Open source projects are intended to be freely available to the developer community and are easy to modify. In fact, many open-source developers believe that by enabling modifications to their software, they receive constructive criticism.
Developers also frequently learn new techniques by trying to integrate open-source software into their own programs. Others can then take this new code and incorporate it into their projects if they find it useful.
No wonder, the adoption of third-party open-source software is getting popular. What's more is it allows companies to produce software faster than developing from scratch.
While open-source projects have several advantages over proprietary software, they also bring in some challenges that you need to consider. Let's discuss the pros first.
Here are some of the fundamental advantages that open-source software offers:
The development or customization of proprietary solutions depends on the availability and ability of the vendor's development team to solve the problem.
Since open-source solutions are developed by contributions from various community members, they typically offer multiple ways to solve a problem. Hence, you can get the job done faster using an open-sourcing project.
As community members develop and maintain open-source solutions, they generally cost less than a proprietary solution.
You can start small by updating the community versions of the open-source project to meet your business requirements. But later, as your business requirements grow, you can leverage commercially supported solutions too.
Open-source projects allow developers to create projects and get a platform to interact with other developers outside their organizations.
An open-source project approach can be a great way to collaborate with other talented engineers. But when you're building something critical to your business, you need more than a supporting cast of thousands of developers from across the globe. Here are some of the risks observed with open-source software:
The source code is available for everyone, cybercriminals can also easily find vulnerabilities in the code. For example, they can extract sensitive information or damage the systems leveraging the open-source software.Here are a few examples of the vulnerabilities found in some common open-source software recently:
- Severe security flaws were found in the open-source identity and access management solution, Keycloak, which cybercriminals can exploit to gain access to sensitive information in systems leveraging the platform.
- Certain XSS and CSRF vulnerabilities were found in Joomla, an open-source content management solution that cybercriminals can exploit.
- Prior to Cachet version 2.5.1, authenticated users, regardless of their privileges (User or Admin), can trick Cachet and install the instance again, leading to arbitrary code execution on the server.
- An issue was discovered in **Xen **through 4.12.x allowing x86 PV guest OS users to cause a denial of service via a VCPUOP_initialise hypercall.
Open-source project contributors are generally developers who are not security experts. They contribute to the product primarily to support the functionality and may not consider the security aspects. Hence, the open-source product may pose security risks that cybercriminals can easily exploit.
Open-source software does not provide any warranty for its security and support as these products are developed and managed by volunteers.
The developer community members typically test the software for security issues and provide suggestions/recommendations on the public forums, but they are not liable for faulty guidance.
Open-source project contributions are generally managed by a small team to reduce cost. They may not perform proper testing/QA or have a security auditing process at all due to a lack of expertise or workforce.
The testing team may not be familiar with the open-source change requests or test the code properly by considering crucial aspects.
Anonymous developers sometimes develop open-source software. Therefore, it is pretty likely that they may copy from third-party sources without understanding the copyright issues.
As a result, companies leveraging the particular open-source software can be held responsible for Copyright infringement.
For example, SCO Group contended IBM stole part of the UnixWare source code and used it for their Project Monterey and sought billions of dollars in damages.
Open-source projects can be a lot of effort for an organization. It isn't always clear who will do the work to manage the change requests from the developer community or take care of scope, licensing, and versioning.
If hackers are invited to contribute to open-source projects, they can potentially change the code so that it contains malware. If the code is not carefully reviewed, it can become part of an open-source project.
The open-source licenses are not like traditional software licenses (you don't pay for using them). Hence, you cannot expect it to be constructed with the best security practices and also pose potential risks. These risks may include vulnerabilities of the source code, proprietary issues, license violations, etc.
Experts recommend not to leverage the open-source project in the places where:
- You are handling sensitive personal and operational data information, e.g., Identity Access Management(IAM) space.
- You are developing proprietary software based on the open-source project.
Enterprises should carefully analyze and assess their suitability while adopting open source and be cautious when implementing the project.