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Report: Vulnerabilities Abound in Open-Source Environments

Enterprises should take care in adopting open-source technology, Fortify study says

Widespread security vulnerabilities in popular open-source tools and environments should spur enterprises to take special precautions before deploying any of them, according to a report published today.

In a study of 11 popular open-source projects, Fortify Software said it found vulnerabilities in every one.

"The fact that they all had security issues is pretty discomforting," says Jacob West, director of research at Fortify, who led the study. "It says that enterprises should treat open source environments as a risk, and that they should be pushing back on open source teams to deliver a higher level of security baked into the code."

“Open-source software is an achilles heel in today’s corporate enterprises, and should be a significant concern for CIOs who depend on open-source software to run their business,” said Howard Schmidt, former cyber security advisor to the White House and (ISC)2 Board Member. “This is an endemic issue that starts in the opensource community, and while open-source software faces the same vulnerabilities as commercial or in-house developed software, the mechanisms aren't as prevalent in open source communities to influence a secure development process.”

Linus Torvalds, the inventor of the popular open-source Linux operating system, didn't do much to debunk the criticism of open-source security practices last week, when he said in an online forum that "security people are often the black-and-white kind of people that I can't stand."

In an email, Torvalds criticized the creators of the OpenBSD environment, an open-source version of Unix that is designed to be secure.

"I think the OpenBSD crowd is a bunch of masturbating monkeys, in that they make such a big deal about concentrating on security to the point where they pretty much admit that nothing else matters to them," Torvalds said. "To me, security is important. But it's no less important than everything else that is also important!"

Torvalds's attitudes are common in the open source community, which doesn't ignore security but doesn't place a high priority on it, either, Fortify's West says. "They haven't recognized yet that security is one of their deliverables," he says.

But while open source communities may not yet recognize enterprise security issues, enterprises are definitely recognizing the value of open-source technology. A recent study by Gartner indicates that 80 percent of enterprises will be using at least some open-source software by 2011.

"I'm not sure all of those enterprises understand the full risk of what they're adopting," West says.

In the study, Fortify interacted with open source communities in order to identify problems in the development process as well as vulnerabilities in the software. The company turned up more than 22,000 cross-site scripting vulnerabilities and more than 15,000 SQL injection vulnerabilities. One open-source project, Hipergate 3.0.26, was found to have more than 178 security flaws per 1,000 lines of code.

Enterprises should consider building their own parallel environments so that they can work out the security bugs before putting open-source code into production, West says. They should also put pressure on open source providers to work the security process into their development environments, he says.

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