Eight ways to find and fix open source vulnerabilities

Open Source Software

Open Source Software (OSS) is a form of computer software designed and licensed to grant multiple parties increased access. This includes the ability to study, change, and distribute the code however they see fit. It is estimated that OSS adoption saves $60 billion dollars for consumers each year. This might explain why about 96% of all commercial applications contain elements of OSS.

Open Source Vulnerabilities

Any code is vulnerable to exploits, a few characters the developers accidentally wrote can expose their code to malicious intent. Attackers can exploit these coding errors and gain benefits in the form of increased access. Scenarios of hackers exploiting coding vulnerabilities include rendering the software unusable online like in Denial Of Service (DoS) attacks or acquiring more access than the developer intended users to have such as remote file access.

What makes OSS more vulnerable than a proprietary code developed in house is the fact that it’s a distributed system. When a code is developed in house, it is much easier to monitor it and keep strict policies and security protocols than when it is developed by many different individuals with no specific authority.

Due to their popular and open nature, lines of code are added to open source projects very rapidly which often leads to a code of lesser quality. In many scenarios, by the time a release cycle is checked for bugs and vulnerabilities, a new one is already out, rendering the last release cycle obsolete and the check performed almost useless. This means the code that many open source projects rely on has many security risks in forms of vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. In addition, many smaller companies prefer to use open source since it’s cheaper and faster. Typically, these companies can only channel fewer resources into scanning their code for potential vulnerabilities which also adds to the risk of using open source.

Ways to Find and Fix Open Source Vulnerabilities

The best way to fix the vulnerabilities of open source would have been to keep all the codes and libraries up to date with the latest patches and fixes at all times. However, with so many users and the speed at which release cycles are introduced, this solution is mostly impractical. Therefore, it is important to know the best ways to find and fix open source vulnerabilities.

Here are 8 ways that you can find and fix open source vulnerabilities.

1. Find open source components within your code

In order to find and fix open source vulnerabilities, you first need to find and identify which components of your software contain components of open source code. Only after you identified all open source components within your software you can start checking them vulnerabilities within the code.

2. Check your code for existing vulnerabilities

The first thing to do after identifying open source components is Checking the code within your inventory for existing vulnerabilities. Now that you know how common can vulnerabilities be within the open source code, you understand how important it is to frequently check for vulnerabilities and apply the necessary fixes. This can be accomplished manually, which can prove time-consuming and troublesome. Luckily, various tools offer automation for this process.

3. Educate employees to identify risks

One of the most efficient methods to fend off your product from vulnerabilities of open source code is to educate your employees in the dangers of adopting it within the software. Making sure all employees follow security protocols when they use open source code and identify risks themselves can greatly reduce the risk of vulnerabilities finding their way into the code in the first place.

4. Enforce strict security rules and protocol standards

Another way to make sure your employees only allow safe open source components into the software is to enforce strict security policies. Doing so will improve the security of your product because your developers will have to prove the open source components they are interested in are safe to use and don’t include any vulnerabilities before implementing them inside the build.

5. Use updated libraries

Using updated libraries with current fixes and security patches is a great way to ensure the code you are using isn’t vulnerable to existing exploits and threats. While this method isn’t bulletproof, it does improve the chances the code you are implementing is secure. As opposed to old and obsolete libraries which are more vulnerable to existing exploits.

6. Update frequently

Many vulnerabilities and exploits are often exposed only after certain amounts of time. This means that even though you thought your software is safe to use it actually isn’t. This is why it’s important to continuously improve and deliver updates and fixes to your product even after being released. There are some tools available in the market that can automate this process for you by checking when a new Common Vulnerability and Exposure (CVE) threatens your software and alert you about it.

7  Learn about common and dangerous vulnerabilities

The popularity of open-source projects means any vulnerability hackers can find and exploit can be used on a large number of systems, making the open-source project a prime target for hackers. By understanding the current biggest CVE trends, you can take the necessary steps to ensure those vulnerabilities don’t exist in your software.

One noteworthy example of a known open source vulnerability is the Heartbleed vulnerability. In 2014, CVE-2014-0160, a vulnerability within the heartbeat extension (RFC 6520) of OpenSSL caused by a common coding error, became publicly known as the Heartbleed vulnerability. OpenSSL, an open source library providing security for 66% of the web servers. Essentially, because of how popular OpenSSL was at the time, two-thirds of all the world’s web traffic was exposed to this vulnerability. The fact that a project of this magnitude was maintained by only two part-time developers, which clearly didn’t have enough time to identify weaknesses, had a big part in shaping how important cybersecurity is today.

8. Use security tools

Partly because of Heartbleed vulnerability and other incidents like it the market for cybersecurity has grown substantially. Many tools to improve security within open source frameworks have been introduced. Today, wide availability of solutions are designed to automate the process of dealing with security vulnerabilities in open source components. Some tools discover  open source components in your code, alert you of vulnerabilities they find and notify you when a new fixing patch is released so you can apply it immediately.


Implementing components from open source projects into your code can expose your software to many security vulnerabilities and put your product at risk. Even popular project like seen in OpenSSL can have security issues. Therefore, it is crucial to familiarize yourself with the best ways to find and fix open source vulnerabilities so you could implement them and secure your project.

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