The allure of using open source software is easy to see. Not only are these programs often free for organizations, but they also can utilize innovations from software designers around the world. While there may be something almost utopian-sounding about the idea of free collaboration creating a widely available tech product, open source software all too often comes loaded with challenges and risks. Simply put, using applications with significant amounts of their code available for free is a boon for hackers, just like it is for businesses.
A growing trend
Over the past few years, companies that use the open source model have grown in number, begun offering more software options and seen an increase in downloads. According to one report, almost every ecosystem has recorded impressive growth in open source registries, with Maven Central reporting a 102% increase in 2018 alone.
Many traditional software developers have also developed parts of the open source business model. Rather than simply selling a software program, companies will make a program's basic features available for free, and then require payment to access the full version and its more advanced features.
The end result of all of this growth and change is that more programs are available for free or a limited price than ever before. What could possibly be the problem with that?
On the surface, open source programs may seem safer than proprietary ones. Since programmers can look at the software's code, whether they work for the company that made it or not, more experts have in theory looked for defects or security risks. However, this is not always the case. The loose structure and public nature of open source software is a double-edged sword.
There are no agreed-upon quality standards for open source software. As a result, while many programs have been extremely well-vetted, others are riddled with potential weak points.
Though pen source programs are written in a wide variety of programming languages, a large number are written with Java, which is particularly easy to access and opens the door to many potential risks. One of the first open-source coding platforms out there, Java is in dire need of modernization, and though still common and enhanced with various patches it still has significant vulnerabilities.
Issues may also arise because the creation and review of open source programs is a decentralized process. A lack of overall vision and communication could lead to vulnerabilities in a program's code. In other cases, developers may take pieces of code from an open source component to use in a proprietary program without checking it for vulnerabilities. Your organization may be running applications that use open source tech without knowing it. In some cases, developers may have actually copy and pasted lines of code from an open source program that isn't licensed, making the origins of some ideas in code difficult to trace. This can make it difficult to add patches as they arise.
The loose nature of open source design may also make it challenging to fix any problems that do arise. Since these programs are publicly available there are fewer support resources in place for organizations who have been hacked. Additionally, the fact that patches on open source programs become publicly available on the National Vulnerability Database once ready is actually a possible cause for concern. Because hackers can access these databases too, they easily find the vulnerabilities of organizations that haven't implemented the patch in a timely manner.
Finding a balance
In many cases, using open source software may be the right call for you and your organization. These programs often function in almost the same way as their proprietary counterparts at only a fraction of the cost. And while proprietary software can come with its own set of drawbacks, the security risks associated with open source can be immense.
If you plan to go the open source method, there are steps you can take to mitigate your risk of being hacked. Always be sure that you are using software that has an established reputation for safety. You can check this by researching the number of bugs that have been fixed on the program and whether there are any open bugs. As open source companies become more and more of a norm in the software industry, the number of well-vetted programs will only continue to grow. Ultimately, the best course of action, especially when dealing with programs created with Java or other similar languages is to use a terminal emulation platform to help modernize your server.