3 Risks Posed By Open Source Dependencies & How To Mitigate Them

open source dependencies

Most of the code written today has some dependencies since there are so many libraries, packages, and tools that make a developer’s life a little easier. Furthermore, open source tools and libraries are often more attractive to developers. For one, they’re free to use, and even more important, you can read and edit the code to fit your needs.

However, as the complexity of applications and software tools grows, dependencies can pose a serious security risk. The risk is a bit higher with open source dependencies because many developers are often not aware of sub dependencies that may pose a security risk or a licensing conflict at some point.

Therefore, in today’s article, we will list some of the most common risks posed by open source dependencies and how to ensure they don’t turn into real threats and vulnerabilities.

1. Vulnerability Risks

According to the 2022 Open Source Security And Risk Analysis report, open source is prevalent across industries. You can find its components in high-profile industries, like aerospace, big data, computer hardware, mobile apps, and more.

And some of these elements contain vulnerabilities that could be attacked or exploited at any given time. Luckily, organizations with a comprehensive inventory of the software tools (and their dependencies) used to run operations can stay up to date with the latest cyber threats. On the downside, many organizations that use open-source components don’t have a whole image of the dependencies and sub dependencies that could pose a risk.

Another way to mitigate this situation is to use vulnerability scanning tools (see a list of the most used scanners) to make an idea of the type of security weaknesses already existing in their networks. But to be effective, vulnerability scans must be performed regularly, and organizations must use the results to improve their level of security. 

2. Out-of-Date Software Components

Out-of-date software components pose a serious security risk if left unattended, which is why organizations must keep track of all their software tools. Furthermore, not all open-source software may come with automatic updates. This means you must install updates or patches manually as soon as they become available. 

So, the solution to mitigating out-of-date software components is to keep track of all the elements in your codebase. But keep in mind that open source code is intertwined with so many software tools that you may not even know it is part of your codebase. The only way to know is to study each tool and check its dependencies. 

3. Licensing Conflicts

Doesn’t open source mean free to use? As it turns out, things are not that simple. Just because the source code is open, it doesn’t mean the buyer doesn’t have to pay for the software component or support. 

This is why it’s important to understand the different types of open source licenses and their legal implications before accepting these types of tools into your codebase. Moreover, there are instances when even developers are not fully aware of the existing sub-dependencies of open source code that may contain license terms and conditions.

To mitigate this issue, companies invest in specialty training for developers and automated Software Composition Analysis tools that can help evaluate a codebase’s code quality, security, and license compliance. 

Wrap Up

When an organization is aware of its open source dependencies it’s easy to identify and stop any vulnerabilities. However, the situation changes when there is no accurate tracking method, and the codebase is tightly intertwined with open source tools.

Many ill-intended actors know about these dependencies, so whenever they target a company, this is one of the first things to test. If the organization is well-prepared and constantly improving, it can repel attacks. Otherwise, these may be the first steps toward a new data breach story.

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Cover Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

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