Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Application Security

04:45 PM

Slow Retreat from Python 2 Threatens Code Security

The end of life is near for Python 2, and there will be no rising from the grave this time. So why are some companies and developers risking a lack of security patches to stay with the old version of the programming language?

At least one in 10 Python developers and data scientists continue to use the legacy version of the popular programming language as their primary development tool, despite a looming deadline of Jan. 1, 2020, the official "end of life" for Python 2.

The death of the programming language means companies that continue to use the technology — often to support legacy programs — will be at risk, experts say. While vulnerabilities in the core methods of the programming language are uncommon, many Python 2 packages will also be left with no — or dramatically less — support, likely leaving legacy programs unpatched.

The result is that maintainers will no longer step in to fix even serious vulnerabilities, says Jeff Rouse, vice president of product at ActiveState, a software tools maker. 

"The primary security risk is that vulnerabilities will arise and then there is not a core team to get those things fixed in a timely fashion," he says. "And that is not just talking about code language, but the package and ecosystem as well."

As the clock counts down on Python 2, some security professionals have warned that companies that fail to move from the older version of the programming language will put their software in the crosshairs of hackers when a vulnerability is found. As of May, 13% of Python programmers still used version 2 as their primary development language. While still high, that share is half of the 25% who were using the language at the end of 2017, according to JetBrains, a market research firm.

In August, the UK's watchdog for cybersecurity concerns, the National Cyber Security Centre, warned Python programmers that they should move to the latest version of Python.

"[I]f you're still using 2.x, it's time to port your code to Python 3," the NCSC wrote. "If you continue to use unsupported modules, you are risking the security of your organisation and data, as vulnerabilities will sooner or later appear which nobody is fixing."

The Python Software Foundation has made it clear that Python 2 users will find themselves without patches starting in January.

"If people find catastrophic security problems in Python 2, or in software written in Python 2, then most volunteers will not help fix them," the group wrote in an alert on the sunsetting of Python 2.

The move from Python 2 has been more than a decade in the works. The Python Software Foundation released Python 2 in 2000 and, realizing there were many improvements the core maintainers could add to the programming language, released Python 3 in 2006. Yet developers did not move from Python 2, so a couple of years later, the Python Software Foundation announced its volunteers would stop supporting the previous major version of its increasingly popular programming language, beginning in 2015. 

Developers very slowly — half were still using Python 3 in 2013 — started moving from Python 2, but too many remained. The year before the deadline, the project leadership recognized that programmers were not cooperating, so they pushed back the deadline to Jan. 1, 2020.

Now it's time, the group said. Python 2 has been sapping too many resources for too long, the group chastised.

"If you need help with Python 2 software, then many volunteers will not help you, and over time fewer and fewer volunteers will be able to help you," the group said in a blog post. "You will lose chances to use good tools because they will only run on Python 3, and you will slow down people who depend on you and work with you."

The main problem for companies is that Python 3 is not backward-compatible with Python 2. Too many changes were made to the language. Because of those issues, it took Dropbox — a company whose services run widely on Python and that had employed the creator of Python until he retired this month — three years to convert all of its software and infrastructure from Python 2.

"Python 3 adoption has long been a subject of debate in the Python community," Dropbox  said in 2018. "This is still somewhat true, though it's now reached widespread support, with some very popular projects such as Django dropping Python 2 support entirely."

The number of packages downloaded for Python 2 continues to be in the millions per month, with almost two-thirds of downloads for the URL resource module urllib and half of the downloads of Web library requests continuing to be for Python 2.

It does not help that Python 2.7 continues to be the default version installed on Mac OS X, even on Catalina, the latest version of Apple's operating system. Other operating systems have fallen into line, however. In 2018, Ubuntu upgraded to Python 3.6 as the default in 18.04 LTS, also known as Bionic Beaver, and Red Hat dropped support for Python 2 in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8. Python does not ship by default with Windows.

In addition, many major open source libraries have committed to dropping Python 2 in favor of Python 3 by 2020.

For companies that will not make the deadline, some software firms, such as ActiveState, are offering to extend support for security patches for Python 2.

"It is amazing that even with the amount of notice that the core team and [the Python Software Foundation] has given that enterprises have very large codebases, and they don't have the time or inclination to get off those applications when they still provide value to them," Rouse says. "Some of them are migrating but have not gotten around to it yet, while others don't plan to migrate, but they want someone to have their back. It is a situation where a lot of companies knew it was coming."

Related Content

This free, all-day online conference offers a look at the latest tools, strategies, and best practices for protecting your organization’s most sensitive data. Click for more information and, to register, here.

Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
Dark Reading Staff 7/9/2020
Omdia Research Launches Page on Dark Reading
Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading 7/9/2020
4 Security Tips as the July 15 Tax-Day Extension Draws Near
Shane Buckley, President & Chief Operating Officer, Gigamon,  7/10/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Special Report: Computing's New Normal, a Dark Reading Perspective
This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
Flash Poll
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
The Threat from the Internetand What Your Organization Can Do About It
This report describes some of the latest attacks and threats emanating from the Internet, as well as advice and tips on how your organization can mitigate those threats before they affect your business. Download it today!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
Django Two-Factor Authentication before 1.12, stores the user's password in clear text in the user session (base64-encoded). The password is stored in the session when the user submits their username and password, and is removed once they complete authentication by entering a two-factor authenticati...
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
In Bareos Director less than or equal to 16.2.10, 17.2.9, 18.2.8, and 19.2.7, a heap overflow allows a malicious client to corrupt the director's memory via oversized digest strings sent during initialization of a verify job. Disabling verify jobs mitigates the problem. This issue is also patched in...
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
Bareos before version 19.2.8 and earlier allows a malicious client to communicate with the director without knowledge of the shared secret if the director allows client initiated connection and connects to the client itself. The malicious client can replay the Bareos director's cram-md5 challenge to...
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
osquery before version 4.4.0 enables a priviledge escalation vulnerability. If a Window system is configured with a PATH that contains a user-writable directory then a local user may write a zlib1.dll DLL, which osquery will attempt to load. Since osquery runs with elevated privileges this enables l...
PUBLISHED: 2020-07-10
An exploitable SQL injection vulnerability exists in the Admin Reports functionality of Glacies IceHRM v26.6.0.OS (Commit bb274de1751ffb9d09482fd2538f9950a94c510a) . A specially crafted HTTP request can cause SQL injection. An attacker can make an authenticated HTTP request to trigger this vulnerabi...