As technology continues to rapidly advance and more businesses move their operations online, developing apps in an open-source environment has become a popular choice for web pros, offering them flexibility and customisation, as well as saving them money.
With over 90% of developers relying on open-source components in their proprietary applications, there’s no denying it’s a great opportunity for whole software communities to come together and contribute to the latest systems being worked on.
However, these systems can also have vulnerabilities and open-source software poses unique security challenges, particularly when it comes to safeguarding the apps being developed. From systems being exploited to human error going amiss, there are lots of watchouts when it comes to ensuring your apps are not only secure, but also fully functional.
Here, Mark O’Hare, Lead Architect at Fasthosts, discusses the importance of protecting apps in an open-source environment whilst reaping the benefits of using this type of software, and provides some best practices examples that can be applied to ensure apps are being properly safeguarded.
Open-source software is software that is made freely available to the public, and its source code can be accessed and modified by anyone. This means that anyone can review, modify, and improve the software, which can result in faster innovation and more collaborative development. However, this open approach also comes with unique security risks. In fact, data shows that one in five open-source serverless apps has a critical security vulnerability.
Since anyone can access and modify the software, there is a higher risk of malicious actors inserting backdoors, vulnerabilities, or other types of malwares. Additionally, since the software is made freely available, it can be a popular target for attackers who seek to exploit known vulnerabilities.
Everybody who develops software nowadays uses open source in some way. Whether it’s just using elements of open-source software, to anything from building operating systems all the way through to delivering products in the cloud.
As a web professional, it’s important to protect and safeguard your apps in an open-source environment to protect your clients’ data and maintain their trust. Although there are many benefits to using open-source software, it also presents unique security challenges that need to be addressed. Here are a few key steps to ensure your apps remain secure in an increasingly volatile environment.
Choose software wisely
Look for components that are endorsed by the wider open-source community (e.g. GitHub stars) and are in popular use with many downloads. Any problems within the software supply chain are more likely to be picked up quickly the more eyes it has on it. Software also needs to be well maintained with an active community responding to any security concerns so make sure the software project has many contributors and releases are regular. Good documentation and high test coverage are all indicators of a well-built software component so look out for these.
Regular software updates
One of the most effective ways to safeguard your apps in an open-source environment is to keep your software updated. Carrying out these updates ensures things like vulnerabilities in the software are identified and addressed, so it’s important to install updates as soon as they become available. Failure to do so could leave your app vulnerable to attacks. There are open-source tools such as dependabot and renovatebot that can help automate this activity.
Scan your application regularly
An effective way to detect security vulnerability problems is to run regular scans on the built software. This can identify all the components that get included into an application and pinpoint any common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs). The tools provide scores so that you can focus on the most critical issues. Again, open source tools such as docker desktop, Trivy and Grype can help here.
Using strong passwords
Using strong passwords is a basic security measure that can help safeguard your apps. Weak passwords are easier to guess and are more likely to be worked out by hackers, in turn giving them access to your app and all the data within it. Using strong passwords that are difficult to guess and contain a mix of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols will lessen the likelihood of this happening. It’s also important to avoid using the same password for multiple accounts.
Applying two-factor authentication
By implementing two-factor authentication (2FA), you are adding a further security measure that requires users to provide a second type of authentication, such as a code sent to your phone, in addition to the original password. This can greatly reduce the risk of unauthorised access to your app, even if a hacker manages to guess or steal your password.
Ensure secret data remains secure and use strong keys and algorithms (e.g. bcrypt) when placing data into storage; such as a database. For extra security, where possible, store data one way encryption (i.e. a hash). This means only the customer will know the secret so there is less to be lost. To prevent eavesdropping all communications should be encrypted over secure networks using TLS.
Backing up data is crucial in case your app is compromised. Regular backups can help you recover your data and minimise the damage caused by a security breach. Store backups offsite and in a secure location to prevent them from being stolen or damaged.
Limit user access
Limiting user access is another important security measure for safeguarding your apps. You should only give users the access they need to perform their tasks and remove any access that is no longer needed. This can help prevent unauthorised access to your app and reduce the risk of data breaches.
Safeguarding your apps in an open-source environment is crucial for protecting your clients’ data and maintaining their trust. By following these best practices, you can reduce the risk of security breaches and ensure the security of your apps all whilst having benefited from the pros of working within an open-source environment.
About the Author
Mark O’Hare is Lead Architect at Fasthosts. We’ve been designing new ways to give customers everything they need to manage and control their online space since 1999. Our innovative products have helped thousands of businesses and organisations create and grow their online ventures.
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