The ongoing rise in open source vulnerabilities and software supply chain attacks poses a growing threat to businesses, which heavily rely on applications for success. Between 70 and 90 percent of organizations’ code base is open source, while vulnerabilities such as Log4j have significantly exposed organizations to cyberattacks.
In response, governments have made moves to protect both the public and private sectors from these threats. For example, in September 2022, U.S. senators sought to introduce the Securing Open Source Software Act, which is intended to strengthen open source software security. If the legislation is passed, open source software will be recognized as a critical part of the country’s infrastructure and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) will be tasked with assessing and mitigating the risk of all open source components that are used by federal agencies.
One important element of this is complying with the many licenses that govern every open source dependency in your code base. With more than 200 different open source licenses out there, each with its own terms and conditions, open source license management can be a tricky endeavor. However, failing to accurately track licenses is risky business, and can result in some unfortunate surprises. At best it could be just the headache of replacing a component; at worst, it could mean jeopardizing exclusive ownership over your proprietary code.
With that in mind, it’s important to understand what open source licenses are, and how best to manage them.
Open source licenses are legal and binding contracts between the author and the user of a software component, declaring that the software can be used in commercial applications under specified conditions. The license is what turns code into an open source component. Without an open source license, the software component is unusable by others, even if it has been publicly posted on GitHub. Each open source license states what users are permitted to do with the software components, their obligations, and what they cannot do as per the terms and conditions. Licenses vary in complexity and requirements, and each organization is responsible for choosing which licenses are most compatible with its policies to ensure that it remains compliant.
License management software is designed to identify, track and catalog all the components, dependencies, and relationships used when developing software and applications. This technology enables users to check how they use every component and dependency to ensure that usage complies with the license terms of each component.
It’s a big task because every piece of software comes with a license that stipulates what you can do with it, how you can use it, who can use it, and for how long. Adhering to the conditions of each piece of software, maintaining registration fees, and determining the relevance of each license, are critical to maintaining efficiency, protecting your software, and avoiding the legal costs that could arise from breaching license terms.
Open source license management tools are a critical element for safeguarding your code, software, and applications, as well as reducing financial and legal risk for your organization. They reinforce the integrity of the components and dependencies you use, and ensure that your use of these components will neither compromise your organization nor the product that you create.