Mitigate hidden vulnerabilities in open-source software libraries

Commonly used open-source software libraries are one of the most significant parts of modern software development. They allow developers around the world to speed up software delivery while incurring fewer costs. On average, 80%-90% of a typical software application contains open-source software components, and this trend is only going to increase with their use in cars, IoT, mobile phones, and numerous other infrastructures.

However, the use of open-source components comes with various hidden security vulnerabilities that could hurt an organization's reputation and financials if exploited. Without proper maintenance and investment, open-source software libraries can easily become a liability to an organization.

In this article, we’ll discuss the hidden security risks that exist in open-source software libraries and various techniques and tactics you can implement to mitigate them.

Vulnerabilities in open-source libraries

Open-source code is publicly accessible, making it prone to vulnerabilities. This can significantly impact an organization's security posture by exposing its software to cyberattacks.

Limited control

When developers uncover vulnerabilities in open-source libraries or applications, they typically report them in a public forum. This gives hackers a chance to abuse organizations that depend on these libraries and applications. Malicious actors also use advanced technology to continuously add newly discovered open-source vulnerabilities to freely available hacker toolkits. This helps hackers easily and quickly detect flawed applications to readily exploit them.

Unfortunately, since not every developer in an organization can freely modify open-source code due to restricted permissions, it can be difficult for them to fix discovered vulnerabilities and secure their company’s systems against such malicious actors.

Open-source library dependencies

Open-source libraries are often dependent on other open-source libraries, and those libraries can, in turn, be dependent on another set of libraries. This results in a complex dependency tree that makes it difficult to track vulnerabilities and security issues.

For example, take the open-source Pandas library for analyzing data. To check security vulnerabilities in it, you need to perform a quality check of the NumPy library, as well as other libraries on which Pandas depends. You then also need to do the same check for vulnerabilities on the libraries NumPy depends on, and so on. The resulting dependency tree quickly becomes increasingly difficult to manage.

Licensing issues

Open-source packages and libraries are free to use; however, you cannot use them without complying with their usage licenses. Some open-source libraries offer permissive licenses, allowing developers to freely modify the source code and deploy it to customers as enterprise applications. Other open-source software offers restrictive licenses that require any derivative work, i.e., any modification to the original open-source code, to be licensed as open-source only.

Risks arise when an organization’s application contains open-source components whose license turns out to be incompatible with the license of the application as a whole or with the license of some of the application’s components. There are numerous automated tools available to identify such license conflicts, similar to the tools available for detecting vulnerabilities.

Outdated libraries

When open-source libraries are not regularly updated, they become more and more vulnerable to attack. In many cases, outdated open-source components with known vulnerabilities are still being used and remain in the production environment.

Developers usually stick to the older versions of these libraries to avoid code disruptions caused by implementing newer versions. However, this puts an organization at high risk of security threats, data breaches, and service disruptions, as hackers can easily exploit known vulnerabilities.

Security issues

Open-source code goes through multiple updates via numerous collaborators, during which a few developers might unknowingly introduce vulnerabilities by not correctly addressing security. These vulnerabilities can further be missed during testing, resulting in the deployment of improperly secured applications for public use.

Developers also often borrow faulty open-source code to build their applications without even checking its origin and documentation. The documentation, sometimes missed by developers while copying the code, may contain information to incorporate the source code securely. Thus, it is difficult to ensure that developers have followed best practices for securely managing the open-source code they use.

6 ways to mitigate vulnerabilities in open-source libraries

Organizations must take precautions when using open-source libraries. Below, we cover ways to handle or mitigate the risks associated with open-source code.

1. Conduct regular security audits

Regular security audits are a good way of identifying any new or existing risks in open-source libraries. Various vulnerability scanners available on the market, along with penetration testing, can be utilized to audit code and identify any potential weaknesses. Ideally, this should be an automated process integrated into the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline to track and monitor changes or new vulnerabilities in the software.

It is recommended to run scans continuously while in production. This becomes especially important for known vulnerabilities that are still unpatched.

2. Ensure good collaboration between SecOps and DevOps

One of the most important steps in building resilient and secure software is to have good collaboration between the DevOps and SecOps teams, also known as DevSecOps. The goal is to deliver more secure software by making security a key part of every step of the software development lifecycle.

This approach allows organizations to uncover security concerns early and mitigate them immediately. Organizations will typically implement automated security tools, code analysis, and continuous testing for this purpose. These help lower the chance that a security breach will be exploited while also helping to deliver more secure software in an evolving threat landscape.

Below are some of the best open-source tools available for security automation.

OpenSCAP (Security Content Automation Protocol)

OpenSCAP is a set of open-source tools for organizations looking to adopt and adhere to security standards. It provides vulnerability scanning, configuration management, and compliance checks based on SCAP standards.


Wazuh is an open-source security information and event management (SIEM) tool. It includes intrusion detection, vulnerability detection, and behavioral monitoring capabilities. Wazuh can automate responses to security events.


OSQuery enables you to query your operating system as you would a database. It provides SQL-like queries to gather information about the state of your systems, making it useful for security monitoring, compliance, and incident response.


TheHive is a collaborative and open-source incident response platform designed to make it easier for cybersecurity teams to manage and mitigate security incidents. It integrates with various security tools and supports case management and analysis.

MISP (Malware Information Sharing Platform) Threat Sharing

MISP Threat Sharing stands as an open-source threat intelligence platform with the primary objective of enhancing the exchange of organized threat information. This platform empowers organizations to collaborate in sharing, storing, and cross-referencing indicators related to compromises and potential threats.

3. Automate trivial security tasks

Another crucial step in addressing open-source risks is automating repetitive and trivial tasks. This helps organizations free up their security teams’s capacity to focus on more critical and complex issues. Automation helps lower the chance of errors, allows for quick incident detection and response, and maintains a consistent security process.

Security tasks that can be automated include vulnerability scanning, security testing, code analysis, incident response, access control, and compliance monitoring.

4. Implement SCA tools

A major issue in open-source software libraries is licensing. Software composition analysis (SCA) tools help teams trace these libraries and address any licensing or security/compliance issues that exist in them.

To ensure a robust security strategy, organizations must focus on identifying, monitoring, and managing an application's open-source and third-party components using SCA solutions. These tools bring tremendous value to organizations by saving time and functionality, as well as uncovering any hidden vulnerabilities in software that hackers can exploit.

SCA empowers your development team to harness the potential of open-source software libraries while also managing the risk they pose to your organization.

Below are some of the top SCA tools used widely among organizations today:

  • OWASP Dependency-Check: An SCA tool that scans for project dependencies and checks for any known, publicly disclosed vulnerabilities.
  • Snyk: A security solution tailored for developers, aimed at identifying and resolving vulnerabilities within open-source dependencies and container images.
  • WhiteSource Bolt: A free SCA tool designed for developers that integrates with popular IDEs to provide real-time alerts on open-source component vulnerabilities
  • Black Duck by Synopsys: Provides comprehensive open-source security solutions, including an SCA, to identify and mitigate security risks in open-source software
  • NexPloit by Bright Security: While primarily a dynamic application security testing (DAST) tool, NexPloit also includes features for identifying vulnerabilities in open-source components.

5. Use reputable libraries

Companies need to find an open-source software library that is well-known and trusted with a reliable track record. This helps reduce the chance of implementing vulnerable code.

A good starting point is seeing when the package manager was last updated, the number of downloads, and the number of contributors. Even then, it’s essential to scan libraries to identify any vulnerabilities that exist in them. There are various plugins available to help you monitor the package manager.

6. Continuously monitor dependencies

Once you have zeroed in on the libraries you will be using, it is important to monitor their dependencies to make sure they are up-to-date and secure. This will significantly lower the risk of hackers exploiting any undetected vulnerabilities in dependencies.

At each phase of the software development lifecycle, you should leverage automation to proactively monitor the dependencies of all libraries being used. This should ideally include alerts so that you are immediately notified of any problems detected.


In the realm of modern software development, open-source software libraries play a pivotal role, facilitating accelerated delivery and cost reduction for developers worldwide. As these libraries become increasingly integral to various infrastructures, such as cars, IoT devices, and mobile phones, their prevalence is expected to surge.

While open-source software libraries offer immense advantages in terms of functionality and efficiency, organizations must adopt a proactive and comprehensive approach to mitigate vulnerabilities.

By implementing the strategies outlined in this post, developers and security teams can strike a balance, harnessing the benefits of open-source libraries while safeguarding their organizations against potential security threats.

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