A Comprehensive Guide to Open Source Security in 2024

Published on
open source security

Cybercrime is a constant threat to any business. In fact, over the last five years, IC3 (the FBI’s cybercrime unit) has received an average of 652,000 complaints per year. There are many types of potential cyber threats you might face but some of the most common include hacking, phishing, DDoS (distributed denial of service), and malicious software - all of which highlights the importance of open source security.

Of course, more cybercrime means a rise in the cybersecurity industry, with the market worth $153.65 billion in 2022 and expected to grow to $424.97 billion by 2030. While most software comes with robust security measures, what happens when you use open-source software (OSS)? Are there particular types of threats that OSS faces and how do you protect against those threats? This guide will explore all this, and more.

What is open-source software? 

Image sourced from infotech.com

Most commercial software is closed-source and the copyright is retained by the developers, meaning that users cannot alter or improve it except within specified parameters. 

OSS, on the other hand, is software that has been developed through open collaboration and this can include maintenance and upgrades post-release. It’s usually provided for free, and users can use it any way they want, including for example with a MLOps platform, or even alter it to suit their own needs or for further distribution. 

In many cases, OSS is developed by communities who may have no other relationship. This approach involves collaboration (no matter the participants’ location), transparency, and inclusiveness. This can result in different versions of the original OSS that have been altered to meet different users’ needs, such as varying versions of an automation software solution. 

What cyber threats does OSS face? 

Image sourced from statista.com

Security – at all levels – should be an integral part of your facility management policy. If you are using any type of OSS, though, you are naturally going to be more susceptible to some types of cyberattack. Below are the most common ones that you should be aware of.

  1. Typosquatting 

You might also hear this called URL hijacking. It involves the cybercriminals registering a domain name that is almost identical to an existing website. The fake domain name may have a slight typo you don’t see or, for example, it may use Cyrillic characters instead of Latin ones. If someone falls for this cybercrime, they may give away sensitive personal or financial data to the fake website. 

Within the OSS community, a typosquatting attack will happen when the criminals push malicious packages of code into a registry and hope that users will install them. If they are installed, then it can open the door to financial fraud, identity theft, or the further spread of malicious software (malware). 

To avoid typosquatting, you should be using efficient security tools to scan all the packages in your codebase. You can also make sure that the sources for your packages are trusted and reliable.

  1. Compromised maintainers

If someone responsible for maintaining OSS projects on GitHub has their account hacked, then the cybercriminal has control of the account and any OSS projects the victim was working on. This allows them to carry out a variety of malicious actions such as spreading malware that will infect anyone who installs and uses that OSS project. If your data is at risk, then you need to have a solid data governance policy (read this if you’re wondering: what is data governance?) to help minimize it. 

Hackers can also use the stolen account to further spread malware, either through phishing emails or the repository itself. Another way they exploit the stolen account is by making changes to the actual code, thus creating backdoors or vulnerabilities that can be used at a later date. 

To avoid compromised GitHub maintainers, people should take steps to protect their accounts with tactics such as strong passwords, 2FA (two-factor authentication), and regular monitoring and review of any activity in their repositories. 

  1. Malware

Image sourced from av-test.org

One of the best-known forms of cyber attack, malicious software or malicious packages are specifically designed to exploit your system or to cause harm to it. Cybercriminals spread malware by a variety of means including infected software, email attachments, or fake websites. Once your OSS is infected with malware, the criminals can use it in different ways.

If you are handling sensitive financial data, for example, cybercriminals can steal the information for identity theft purposes or just steal the credit card numbers themselves. Malware can also be used to record your activity, whether emails, browsing, or even keystrokes. One of the biggest threats from malware is that it can spread to other devices on your network, thus exacerbating the problem. 

There are several steps you can take to protect against malware, including keeping your OS (operating system) and any security software up to date. If you do get infected by malware, you should isolate your device from the network and then look at mitigating and minimizing the risk, especially if some of your data is migrated to cloud databases (particularly, public cloud ones).  

  1. Supply chain attacks 

Some OSS attacks may not be direct. A supply chain attack is when a third party (that has access to your data and systems) is targeted to attack you. These attacks could happen at any stage of your supply chain, from the design and development of a product/service through to its manufacturing and distribution. 

For example, if a cloud service such as Vonage voice over IP phone service uses any software provided by another organization, then the attackers may target that provider to try and compromise the end product. If they are successful, they can spread malware or steal important data and/or information. Because OSS is so open, it can be vulnerable to this type of attack.  

If you want to take preventative measures against supply chain attacks, you should implement strong security measures across every part of your supply chain. You can also conduct checks on any third parties involved in your chain and look at bringing in code signing and secure boot processes. Keeping in mind that cybercrime is also constantly evolving, ensure that all your components have the latest patches and updates installed. 

Top tips to improve open source security 

Image sourced from snyk.io


Knowing the most common attacks is useful and can help you take preventative or mitigative steps. However, if you’re already using – or are planning to use – any OSS in your projects, products, or services, then you should be looking at some tips to reduce the chances of being the subject of a cyberattack.

  • Assess. One of the main features of OSS is the ability to tweak things to your needs. Look at the OSS you plan on using and assess whether its current security features are adequate or whether you can improve them.
  • Firewalls. Look at what add-ons or plug-ins can improve the security of the OSS you are using. This can include measures such as OSS firewalls
  • Costing. While OSS may be free, how much will it cost you to improve the security of the software? Examine all costs that could come with using OSS such as rewriting the code and security features. 
  • Model. You recognize that using OSS comes with a risk. A threat model can identify just how much risk might come with a particular piece of software and what you can do to reduce or mitigate any risk. 
  • Partners. OSS is generally developed within a community. Get to know your OSS partners. Do they have a process for reporting vulnerabilities and risks? Do they offer regular patches and updates when those are identified?
  • Time. Of course, time can be crucial for any business. If the community does fix any identified risks, what sort of timeframe do they operate in? How often do they release patches and fixes? Having an idea of the community cycles can play a big part in deciding to use that particular OSS. 
  • Participants. Who is contributing to the OSS? This goes beyond the community that developed it and can include people who alter the code and then feed it back to the community. Is there an appraisal and acceptance process for changes? If not, then the risk could be increased. 
  • Alternatives. Just as you may have a few choices when it comes to data engineering solutions, so you should have other options when it comes to OSS. Look at alternative OSS solutions and also examine who is using what. You are best thinking long term and if other successful companies use a favored solution, then that may be the best option. 
  • Monitor. If you have started using OSS, you should monitor it regularly and carefully to identify any issues or vulnerabilities. Any effects of a cyberattack may be mitigated if spotted early enough. 
  • History. If the OSS you have chosen has been around for a while, search to see what – if any – vulnerabilities have previously been identified and whether they were fixed by patches or rewriting. 
  • Build.  You should fully understand your preferred OSS solution before going ahead and implementing it. How well does the OSS fit within your build? Does it work well with the other system components or are there dependencies or issues created? Knowing just how the OSS fits and the knock-on effects its inclusion has means you can reduce any potential risks.

Free to use image sourced from Pixabay 

The takeaway

Many benefits come with using OSS; you can adapt the solutions to your own needs (which can be helpful if you work in a hybrid office), rewrite parts of the code to suit, and be part of a larger DevOps community. However, there are also risks, especially at a time when cybercrime is on the increase. Knowing the most common cyberattacks you might face, and how to reduce or mitigate the effects, is crucial to the successful use of OSS. 

In many ways, it’s no different from putting security measures in place in other parts of your business. You identify risks and vulnerabilities and look at what steps you can take to prevent risk or to lessen the potential effects of any attack. 

Join 34,209 IT professionals who already have a head start

Network with the biggest names in IT and gain instant access to all of our exclusive content for free.

Get Started Now