DevopsDigital TransformationOpen Source InnovationSecurity

Securing Third-Party and Open Source Code Components: A Primer

DevOps:

The increasing popularity of open source code continues to be a boon for developers across the industry, allowing them to increase efficiency and streamline delivery. But there are security risks to be considered when leveraging open source and commercial code components, as each carries with it a significant risk of becoming the enemy within, creating a vulnerability in the program it helps build.

Sacrificing Security for Ease of Use

While the many benefits of open source have been well-touted, the sheer prevalence of code components (open source and commercial) across industries is underestimated. CA Veracode recently found that 83 percent of developers use code components to build web applications, with the average number of components per application at a whopping 73.

Considering the fact that the vast majority of developers build applications with code components, the number of those familiar with the risks of doing so is startlingly low. A mere 52 percent of companies reported they provide security fixes to components when new security vulnerabilities are discovered. Despite an average of 71 vulnerabilities per application introduced through the use of third-party components, only 23 percent reported testing for vulnerabilities in components at every release.

Furthermore, only 43 percent of developers reported being aware of the industry-accepted OWASP recommendations for preventing the use of components with known vulnerabilities.

Where Does Responsibility Lie?

One clear issue in this software development practice is that responsibility for securing code seems to fall on everyone—and, sometimes, no one. Forty-four percent of respondents claimed that developers are responsible for the continued security of code components, while 31 percent reported that they expect security to handle this task.

This lack of preparedness and miscommunication leaves the door wide open for bad actors to swoop in and take advantage of vulnerabilities that could so easily be fixed.

How, then, can teams ensure the security of applications built with code components? The solution lies in three key steps:

  • Start with education: Software development teams must have the tools and training necessary to ensure the code they write is secure. Educating developers on the risks associated with open source and commercial code components is a start, but prioritizing security training and ongoing education is the key to long-term success. Tapping the security team to lead trainings for their developer colleagues is a good way to embrace peer knowledge-sharing and break down silos between the two teams.
  • Introduce clear processes: To alleviate miscommunication and confusion, organizations must implement clear processes for secure software development. Knowing what an application is built of is the first step, as teams can’t secure what they don’t understand. This may seem obvious, but CA Veracode found that only half (53 percent) of organizations keep an inventory of components. Code components should be thoroughly vetted before being worked into an application and then should be added to a working inventory. Managers should be sure each part of the maintenance process has a clear owner on the team so responsibility is always clear. Consistent testing and patching are also best practices when it comes to security.
  • Drive innovation with DevSecOps: All of this comes back to integrating security into the entire software development life cycle (SDLC) and implementing DevSecOps, because a team that operates in silos will never be able to push out secure code. The development, operations and security teams each provide their own unique and critical contribution to the software development process, and combining forces will result in the best possible product.
    While taking the time to secure applications from the perils of code components may slow down development in the short term, safeguarding your organization and its software assets is invaluable in the long term.
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