Open source software – any software that is freely and available shared with others – has quickly become a staple in the world of software development. Back in 1998, only around 10% of businesses would use open source software, preferring to develop proprietary software due to security concerns. A decade later, in 2011, and this number had reached over 50%.
Out of all of the sites where an organization can employ open source software, mission-critical environments are one of the riskiest. Due to the intensive nature of these environments, having to be running or completely damaging the function of a program, developers worry about using non-proprietary software.
Yet, over the past decade, open source software has gone through a number of core changes that have greatly shifted its usage. Recently, we’ve seen a number of global, political, and compliance changes that have helped to increase security in open source environments.
In this article, we’ll trace the recent security developments around open-source software. By outlining these positive changes, we’ll demonstrate how OSS is now appropriate for mission-critical environments and can streamline both production and security.
Let’s dive right in.
How Has Open Source Software Become More Secure?
One of the primary preventative barriers that have stopped businesses and product owners from using open source software is due to potential security issues. While open source software is now incredibly common in most industries, mission-critical environments have such high stakes that any form of failure could be disastrous.
Yet, open source is not the same technology that we had two decades ago. Especially over the last few years, there has been a huge shift in how we use open source and how open source security is managed. Here are a few examples of how the open source industry has become more secure:
- The rise in SBOMs
- OpenChain’s ISO Standards
- Rising awareness about the software supply chain
Let’s break these down further.
The rise in SBOMs
SBOMs – Software Billing of Materials – are extensive, itemized lists of all of the software components that a platform, system, or program consists of. No matter how small, an SBOM will make note of that component and ensure that anyone who buys a platform or uses a system can understand exactly how it operates.
SBOMs are a phenomenal security feature as they allow businesses to trace exactly which components they have in their software and where they come from. This itemized list allows developers to respond much faster if a vulnerability is discovered, tracing whether they use that component and where it is located.
While SBOMs were a fairly unknown technology a decade ago, they are now one of the central parts of our maturing software supply chain. Especially for open source technology, which could have layers upon layers of components working together, a document that details this history is vital for security reasons.
With the rise of SBOMs in the software supply chain, organizations can now be much more confident about any open source software that they use. Instead of using only using proprietary software for mission-critical, SBOMs can reduce the uncertainty of open source software and forge a safer supply chain.
OpenChain’s ISO Standards
The OpenChain Project is a global network of companies, collaborators, and developers that aim to make the software supply chain more efficient and safer. While there are a number of active projects, some of those that have had the most success are the OpenChain ISO/IEC 5230 license.
ISO 5230 is an open source license compliance program that ensures a base of key requirements in terms of quality for any open source program available. If a component wants to validate its security and efficiency, pursuing the OpenChain standard will let companies know that it is a reliable component.
Equally, more recently, OpenChain has released the ISO/IEC 18974 Security Assurance Specification, which allows open source developers to self-verify the quality of their security measures. This protocol allows businesses to check their own organizations for security issues, helping to improve the baseline quality of security in open source software.
These standards and free resources allow open source developers and businesses alike to validate the quality and security of their open source components. By using these resources, businesses can incorporate open source software into mission-critical workloads without the worry of it bringing a security risk.
Rising awareness about the software supply chain
Another core change that has empowered the use of open source software in mission-critical environments is the rising awareness about the software supply chain. Back in 2022, The White House released Executive Order 14028, which focused on improving the nation’s cybersecurity. While the United States only has direct influence in their own jurisdiction, the fact that so many international developers deal with US contractors or supply to the US has made these changes have international scope.
In the EO, President Biden set out additional requirements for cybersecurity and working on open source software. These changes have ensured that when developers publish OS software, they have to pay more attention to specific security vulnerabilities and create more comprehensive defenses.
With this change, the minimum level of security that open source software contains has risen, helping to increase confidence when using OSS in mission-critical environments. Equally, the rising trust in cloud data warehouse and other cloud environments that the EO set out has allowed businesses to develop software with shorter development cycles and with fewer resources.
The combination of the positive changes and the fortification of existing architectures has greatly raised the overall confidence in OS and adjacent emerging technologies.
While open source software still offers a range of disadvantages, these are quickly becoming a thing of the past. With the expansive use of open source in almost every industry, including in mission-critical environments, it’s no wonder that open source development is now a core consideration of every product design team.
As the usage, trust in, and utility of open source software continues to grow, we’ll likely see a positive impact on mission-critical environments. By pooling resources together, creating hyper-effective systems, and streamlining development, products can rest assured that their mission-critical components will continue to function far into the future.
Especially due to the extreme increase in open source security awareness over the past few years, the rise in SBOMs, and the developments of the OpenChain ISO standards, the open source software supply chain is now more confident than ever in its own security.