vulnerability reduction in the OSS ecosystem (with suggestions for funding projects similar to OSS-Fuzz) and an emphasis on maintaining vulnerability tracking tools to avoid security fatigue among developers.

The Impact of Regulation on Open Source

Recent regulations require developers and organizations to ensure their OSS complies with security standards. While non-compliance can lead to legal and financial repercussions, open source projects often lack structured legal support and face resource constraints. Many projects operate with limited funding and manpower, making it challenging to implement comprehensive security measures and keep up with compliance.

Attacks Still Loom

Above all, the threat of major vulnerabilities still looms in the shadow of incidents like Log4J, especially during vulnerable periods like the holiday season when cybersecurity teams may be understaffed. Users of open source software often need to share the load and take on some responsibility for open source security to better the community. However, this can be a significant disadvantage for less tech-savvy users.

Are Existing Best Practices Enough?

Regularly updating open source software, conducting code reviews and audits, and downloading open source software from official or trusted sources are just some strategies developers use to mitigate risk and ensure security in the open source community.

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools automate the process of identifying open source components in your software and checking them for vulnerabilities, license compliance, and quality issues. Combining SCA tools with vulnerability scanners and standard OSS security best practices provides a comprehensive security assessment, ensuring that your open source components, proprietary code, and the overall software environment are secure.

2024 Predictions for the World of Open Source Security

These predictions and strategies indicate a proactive and multifaceted approach to securing OSS in 2024. With an emphasis on collaboration, advanced technologies, and a shift in educational focus, all aim to create a more secure and resilient open source ecosystem.

1. Stronger Authentication Measures

Software forges and package repositories are moving towards requiring stronger authentication mechanisms like MFA and SSO, which will significantly reduce the instances of malicious code insertions via compromised OSS maintainer or contributor accounts. Strong authentication provides an additional layer of security beyond basic username and password, significantly reducing the risk of compromised credentials that could lead to a security breach in an open source project.

2. The Role of Government

Agencies like the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have become more actively involved in securing OSS, issuing guidelines, and participating in the OSS community. This involvement highlights the recognition of OSS's importance in national and global digital infrastructures and the need for a collaborative approach to securing it.

President Biden's 2021 Executive Order on Improving the Nation's Cybersecurity mandated the use of SBOMs, helping organizations become more aware of their dependencies on OSS. In the long term, the Executive Order is expected to increase participation in OSS development and improve functionality and security.

SBOMs provide a detailed inventory of all components within a software product, bringing much-needed transparency to the complex software supply chains. In an era where software dependencies are deep and wide, SBOMs are crucial tools for risk assessment and management, offering insights into potential vulnerabilities and dependencies that need monitoring.

3. Use of Language Models in Cybersecurity

Large Language Models (LLMs) are already employed to address security issues, including rectifying coding errors and aiding in legacy code conversion to memory-safe code. The integration of advanced tools and methodologies, such as AI-driven security solutions, is reshaping the landscape thanks to the enhanced ability to detect and respond to threats. Up until now, the adoption has been marred with ethical challenges to ensure the safe and responsible use of these tools.

4. Advancing Developer Education

The industry is witnessing a shift from a purely technical focus to incorporating more comprehensive aspects like developer education and community engagement. This holistic approach recognizes that securing OSS is not just about the right tools and technologies but also about fostering a culture of security and collaboration among all stakeholders. Training and developer education will be a critical focus this year in areas like reducing attack surfaces and managing complex features.

Throughout 2024, developers can expect to see a differentiation in the vendors who can keep up with new developments in OSS security and those who can't, separating the wheat from the chaff. Strategies like SCA and vulnerability scanning remain effective and essential in preemptively addressing vulnerabilities in open source components and mitigating broader security issues.

Dotan Nahum is Head of Developer-First Security at Check Point Software Technologies
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