It is estimated that as much as 96% of the software programs developed in the last year used some form or other of open source components. However, the use of open source is still looked upon as a cheap alternative and one that compromises security.
These concerns are just partly true!
Any part of the software that is open and accessible for all is a serious security threat. In addition to that, if someone hacks that part of the code in some other application, it is just a matter of time before the effect reaches you.
However, you can use an open-source vulnerability scanner and other tools and techniques to make your applications secure.
As the topic says, we’ll be looking at some of the myths about open source and seeing how close to reality they are. Let’s get started.
1. Open Source Code Can Be Read and Taken Advantage of by Anyone
Well, in theory, that is a valid concern and a real threat to the security of any software. However, the actual on-ground situation is different. Things are not that simple.
First, and foremost, any hacker or cybersecurity expert can tell you that people who hack software do not actually study the source code. An experienced person does not need to read thousands upon thousands of lines of code to find a vulnerability.
Secondly, the real consequence of the code being available to everyone to read and access is actually a good thing for any software that uses it. Open source code is used by more people than proprietary software.
Popular open-source software components have dedicated communities and forums where people put in collective effort to improve the code. This leads to any bugs or risks being identified and fixed before things get out of hand.
In addition to that, developers who make these components need to maintain their reputation. They take swift action if any bug or weakness is found in the code and fix it before it can cause any trouble.
Third, and the most important thing to notice for developers who use open source is that any piece of code whether it is open source, closed source, or in-house brings security risks.
It is not open-source that makes applications insecure but the wrong practices like the ones given below:
- Not following the security guidelines that come with the component.
- Failing to set up the software the right way.
- Using passwords that can be easily guessed/cracked.
- Lack of data validation measures.
- Ignoring the need for encrypting data.
2. Open Source Developers Have No Monetary Reward and Hence No Motivation to Make the Software Securer
Contrary to popular belief, there are open source products that bring massive financial profits for the teams that developed them.
The biggest example of that is Mozilla. Developers of Mozilla get a portion of the money earned by Firefox when users click on the ads on the search page. Projects of such magnitude can and do hire dedicated security teams.
In the case of open source components that are not bringing in that much cash, the developers take immediate action to rectify any security situation because their reputation is at stake.
If the developer cannot fix the issue and release an updated version of the software, they make the bug publicly known. In this way, the people using the code can either switch off the vulnerable functionality or put in place hardware or software measures to mitigate the risk.
Talking of the motivation needed to develop secure code, the developers behind these codes care about their worth in the open-source software community.
That is enough motivation for them to develop a code that is flawless. The code itself might not bring them any financial returns but the reputation they develop can get them commercial projects.
3. Proprietary Software is Inherently Secure than Open Source
This myth comes from the simple human psychology that has developed over the 5,000 years of modern civilization. We are hardwired to believe that what costs more is better. The actual situation is not like that, not at least in the field of software.
To put it simply, a commercial license does not guarantee security.
The reality is rather in the favor of open source software if you look at it critically. Open source code is transparent about any vulnerabilities that it might have. If you go for proprietary, you’ll have to trust what the provider claims about their software.
Open source even gives you the liberty to fix the code by yourself and to disable portions of the code that have a risk or vulnerability.
As we stated at the start of this post, more people using and working to improve open-source means that any bugs or threats can be mitigated in the minimum possible amount of time.
Proprietary software can only be accessed by a limited number of people and there might even not be a security expert among them.
That creates a question for us; is open source more secure than proprietary software?
Is Open Source Inherently More Secure than Proprietary Software?
No, it is not! But proprietary software is not more secure than open-source either. The thing that matters the most is where the component is coming from. The reputation of the software and its developers is what makes it secure.
We have established three things in this post.
- It is not the code you are using but the way you are using it that makes a piece of software secure or insecure.
- Even if open source developers don’t get a monetary reward from their software, they strive to make it better to maintain their reputation.
- You can not decisively declare open source or proprietary software to be more secure than the other. It depends on where the thing is coming from and what’s its reputation.
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