How to Securely Use Open Source in the Enterprise

Lee Hylton / June 28, 2022

Open source software can be secured for enterprise applications, and may in fact be more secure than proprietary software. This is good news for organizations prioritizing information security.

Most web2.0 companies now have open source software at the heart of their stack–around 90% of all cloud-based workloads run on Linux and about 82% of the smartphone market runs on open source software. It’s safe to say that open source runs much of the internet and none of us would be using software the same way without it.

For some companies, the extent to which open source software is used for enterprise applications may seem surprising at first glance, but open source has intrinsic security benefits and provides a platform for expansion.

Open Source And Your Platform

The biggest challenge for enterprise organizations is around license compliance and security. Having systems in place to ensure that you are not opening your organization to an issue in either of these areas is the key to successfully integrating open source software into your platform.

When considering an open source solution vs. a closed proprietary solution, there are three important factors to consider about open source projects.

1. Open Source Has Many Contributors

Many more eyes are looking to find and fix problems. Moreover, open source projects may have thousands or even tens of thousands of community contributors who volunteer either independently or on behalf of their employer as code contributors, bug troubleshooters, and project supporters.

2. Open Source Projects Move Quickly

As such, these projects typically fix vulnerabilities, release patches, and develop new versions a lot faster. This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage for enterprises, since open source projects will change very quickly.

3. Open Source Isn’t Always Managed

Keep in mind that open source projects differ from proprietary software in how they operate and in their strategic direction. Practically all commercial software uses a healthy chunk of open source, but in many cases it is not appropriately managed. Community-driven projects take on a life of their own and don’t necessarily have the same guidance and management processes implemented within proprietary software projects. And even if the contributions made by an organization are carefully managed, the open source code might be more inconsistent and vary in terms of quality and relevance.

How To Secure Open Source

To make open source more secure, it’s worthwhile to consider implementing these best practices into your organization’s IT culture:

1. Check for Compliance and Security Threats Everywhere in the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC)

Security should not wait for testing of the final artifact right before it is promoted to Production. From the very beginning as yo are conceptualizing software, your team should consider how to proactively prevent vulnerabilities. Planning for this from the start and ensuring thatg you have proper quality gates at every stage of your SDLC helps to ensure that the final product is vetted and the code is secure.

2. Consider Your Licenses Carefully

Licenses may present legal risks for organizations, particularly for developers who are not familiar with the full implications of using software for proprietary commercial purposes. Also, licenses likely place responsibility for the full security risk squarely on any company that decides to use the open source code.

3. Automate Compliance and Security

Whenever possible, compliance and security practices should be automated to ensure that they are part of the ongoing operations of the IT organization.

4. Be Proactive to Avoid Unsupported Libraries

Sometimes, open source projects are orphaned by their original developers, leaving users to handle their own support and fixes. Over time, these unsupported libraries become increasingly difficult to use and maintaining them may consume more of your IT organization’s resources. As active users of open source, your organization should have a sane and rational approach towards keeping abreast of changes that may be happening with any piece of open-source software you may be utilizing.

5. Implement Continuous Monitoring for Security Vulnerabilities

Continuous monitoring for security issues helps teams stay proactive about open source security. Ideally, this can find and fix vulnerabilities before they cause damage.

No In-House Open Source Expertise?

Organizations that go it alone usually find that they may need some outside help at some point. Using a partner that has been down this road and has the skill sets to assist your staff and get them up to speed is a great way to ensure that you are building things right from the start.

A partner like Blue Sentry can help your team come up to speed and will be able to suggest industry standard best practices to address license compliance, security and also to help you build out your complete SDLC.