Why and How to Perform Open Source Security Scans?

Open source software is great in many ways. It’s usually free of cost, it’s easy to modify or extend and borrowing open source code can reduce the time it takes to develop an app.

On the other hand, a major challenge of using open source software is security. While open source is no more (or less) inherently risky from a security perspective than closed-source software, there is always a risk that open source software will introduce vulnerabilities into your organization.

That’s why open source security scans are critical for any organization that uses open source. Keep reading for tips on how open source security scans work, why they’re important and how to integrate them into your security strategy.

Why You Should Scan Open Source

A variety of security vulnerabilities can slip into open source code. For example, it could contain functions that fail to validate input properly, which attackers could exploit to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data. Or, coding flaws within open source libraries or modules might enable the execution of arbitrary code, allowing attackers to take control of an application or the system hosting it.

Again, these types of vulnerabilities could exist in closed-source software, too. But the challenge with open source is that third-party developers can easily reuse open source code; this is not typically the case with closed-source code. What this means is that organizations that rely on open source software written by outside organizations may end up importing security vulnerabilities into their codebases – often without even realizing it.

Note, too, that open source security risks can exist in virtually any type of open source project. Large, prominent open source projects like Linux and Kubernetes, which are well managed, tend to have fewer security vulnerabilities than small, obscure projects that you may find on GitHub. But either way, there is always a risk that your open source code will contain vulnerabilities, no matter where it originates.

A secondary consideration with regard to open source code scanning is licensing compliance. In some cases, developers may inadvertently use open source code in ways that violate the license that governs the code. They may even insert snippets of open source code into their own applications without keeping track of the origins of that code, leading to potential licensing violations down the line.

Open source security scanning protects against both types of risks. It helps you discover insecure code within open source functions, libraries or modules that you use. It also alerts you to potential licensing issues associated with open source code that your business depends on.

SCA Scanning for Securing Open Source Software

It’s theoretically possible to scan open source code manually. Your developers could review it by hand to look for coding mistakes that may create vulnerabilities.

That approach, however, is hardly feasible at scale. A better solution is to deploy automated Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools. These tools automatically parse open source code, then compare it to databases of known vulnerabilities to determine whether risks exist within the code. Some SCA tools can also evaluate code to detect poor practices that may create vulnerabilities, even if those vulnerabilities have not been previously disclosed. Whats more, they can alert you to code within your codebase that is known to be subject to specific open source licenses, which helps to identify potential licensing issues related to the use of open source within an organization.

Advanced SCA tools, like JFrog Xray, can also scan binaries, such as container images and application executables. This means that they can detect risks even if you are borrowing open source software via a binary distribution channel (such as a public container registry). Which allows you to check it for vulnerabilities before deploying it inside your environment.

How to Set Up Open Source Security Scans

While the deployment process for SCA tools varies from tool to tool, it generally boils down to:

  1. Acquire the tool.
  2. Set up the tool if it needs to be hosted on-premises. Alternatively, if it’s a SaaS solution (which is a deployment option supported by Xray), you can use it without setting it up yourself.
  3. Integrate the tool with your software delivery pipeline so that scans are performed whenever open source is integrated into a codebase. Ideally, you will run scans against both source code and binaries, in order to maximize your chances of detecting security or licensing issues.

For details on setting up JFrog Xray as an open source vulnerability scanning solution, you’re welcome to refer to this documentation.