It's no secret that security is a hot topic in the realm of open source software. After all, Heartbleed and Shellshock will undoubtedly go down as two of the biggest IT stories of the year, and both brought into sharp relief some of the security shortcomings inherent to open source strategies. As numerous experts have noted, neither of these incidents should be seen as indicative of inherent open source security flaws, but they did raise major worries.
Unfortunately, the open source landscape is poised to become even more dangerous in the coming year, according to a recent Trend Micro report. Considering how important open source solutions have become for most businesses' basic operations, reducing reliance on open source is likely not an option. Instead, to prepare themselves for these threats, companies need to embrace advanced tools and strategies as soon as possible.
Incoming open source threats
According to Trend Micro, Heartbleed and Shellshock will likely serve as inspiration for hackers in the coming year. Cybercriminals have now seen the potential gains to be made by taking advantage of overlooked vulnerabilities in widely used open source code.
"[Cyberattackers] will keep tabs on oft-forgotten platforms, protocols and software and rely on irresponsible coding practices to get to their targets," the report explained.
Furthermore, the threat that hackers pose to open source programs will grow as proprietary software providers continue to pour resources into improving their cybersecurity. This will make it more difficult for cybercriminals to strike at proprietary software, thereby making open source a more appealing target. Similarly, the increasing adoption of open source will mean that a successful breach will have greater potential returns for hackers.
None of these trends suggest that open source solutions are becoming less secure, or that they were less secure to begin with. Instead, these developments indicate that cyberattacks focused on open source software will become both more refined and more common. Consequently, organizations need to adapt.
Knowledge is power
So what steps should companies take in light of these emerging and accelerating threats?
First and foremost, firm leaders need to know precisely where open source software is being deployed within the organization. While this may seem straightforward, it can actually be a difficult challenge. After all, open source is becoming increasingly essential to virtually every department's IT infrastructure. If IT leaders have not kept close track of their use of open source, doing so after the fact can be exceedingly complicated. For a variety of reasons, companies have historically been much better at managing and tracking their use of proprietary software than open source.
For firms in this situation, high-end open source scanning solutions are essential. These tools allow companies to scan through their code base and determine exactly where and how open source is being utilized. With this information in place, decision-makers can implement superior strategies and, just as importantly, ensure consistency across the organization's open source resources. This, combined with open source governance solutions, drastically reduces the risk that the company will be blindsided by an open source-related vulnerability, as it can guarantee that open source security solutions have been implemented wherever they were needed.
Beyond identifying all uses of open source, business leaders must also take steps to more effectively protect these assets, as well as the organization as a whole. Key among these is simply the application of best practices, such as careful vetting of open source code prior to implementation. In the cases of Heartbleed and Shellshock, firms simply assumed that others had verified the security of the open source software in question, but in reality no one did. A company-wide adherence to best practices can reduce the risk that such an oversight will affect the organization.