In the wake of the recent Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack that shut down one of the largest US pipelines for nearly a week, President Biden signed an executive order placing strict new standards on the cybersecurity of all software sold to the federal government. Part of a broad, multi-layered initiative to improve national security, this order is the latest effort in a major shift from incident response to putting pressure on companies to develop more secure software or risk being locked out of federal contracts.

These recent cybersecurity efforts have highlighted the fact that the transparent, community-powered Open Source model is leading that way in innovating the development and distribution of secure software, specifically technology engineered to safeguard organizations’ infrastructure, key assets and reputation against ransomware, spear phishing and other advanced modern threats.

Biden’s executive order also sheds light on the incredible and universal security challenges we currently face. The federal government has acknowledged that open source is the only way we should be developing software now, due to the incredible security challenges facing us, and closed source software and closed standards are too limiting and contain unknown security problems. Cyberattacks - the vast majority of which are email-borne - are rapidly evolving to become more sophisticated, prevalent and far-reaching than ever before. Over the past year, approximately 2,400 ransomware attacks have hit corporate, local and federal offices - shutting down critical infrastructure, halting government operations and compromising sensitive data. Regardless of size or industry, every organization is a viable ransomware target in the eyes of an attacker. 

The need for stronger, more proactive email security defenses has been made clearly apparent and with Biden’s recent initiative and, with its transparent, collaborative nature, Open Source has emerged as the only viable option for securely developing software free of hidden vulnerabilities and unknown security problems.

The Open-Source Security Advantage

As long as the Internet has existed, Open Source has played a vital role in powering  and securing digital communications, and open-source software and programs are increasingly being adopted by tech giants and governments worldwide. Open Source is now innovating the email security universe — giving rise to cutting-edge solutions that far exceed conventional off-the-shelf products in the level of protection they are able to offer against spear phishing, ransomware, zero-day attacks and other advanced modern threats. As email threats continue to evolve, and cyber thieves leverage increasingly sophisticated methods to evade traditional security defenses, Open Source holds significant promise in securing critical email infrastructure against these emerging threats in ways that no proprietary vendor can. 

The open-source development model offers multiple advantages over the proprietary model, making it the ideal framework for developing exceptionally secure software and powering modern innovations in email security. Open Source is based upon the core principles of transparency, accessibility, community involvement and support. Open-source code is freely available for review and use, fostering passionate community participation and driving rapid innovation.

Key benefits of Open Source software and technology include:

  • Due to the availability of shared resources and intelligence within the community, vendors are able to do more with less — providing users with superior products at lower costs.
  • Developers worldwide are constantly producing and sharing solutions to real-world problems, resulting in accelerated innovation.
  • Increased flexibility and scalability allows software to grow with the threats that challenge it and adapt to much larger environments.
  • The ‘many eyes’ of the community that are constantly scrutinizing open-source code leads to faster detection and elimination of vulnerabilities — resulting in rapid updates and exceptionally secure software.
  • The availability of open-source code eliminates the risk of hidden vulnerabilities  vendor lock-in, which is becoming increasingly critical as the use of proprietary software steadily dwindles and the resources available to proprietary vendors becomes even more limited as a result.

There are various open-source projects and initiatives designed to ensure the transparency and security of open-source software development and distribution. For instance, the Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX) aims to enable software transparency through a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) - a formal record containing the details and supply chain relationships of various components used in building software - that already meets the requirements of Biden’s recent executive order.

In addition, The Linux Foundation’s Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF) has been working to secure open-source software and its components through its mission of “collaboration to secure the open-source ecosystem”. Also, the Linux Foundation recently announced a new open-source software signing service: the sigstore project, which seeks to improve software supply chain security by enabling the easy adoption of cryptographic software signing backed by transparency log technologies. Besides sigstore, the Linux Foundation oversees multiple projects designed to maintain trusted source code supply chains including in-toto, The Update Framework (TUF) and OpenChain (ISO 5230).

The Future of Email Security is Open-Source

The open-source framework has the potential to give rise to cutting-edge email protection that far exceeds proprietary alternatives in its efficiency and effectiveness. In an open-source model applied to the development of email security solutions, emails gathered from millions of systems from around the world are used to identify patterns and perform large-scale tests on filters that have been developed to block malicious email. The results are then distributed back to the community, where the insight gathered is incorporated into some of the largest systems in the world — protecting millions of users every day against phishing, spam, macro viruses and zero-day attacks. Although this method is highly effective in combating all email threats, it is particularly beneficial in rapidly detecting and blocking zero-day threats and phishing attacks, as new threats discovered in one part of the world can be mitigated quickly before they have the chance to spread. This is an ongoing process, and organizations that implement open-source solutions continue to receive best-of-breed protection from the diverse team of experts contributing to the effort.

Effective email protection is multi-layered — no single piece of security software alone is able to reliably detect and combat sophisticated modern attacks. With open-source development, multiple projects are being developed in real-time simultaneously — making Open Source the ideal vehicle for engineering innovative, layered solutions. The research and development being done by open-source application-specific projects around the world such as teams of people working on solving the Microsoft Word macro virus problem, identifying malicious links within PDF files, detecting fileless malware attacks, or even protecting against malicious emails in foreign languages, can be used to engineer and improve upon different security features within a comprehensive, multi-tiered email security solution.

For over two decades, Guardian Digital has uniquely leveraged open-source development to address the latest, most complex business email security challenges, providing organizations of all sizes with affordable enterprise-grade protection.

The Bottom Line

With cyberattacks including ransomware and phishing becoming increasingly prevalent and sophisticated, Biden’s recent cybersecurity efforts serve as the latest reminder that effective email security is more critical than ever. Organizations want proof that the security defenses they are becoming increasingly reliant upon to safeguard their key assets can be trusted. In order to foster client trust and access the resources and intelligence required to engineer solutions that are capable of combating emerging email threats, email security providers will need to fully embrace Open Source and join the vibrant, global community that has flourished surrounding it. Open-source innovation has revolutionized how we think about software development as well as how we go about solving the world’s most difficult problems, and is now revolutionizing cyber defense, both on the enterprise and the national level.

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