Resources Hub - 6 Best Practices to Secure Your Open Source Projects

Securing an open-source project requires significant effort, knowledge, and the ability to devise and implement a security strategy. In this article, we’ll explore critical considerations and offer tips and best practices for planning and implementing your open-source security efforts. 

Is Open Source Advantageous for Security?

Some claim that open-source and closed-source software offers the same level of security, while others argue that only a combination of both can ensure complete safety for users. Although open-source software allows many developers to review and contribute to its code base—as opposed to closed-source programs developed by only one individual—it does not guarantee that such a program will be more secure.

Open-source code can be used by anyone, so when one user discovers a bug, it can easily be fixed and shared with the entire community. However, it is important to note that software security depends on numerous factors—such as development practices and timely release of patches. A closed-source approach can produce high-quality products through extensive testing and security audits.

That being said, any software product will be more secure if its developers commit to following secure coding practices and implementing robust security measures. Users should regularly check for updates and install patches to keep their software up-to-date, protecting themselves—and others—from newly discovered security risks.

What Are the Security Concerns for Open Source?

There are several security concerns associated with open-source software. Some of the common security concerns include:

  • Vulnerabilities: The open-source nature of the software (its free distribution worldwide and its visibility on the Internet) allows an enormous community of programmers to detect flaws in any program's code quickly. This can be great since it keeps many eyes on a particular project at any given time, but it also means you still have to keep up with the latest security patches in a code. If you regularly maintain and update the open-source software on your system, you can protect it from known vulnerabilities.
  • Lack of control: Because open-source software is freely available to anyone who wants it, malicious individuals can use its source code or take advantage of any bugs within the system. In this case, verifying and reviewing the code of open-source software is essential if your organization uses it.
  • Dependency risks: Open-source software often relies on other open-source components or libraries. If these have vulnerabilities, the entire system can be at risk. Maintaining an updated inventory of dependencies and regularly checking for vulnerabilities is crucial.
  • Community diligence: While many open-source projects have active and dedicated communities, there is no guarantee that all vulnerabilities will be promptly addressed. Security of open-source software relies on the persistence of the community in identifying and fixing issues—though this may not always happen or may take some time. Organizations using open-source software should monitor their selected projects' reputation and development activity.

What are Some Best Practices for Improving Open Source Security?

Hire the right IT experts

Bringing the right people on board or finding the right software outsourcing company for your open-source projects should be your first step if you still need to get the in-house human capital. A security team with little understanding of the architecture behind your project and an open-source community without any security background can easily lead to severe vulnerabilities.

When hiring a candidate, ensure that you assess their knowledge in a real-life situation instead of checking only the candidate's qualifications. An expert in Linux security who has never heard of Apache Struts shouldn't be your first choice, even if they have all the paper qualifications.

Choose a secure password and don't share it with anyone

Password protection is the foundation of the security of every open-source project. Keep your password private. Never use a publicly available password. Always assume that someone is watching you, looking for a chance to get access to your passwords. Use a password manager and strong passwords as an effective security strategy.

Keep your open-source project private. When someone asks for access, always validate who they are with their motivation. Beware of the risks associated with allowing excess, and when in doubt, deny access.

Use a code signing certificate to sign your releases

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Code signing certificates are digital security credentials to sign executables and scripts containing your software's cryptographic key. These digital signatures ensure that the file has not been modified since your private key signed it and is coming from you.

You should also use SSH to access your code repositories. When using the Git or Subversion source control management system, use SSH to access your repositories. This will prevent brute-force attacks and ensure you can only connect with the correct credentials.

Considering how much time and effort you've spent on this project, you can configure your SSH client to lock itself after a few minutes of inactivity. Remember also to back up any code used in the workbook. Imagine that someone deleted it from source control or that all your work is gone because of a disk drive failure. It’s safe to say that would probably be devastating to a security project you’d been working so hard on. Ensure you always have a backup or at least a copy of your code stored in a safe place.

Set up a security vulnerability reporting process

If you depend on open-source projects, your organization must have a documented process for handling security reports. Always check your work on GitLab, and pay attention to commits and comments from maintainers of libraries that you use (such as jQuery) to see if they've released an update with a fix.

When someone submits a security vulnerability, follow the tutorial to inform them about your process. When someone reports a security issue to your project, it's in everyone’s best interests for them, including you, to receive clear and timely information about how the problem was addressed. This helps foster a necessary trust and confidence in the community you’re working with.

Encrypt sensitive data in your repositories

Having your sensitive data encrypted ensures that nobody will be able to read it without your password. You can encrypt any file within Git using GPG, allowing you to have different passwords for different files. This way, if one is compromised, all other information remains secure.

Encryption is a requirement for any sensitive security project, as it prevents attackers from obtaining the credentials they need to exploit your code. A tool like Git LFS can help you store big files without compromising security.

Regularly audit your code for security vulnerabilities

Using code audits is the best way to automate your code audits. They can detect common vulnerabilities without requiring manual intervention. You can configure them to run automatically on every new commit or pull request using Git hooks. This ensures that whenever someone creates a new branch for a feature set, all units in your repository are checked for security vulnerabilities.

An example tool that can help you with this is Git Assassin. It comes with the following features: A policy engine for defining exactly what changes are allowed in which branches, excluding/including specific files based on regex matches, and automatic issue reporting on all violations detected.

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Keep Learning About Securing Your Open-Source Projects

A secure open-source project is far more likely to be successful than a project with inadequate security. There are plenty of things you can do to ensure your project is well protected, but the best practices discussed in this article are undoubtedly the foundation of any secure open-source initiative. 

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