Open-Source Security Holes: How Do They Damage Software Development?

January 04, 2023 • 267 Views • 14 min read

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Tetiana Stoyko

CTO & Co-Founder

It is impossible to develop a software product, without ensuring its security. However, it is possible to meet numerous statements from various companies about their 100% cybersecurity measures that work. Frankly, it is an overrated claim. Obviously, there is no such ideal product, because creating a fully secured software program is unreal. Nonetheless, it does not mean we should not try our best to do so. In fact, software security is constantly changing. So, even if you will create some new and unique security protocols, most likely in some time malicious actors will find a way how to bypass them. In other words, both sides compete with each other all the time. This results in a continuous improvement of the security sector.

Moreover, developers, as well as various special organizations voluntarily share their experiences and maintain research in order to help improve the overall level of the project’s security. For example, there are a few most known security projects like the OWASP vulnerabilities list, CVE, and National Vulnerability Database. These initiatives are aimed to warn developers about the most spread or known vulnerabilities to avoid their implementation into the product, or if it is inevitable, know how to deal with them.

Who Suffers from Security Issues?

Clearly, security imperfections, especially if they will be exploited for malicious purposes, can significantly impact not only the application or service itself but also its creators’ reputation or even career. This is why probably each software products or services distributors try their best to ensure the highest possible level of security. However, not only the developers but even non-software product owners care about their cybersecurity measures.

Probably one of the most relevant cases was the Panama Papers security breach. It is an example of how businesses, which are not software-oriented can suffer from cyberattacks. To make it simple, in the modern world innovative technologies have spread all over our lives, becoming the main means of communication and data sharing. In this specific case, the major amount of leaked data was taken from the Emails, not specified and secured databases. To make a long story short, in the Panama Papers scandal, the hackers’ victim was a law firm, not a technological company or software distributor.

However, it does not mean, that software companies are more secured or prepared for malicious attacks. The best example is Celebgate when multiple Apple iCloud accounts were hacked. It become famous due to the fact, that numerous celebrities were hacked. Yet, it is not the only case of successful hacker attacks on technological giants and software companies.

These cases show us, that no one is safe when it comes to cybersecurity measures and imperfections. No matter whether you have experience in the software development industry, or have no relation to this industry at all. It is hard to argue, that nowadays finding a person with no web history seems an impossible task. As a result, each of us can easily become a victim of cybercrime. However, companies can suffer even more.

Why Open-Source?

Frankly, there are a few ways of software application development: to develop it, using source code only, or using various code-based extensions like libraries, frameworks, or other components. However, let’s be fair with each other: most applications are created with the use of third-party frameworks and libraries. This is simply easier and faster, allowing developers to skip coding some functions or features and implement a ready-to-use solution.

Moreover, do not forget the fact, that a vast majority of the libraries and frameworks are open-source components, meaning that they are usually free of charge. Actually, it is a great “win-win” strategy, because developers get a free basis for the software development and the creators gain a new audience, which can and, most likely, will increase the functionality of your product in the future.

On the other hand, open-source software solutions have known cybersecurity measures and vulnerabilities. As a result, hackers or other ill-wishers will know possible weaknesses of your app as soon as they find out what technologies did you use during the development process. Of course, once again, you can check your product for Owasp vulnerabilities, or other similar lists or tools like Snyk security products. Yet, these are mainly targeted at the most common and popular security flaws, not the ones, discovered recently.

Therefore, Open-source libraries, frameworks, and other similar technologies have two sides. From one point of view, they provide software developers with useful tools, which help to increase the development pace and avoid routine coding of each particular component. On the flip side, these solutions are well-known among everyone. The same is true for their security vulnerabilities and other imperfections. So, using the OWASP vulnerabilities list, people can both plan their cybersecurity measures to ensure a high level of app protection and choose how to more effectively attack an app.

Yet, it is worth admitting that no matter whether there is such a vulnerability list, or there is none, hackers have their own algorithms for finding security holes.

How Critical System-Specific Vulnerabilities Are?

Actually, security issues, related to a specific library or framework can simplify the hacking process for the intruder. Nonetheless, as was mentioned before, hackers have numerous algorithms for attacking software systems, most of which are utilitarian, meaning that they can be used regardless of the programming language, library, or framework the product is based.

Therefore, there is no need to look for a library or framework, which is impossible to hack. Instead, it is better to pay more attention to the overall pros and cons of using them in your tech stack, as well as their prone to hacking, i.e. how some specific drawbacks can help bad actors or your development security team. You have to remember, that perfect and fully secured frameworks do not exist. And even if they did, in most cases, you would have to combine them with unsecured ones.

Eventually, even a simple Email account hack can result in a devastating situation. Thus, specific technology security holes are not the most crucial aspect to consider.

What are the Consequences?

Reputation

The first and most obvious is the reputational loss. As the foregoing shows, not only software development companies, but even usual users, who use various software services and products suffer from cyberattacks. Clearly, if the same service constantly suffers from various cyberattacks it directly impacts its users. This is why various software service providers are constantly improving their own security policies, just like AWS security.

Would you keep using your LinkedIn, if it was DDoSed every day? What if its databases were leaked, and all your messages were stolen? Or other confidential information was published online? The same is relevant to any social network or other software applications. Thus, reputation matters. Still, various cyberattacks, as well as their impact on the product’s reputation vary, depending on a wide range of aspects.

For example, according to IBM research, in 2021, approximately 83% of examined organizations suffered from data breaches, which cost more than 4 million dollars. Still, it is hard to remember any of those breaches. As we stated before, most hacks remain unnoticed by the majority of users, unless they are related to something trendy or someone famous like celebrities.

Money and Fines

While reputation is a too general measurement, which varies regarding countless aspects and reputational losses are almost impossible to measure or predict, money and fines are specific enough.

Probably one of the most known examples within the IT industry is the General Data Protection Regulation. This regulation sets up various aspects and rules for data protection and sharing when it comes to information about the citizens of the European Union. As a result, data protection becomes the direct responsibility of the software development company or software product owner. Moreover, before giving access to the databases or even code, the owner has to sign a DPA agreement with the software development team. Thus, in case of a data breach or failure to meet requirements, the software product owner is to blame.

For instance, Amazon was handed a 746 million euro fine for compiling data about its users from the EU.

How to Avoid Security Risks?

The only way how to create a software product with no security holes - is not to develop any. In other words, there is no chance to be fully secured from potential vulnerabilities. Still, it does not mean, you shouldn’t try. In fact, if you will secure the most common, simple, or obvious exploits, you will already save yourself from the most potential risks. The east way to do so is to examine the Owasp vulnerabilities list and its alternatives.

Clearly, if you will take additional security measures to common vulnerabilities, you will decrease the chances of amateur hackers hacking you down. The harder it is to “get into” your system, the fewer people will try to do so. And yes, it is that simple. Clearly, if they have a strong intention to hack your application, this will not stop them from further tries. However, it can prevent random strangers from their tries. But what these security measures are?

For a better illustration, let’s consider how to prevent SQL injection. Injection attacks are one of the most popular and spread ones. In this case, hackers try to obtain access to the information or the system by injecting malicious code samples as input components. For example, they can try to inject a specific code instead of login, if there is such an option in the app or on the website. Remember Panama Papers? In this attack, injection was used as one of the methods. How to prevent SQL injection?

Well, for handling SQL injection, we need to know whether there is an opportunity for this type of attack. In other words, we need to maintain testing for SQL injection first. This will help us to better understand possible entry points for injection and to block them. Yet, the best way to prevent this specific vulnerability is to take a few important steps:

  1. Make sure that all security protocols and certificates are up-to-date.
  2. Use specified tools like Snyk security services to decrease development time, save resources and improve security management routine.
  3. Treat all inputs as untrusted. As a result, each user’s input will be treated separately, avoiding considering it as code.

Frankly speaking, the foregoing is not the final list of possible ways how to prevent form SQL injections. Yet, these steps are the least minimum of actions to make.

End Line

Summing up all the above, security holes and other critical vulnerabilities can play a crucial role in your business's success. Moreover, only in a few cases security holes are based on the weaknesses of the specific programming language, library, framework, or any other technology. Instead, malicious actors have their own algorithms, which are more utilitarian and can be used in multiple cases.

Despite that it is impossible to secure all exploits, it is possible to keep up with hackers. Nowadays, the security topic is highly discussed, and there are numerous tools, services, and initiatives that aim to improve the overall level of software security.

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