Attacks on Embedded Open Source Code Could Rise by 20 Percent This Year

Open source software is surging in popularity among both individual developers and major organizations. Security researchers from Black Duck Software told CSO Online that the number of commercial software projects composed of 50 percent or more of open source code has increased tenfold, from 3 percent of the overall market in 2011 to 33 percent in 2017.

The consequences of this steep rise could be significant, since open source software (OSS) often contains known vulnerabilities that represent easy targets for cybercriminals.

Open Source Code Is Ubiquitous

Most commercial products contain pieces of code from open source software. There is a strong economic incentive to use standard OSS code libraries to reduce the cost of redevelopment — it’s lots cheaper to use free software.

According to Black Duck, the average commercial application has 100 open source components. Of these applications, two-thirds are likely to contain code with known vulnerabilities. This is likely because developers don’t typically conduct their own independent security audits on OSS software.

Due to the ubiquity of OSS in commercial products, patching of existing vulnerabilities is often delayed. The average age of a vulnerability in commercial software, Black Duck estimated, is roughly five years.

An Emerging Threat

Cybercriminals are quick to jump on any attack vector that exploits widespread vulnerabilities, so they’re sure to take advantage of the countless holes in open source code. This particular attack vector enables fraudsters to use one exploit in many installations of OSS contained in many products.

It is difficult to avoid using products that contain vulnerable open source code. It requires security teams to audit every component of an application, which, in itself, could raise the overall cost. Depending on the niche served, however, a developer could add a premium to a demonstrably tested and patched commercial product. In the future, customers may come to demand a certification of such testing.

Organizations are not averse to paying more for a product for the sake of avoiding problems down the road. They tend to take much more of a long view than consumers on investments of any kind, including software.

Black Duck is calling attention to an issue with huge potential to wreak havoc in 2017. If security researchers are catching on, it’s safe to assume malicious actors are already a few steps ahead.


Larry Loeb

Principal, PBC Enterprises

Larry Loeb has written for many of the last century's major "dead tree" computer magazines, having been, among other...