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5 Best Practices and 1 Tool for Mitigating Open-Source Vulnerabilities

Updated: Apr 11, 2023

Then again, my case was all about the misappropriation of source code because I wanted to become the best hacker in the world and I enjoyed beating the security mechanisms.

Kevin Mitnick, cybersecurity consultant, hacker, author, keynote speaker

Open-source software originated over 30 years ago, roughly the same time the world wide web became mainstream. Since then, technology has advanced from cell phones to cloud computing to emerging technologies such as AI and the IoT – all have adopted clear security standards. Yet, open-source software (OSS) remains an outlier because of its “open,” accessible nature.

The good news is open-source code is open for people and businesses to use, distribute, and modify. The bad news is that hackers are people whose motives are not for the betterment of code but to introduce open-source mayhem.

Because of their source code, all IT applications have security vulnerabilities. So, it’s imperative to recognize which applications are open-source or has open-source components.

Open-Source Code Is Open to Risk

You’ve probably heard of open-source front-end programs or languages such as Mozilla Firefox, GIMP, Python, PHP, Apache Spark, and various CRM applications like Odoo, Hubspot or ConcourseSuite. But Wireshark, TCPflow, Ngrep and other network protocol and packet analyzers, back-end tools employed to troubleshoot security anomalies, are also open-source applications. Shopworn tools such as these often fall off the security radar.

Many organizations fail to consider the prevalence of open-source code and components. Over 95 percent of all applications in the global market contain open-source code, and 90 percent of IT leaders rely on enterprise open source for network support, “infrastructure modernization, application development and digital transformation.” Although most leaders believe enterprise open source is as secure as proprietary software, threats persist.

Over 85 percent of applications contain at least one vulnerability. More alarming, WordPress, Wikipedia, and other common PHP-based applications are the most frequent to have “very high severity flaws.”

Some developers borrow non-commercial open-source code and often get more than they bargained for – security flaws and all. Such folly can be detrimental and costly in a world where more than 80 percent of cyberattacks occur at the application layer.

You're already ahead of the game if you’re part of the five percent of developers who don’t use open-source code.


Open-source software vulnerabilities can place your organization and its stakeholders at risk of downtime and loss of sensitive information, impacting revenue, reputation, and rate of progression. When exploited, open-source code can expose trade secrets and personally identifiable information of both clientele and employees, as was the case with the 2017 Equifax breach, which compromised the personal data of nearly 150 million consumers.

Failure to provide “reasonable” network security cost Equifax $425 million in federal fines and lawsuits.

CIA – Three Words to Sum Up Your Open-Source Security Goals

Data confidentiality, integrity, and availability, popularly referred to as CIA, are the cornerstones of all information system security initiatives. Fundamental to security policy, CIA aims to protect intellectual property, ensure business continuity, provide employee access to company resources, and deliver accurate, reliable, and reachable data.

When left unpatched, unchecked or, in Equifax’s case, outdated, open-source software can compromise data confidentiality, integrity and availability.

5 Best Practices to Secure Your Organization, Data and Stakeholders

By its very nature, open-source software will have programming loopholes and backdoors, making it easy for hackers to misappropriate source code, especially since security vulnerabilities are listed on the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) and other public forums.

While disclosing code and its security vulnerabilities helps developers fix bugs and create patches, it does not reveal all potential security threats. However, organizations can stay informed and follow simple protocols, policies, and best practices to avert all known threats.

1. Maintain a Complete Inventory of All Open-Source Software

Implement secure software analysis tools to identify, track, and monitor open-source threats and vulnerabilities across your environment and generate critical alerts.

2. Keep All Open-Source Software and Components Up to Date

Make intruder penetration, system compromise and malicious activity difficult. Create a Q&A policy to prohibit the copying and pasting of code snippets from open-source repositories into internal components without first auditing the snippets for vulnerabilities.

3. Create, Test, and Enforce Open-Source Security Policies

Develop contingency plans, continually update and test security policies for flaws and be prepared with forensics to investigate the aftermath of a security breach.

4. Hire a Dedicated DevOps Security Policy Team

Discover and map all open-source software to known vulnerabilities, work with Q&A, and provide ongoing education for developers on internal policy and external security risks.

5. Identify Licensing Risks and Rights Infringement

Track the open-source software and components for potential intellectual property infringement. Educate developers, legal advisors, and Q&A on open-source license compliance to avoid litigation and the compromise of intellectual property.

The Best Tool to Automate Open-Source Testing and Best Practices

Snyk Open Source is a powerful open-source security management platform. Its comprehensive security coverage benefits Gartner, Reddit, Segment, Acuity, and other enterprises. Shortly after deploying Snyk Open Source, these companies witnessed an increase in productivity. Their teams accelerated application development, securing development pipelines effortlessly.

Snyk eliminates the need for a dedicated DevOps security team. It’s robust and made for agile environments. Snyk helps you meet those confidentiality, integrity, and availability goals faster, addressing each of the five practices in real time, saving you time, money, and resources.

When it comes to securing open-source code, Snyk takes the guesswork and legwork out of inventory audits and eliminates endless NVD searches to stay abreast of the latest vulnerabilities and licensing risks. Corporations, developers, and security teams trust Snyk because it integrates seamlessly into existing development workflows, automates fixes, and quickly detects, prioritizes, and remediates issues through its comprehensive intelligence database.

If you’ve got to use open-source code for your next application or back-end task, use it with confidence by employing the five best practices above and Snyk’s Open Source security management platform.

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