About Open Source Vulnerability Scanning & Why You Need It

Open Source Vulnerability Scanning

Today, open source software is everywhere. Most organizations and individuals depend on open source code to benefit from rapid development cycles, lower development costs, and faster release of innovative products.

Evidently, open source software plays a critical role in advancing the modern software development landscape. But when not handled well, open source can present several risks, including security vulnerabilities, licensing compliance, and code quality risks. 

Therefore, you need to implement constant vulnerability scanning to make the most of your open source software.

What Is Open Source Vulnerability Scanning?

Vulnerability scanning is the process of inspecting the security weaknesses that exist in open source software. It involves using an automated tool to check if your open source components have known vulnerabilities that could make them susceptible to attacks or poor performance.

With a good vulnerability scanner, you can bring to light the security, licensing, and code quality issues that may affect the well-being of your open source software.

Why You Need Vulnerability Scanning

You need vulnerability scanning to overcome the challenges of open source software. Since open source software is here to stay, using a scanning tool is the best way to seal its security gaps and consume it without any worries.

Open source software is usually susceptible to security risks. According to Gartner, 57% of the participants rated security vulnerabilities as a significant challenge when creating applications with open source code. While most open source projects have large communities that contribute to their growth, some are not regularly maintained. This could make them prone to security risks.

Open source software also faces license compliance issues. While open source software is mostly distributed for free, there are licenses that dictate their usage and distribution. The licenses stipulate the various policies for altering and sharing the source code. Some licenses are low-risk, permissive, such as Apache and MIT licenses. Others are high-risk, restrictive, such as GNU General Public License (GPL). The high-risk licenses come with stricter conditions for changing and distributing their codebases.

You need to ensure you’re compliant with the terms and conditions of the open source license you’re consuming. Your license choice will have a long-term effect on the project and its community. In fact, you could face legal action for non-compliance.

Another challenge affecting open source software is poor code quality. Some open source projects are usually abandoned with no significant development activities for an extended period. If you use such outdated open source code, you could encounter compatibility issues with the rest of your codebase or introduce obsolete functionalities into your application.

So, proactively scanning your open source software will provide you with the following benefits:

  • Identify any known vulnerabilities in your open source code. This allows you to close any loopholes and maintain a strong security posture. Data breaches usually occur due to unpatched vulnerabilities, and eliminating these weaknesses can remove the attack vectors.
  • Monitor your open source licenses and establish if they are compatible with each other, are compliant with your internal policies, and meet the stated attribution requirements.
  • Reveal outdated open source code components that could impair the quality of your software.

How A Vulnerability Scanner Works

You can automatically scan your software with a vulnerability scanner and discover open source components that could cause havoc to your application. Since a single open source library could have many direct and transitive dependencies, automating the scanning process is a huge time saver.

A vulnerability scanner works by providing visibility into your software and suggesting fixes to mitigate the risks related to open source usage. It does this by running through a list of checks to establish if your codebase has vulnerabilities reported in the public databases and security advisories. 

These resources, such as the popular National Vulnerability Database (NVD), reference known security-related software defects, coding bugs, misconfigurations, and other flaws that attackers can exploit.

After checking for possible open source anomalies, the scanner generates a report. You can then use the findings of this report to pursue a remediation path and ensure the detected anomalies are addressed before they bring your application to its knees.

Additionally, a good vulnerability scanner should be able to identify any problems with open source licenses and detect any outdated open source libraries in your codebase. 

How To Select The Best Scanner

As awareness of the open source software risks increases, various vulnerability scanning tools have been introduced to the market. Selecting a good tool is the best way to lower your exposure and reinforce the security of your applications.

These are some factors you can consider when choosing a scanning tool.

Comprehensive vulnerabilities coverage

You need to go for a tool that covers an extensive range of vulnerabilities. That’s how you’ll realize comprehensive coverage and ensure that no known open source software vulnerability falls off your radar.

A good vulnerability scanner should rely on multiple databases and sources to identify weaknesses in your codebase. Although the NVD is the largest repository for open source vulnerabilities, it sometimes does not list every security-related software flaw. 

There are other community issue tracking databases and advisories that identity and report open source vulnerabilities that may not be listed on NVD. So, a scanner that relies solely on NVD may not give you the comprehensive coverage you need.

A good scanner should also be updated frequently to ensure it covers a wide range of software flaws, including the newly published open source security vulnerabilities. 

Open source license compliance

As earlier mentioned, you need to ensure you’re compliant with the licenses in the open source software you’re consuming. So, you need to choose a scanner that allows you to track the open source licenses contained in your open source components. This will help you remain compliant and avoid the licensing risks often associated with most open source software.

Ease of use

A good vulnerability scanner should be easy to use. It should provide remediation support by offering recommended fixes for the identified vulnerabilities. It can recommend the version to update to or propose other improvements to enhance your code security.

You should also go for a scanner that can be easily integrated with your development environment. This will allow you to detect and resolve vulnerabilities without leaving your development environment.

With a good scanner, you can easily detect outdated components in your software. This will prevent you from harboring insecure and non-performant code in your application. 

Using Bolt For Vulnerability Scanning

Mend Bolt is a free vulnerability scanner that assists you in managing the risks of consuming open source software. It’s available as a free extension on Azure DevOps Services or as a free app on GitHub

Bolt automatically scans your projects to help you identify vulnerable open source components, discover outdated libraries, and detect all licenses associated with your open source code. After assessing your project, it provides recommended fixes you can apply to solidify your application security. 

Bolt supports the most popular programming languages and effortlessly integrates with your development environment. This lets you get up and running easily as well as perform your initial scan fast.

With Bolt, you can get comprehensive coverage of vulnerabilities. It sources vulnerabilities from a wide range of databases, including NVD, peer-reviewed vulnerability databases, and security advisories.

It’s the tool you need to receive real-time notifications on security vulnerabilities, maintain high code quality, and ensure license compliance.

Alfrick Opidi / About Author

Alfrick is an experienced full-stack web developer with a deep interest in taking technical information and converting it into easy to understand content. See him as a technology enthusiast who explores the latest developments in the industry and presents them in a relatable, concise, and decipherable manner.