How safe is open source software? Critics argue that due to its open nature, the source code is open to engineers but also to hackers. Another accusation is that OSS needs frequent patching, and that response to that requirement can be slow.
Now, there's empirical evidence that the security of OSS has dramatically improved over the last decade. According to a study from Synopsys, a Silicon Valley based firm that specializes in application security testing, secure software development practices that make OSS safer are becoming mainstream.
One big indicator of the continued development of secure software development practices is the apparent level of care taken by teams when using a continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) methodology. Since January 2016, Synopsys has looked at 4,117 active OSS projects, and about 50% of them use Travis CI, a distributed continuous integration service used to build and test software projects hosted at GitHub.
The report findings are derived from security data collected over the past decade through Synopsys' own automated static analysis tools, called Coverity and originally created in the Computer Systems Laboratory at Stanford University. In a nutshell, static analysis allows bugs to be identified without ever having to run the software. It applies heuristics to a program's syntax tree, finding defects well in advance of release, limiting the potential impact of flaws.
"Bugs in software will continue to exist while development remains a human endeavor, but the ability fix and respond quickly to vulnerabilities puts OSS at an advantage," Mel Llaguno, open source solution manager for Synopsys Software Integrity Group, told Security Now.
Synopsys said that according to its customers, up to 90% of code shipped in software now consist of OSS, emphasizing just how vital security is during the development process. Also, since it's OSS, bug issues and fixes can be shared among the open source community, speeding troubleshooting.
"Due to the ubiquity of open source and the vital role it plays in virtually all types of software, understanding and managing its risks can no longer be optional," said Andreas Kuehlmann, senior vice president and general manager at Synopsys Software Integrity Group. "The report highlights the progress of some of the most mature and widely used open source projects, and it provides invaluable insights for the broader software community that depends on the integrity of open source."
— Simon Marshall, Technology Journalist, special to Security Now