Developer’s Guide to Open Source Spring Cleaning

Spring is here, and after a year filled with record-setting digital transformation and its associated vulnerabilities, now is the right time to give the open source components in your codebase a refresh. For many development teams, today’s open source operations present a ‘mess’ that’s difficult to clean up; often, no one knows how many libraries, third-party components or modules are in use, not to mention their vulnerability status. This can create a significant source of risk and technical debt, making a spring cleaning that much more necessary.
The good news is that there are some simple strategies and tools that organizations can implement to jump-start the open source spring cleaning process. Once implemented, these systems will help ensure that your codebase is kept up-to-date and clear of vulnerabilities.

Organizing and Inventorying Open Source

When embarking on your open source clean-up mission, an ideal first step is to take stock of what’s there. Gathering a list of all the relevant libraries and packages in your codebase, along with version information and where in your code they are used, should be your top priority.

Decide to Keep or Toss

There is a strong possibility that some of the components in your library contain vulnerabilities. Be sure to use online databases for a published list of vulnerabilities to easily identify which items may be past their security sell-by date. Consider which ones to update and which to remove altogether if they’re riddled with unpatched flaws.

Polishing, Dusting and Refreshing

Polishing your physical surfaces not only makes them look shiny but also protects them from damage caused by light, water, or other natural elements. Digitally polishing your open source security posture should involve keeping your code base defended in a similar manner, which means making repeat security assessments as frequently as possible while also keeping the inventory up-to-date, so your teams are always aware of what’s being used.
As a last step in this process, consider dusting off any outdated or existing policy documentation. Give them a spring refresh, as well, so they can account for the changes not only in your open source database but for your entire development team. By ensuring developers are all on the same page regarding policies, responsibilities, and best practices, you are effectively setting the stage for the next phase of operational success.

Keeping Your Open Source Code Clean

Sometimes a clean-up becomes more substantial than anticipated and requires some extra muscle. Implementing a dedicated tool to assist with this clean-up will not only make the process faster and easier, but it can also lead to fewer false positives and more accurate results based on your choice of reinforcements.
Software composition analysis (SCA) tools can parse your codebase and discover the libraries, modules or frameworks that are in use, and automatically compare all discovered components against a vulnerability database. Your SCA tool needs two key things to produce actionable results:

  • Access to a curated, high-fidelity vulnerability database. Your time is valuable. It’s well worth getting the most accurate data you can, despite what may be marked “vulnerable” or “safe” in the public domain.
  • Insight into your code. Just because you are using a vulnerable library does not automatically mean your code is vulnerable. What method in the library is vulnerable – are you even using it in your code? If you are using it, are you passing a static value or some input-derived variable? This is a function described as the ‘Exploitable Path’, and it is critical to focusing your clean-up efforts.

This process will provide a comprehensive list of the flawed modules in use and help you decide what needs to ultimately be kept and what needs immediate attention. With the right tools – and the right data – you can get an accurate, prioritized list of what open source components you should update or depreciate in your code.
While embedding an SCA tool into your development process and workflow alongside your other build and security-focused tools is essential to stop the accumulation of more risk and technical debt, maintaining the quality and freshness of the source vulnerability data is also extremely critical. While retaining an up-to-date list of vulnerable components seems like a full-time job, baking an open source hygiene process into your workflow can be a key component of your database’s overall maintenance.
Evaluating your open source components at build time – and then systematically scheduling reassessment scans to catch newly discovered vulnerabilities in previously ‘safe’ libraries – can bake an open source hygiene process into the developer workflow. This will serve to extend the “spring cleaning” mentality to a year-round endeavor. With the threat landscape continuing to rapidly evolve and vulnerabilities rising by the hour, implementing these simple practices could have a long-lasting impact on your open source infrastructure as it stands today.
To learn more about Checkmarx approach to Software Composition Analysis, please request a demo here.
(This article was originally published on

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