The dangers of using opensource software

19th March 2019

We live in a world where things can be shared freely and openly. People initially tried and succeeded this with music. If you can remember back in 1999 swapping songs was made possible with file sharing service Napster, which was founded by Shawn Fanning, Sean Parker and John Fanning. Millions happily shared their record collections and copycat sharing services sprung up thanks to the craze.

But it didn’t stop there. Nowadays FOSS (free and open source software) is software that is openly shared with anyone who will have rights to distribute and modify it for their own or their business’ purposes.

Initially, it was just the preserve of a handful of developers tinkering around, but these days novices are trying their hand at using and adapting FOSS. Open source software is revolutionary. It’s even being hailed as a highly effective vehicle for the transfer of wealth from the industrialised world to developing countries. This is because it’s almost always cheaper to use that proprietary software.

According to one source, the Application Security Market Report highlighted that there were around 111 billion lines of new software code created in 2017 – 2018 and 2019 are unlikely the be any different as the trend continues.

There are plenty of companies offering opensource software these days including Linux, GNU, and even Facebook to name but a few. There’s plenty of help out there on how to use it too. For instance, SourceForge an open source community resource, helps people to create successful projects out of FOSS.

FOSS have saved some of the major corporates millions – it’s been reported that Amazon saved $17 million (£14.53 million) switching their servers to GNU/Linux and that Intel saved $200 million switching from Unix to GNU/Linux.

But while there are a number of reputable companies out there offering FOSS, which people can use how they wish - is ‘free’ always good? Well, in this instance it’s not always the case.

You see, with billions of lines of free code and software on offer, there’s always the danger that hackers will find kinks in the armour of the code (so to speak). And why wouldn’t they be able to?

With billions of lines of code freely available to study it’s the perfect ground for hackers to pick apart and scrutinize to identify the vulnerabilities. And if they come across a website that has made use of FOSS that they know how to tamper with then they have invariably hit the jackpot.

Just a few years ago, FOSS was unheard of and software was developed in house using custom code. Now, however, use of open source software is the norm. We’re in no way saying that FOSS is not as good or as secure as closed source programmes.

There’s no doubt about its cost-saving and other benefits. But if you don’t have a good team of developers at hand that can scrutinize and vet the FOSS in more detail and mitigate against any vulnerabilities you may regret making use of it just because it’s ‘free’.  

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