Is Open Source Secure? 7 FAQs About The Safety of FOSS Apps


Cool. You found free software or an app online. It says it’s open-source and not from a company or app store. Understandably, you might wonder: is open source secure?

Generally, open-source software is secure. Apps or desktop programs developed by a community of volunteers are safe and free to use. Projects coded collaboratively draw on the experiences of many skilled programmers and testers. Several advantages and disadvantages exist to closed-source software.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions around the security of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS).

Girl on couch with laptop throwing hands up wondering is open source secure

Is it safe to download open-source software?

Open-source software is safe to download from trusted projects. A worldwide community of designers, developers, and testing engineers contribute their expertise to build quality applications. Bugs, vulnerabilities, and enhancements are patched often more quickly than commercial counterparts.

It’s hard to hide discovered vulnerabilities in open-source applications. With many eyes watching popular, established projects, issue reports are raised and quickly addressed. If you download open-source software from the F-Droid app store, GitHub, or similar trusted sources, you’re getting the safest versions of the open-source software.

Project maintainers really appreciate it if you can proffer a solution and submit it for approval. But even reporting problems in open source software is a huge help.

Is open-source more secure than closed source?

Open source is generally more secure than closed source software. Users, contributors, third-party integrators, and even governments scrutinize projects to identify and eliminate vulnerabilities. Proprietary software is usually maintained by a small group of developers or by a company.

Open-source software developers allow users to evaluate the security of free and open-source software (FOSS) for themselves. Offering the software without charge leads to faster identification of bugs or vulnerabilities and speeds issuing patches to fix any security flaw.

Closed source applications usually take longer to be fixed. A company receives notice or finds a correction that requires attention. They add this to a plan assigning available developers to correct the code. The bug fix, while high quality, is often slow to be released. Fixes to FOSS is generally available much more rapidly.

Man with laptop on desk while programming open source secure code

Is open-source software easier to hack?

Open source is generally easier to hack than closed source projects. The source code availability and frequent use of other open source components add to the risk. Small projects are more susceptible to attack. These applications have fewer developers and slower release cycles to issue patches.

Before adding a contributor’s code to a large open-source project, the community members run through code reviews to ensure compliance with security requirements. A large open source project has the resources to run security testing and proper code reviews.

Smaller projects don’t have such resources and may unknowingly accept malicious contributions or leverage vulnerable libraries. Often maintainers may not be as dedicated as the community in large projects. The case of Event-Stream illustrates how important a strong community is to a project’s safety.

Is open source a security risk?

Open source poses a security risk to both individual and corporate users. Open-source software frequently leverages other open-source projects. Vulnerabilities in the lower layers expose the larger project and those using the software to risk. Closed-source applications have different risks.

Open-source projects are indeed monitored by many parties to identify and fix vulnerabilities. But, among those watching are cybercriminals who search for exploits in the source. When attack vectors are identified, project maintainers can quickly coordinate and patch the software and issue a new release.

Is open-source dangerous?

As a general, rule open-source is more dangerous than closed-source software. Mainly in part to the publically available source code, these applications can be studied for vulnerabilities. Commercial software applications are financially incentivized to maintain a secure and safe product.

Many developers and users often believe that open source projects have fewer vulnerabilities. The argument is that since many eyes are on the open source code, there are fewer bugs. When a security vulnerability is found and document, it can be fixed more quickly than proprietary software.

Closed-source software has a dedicated set of developers, departments, or a whole company with the resources and focus to watch over their software product and service. Most software business models outside of FOSS promote a secure product wringing out most of the dangers.

Note:

Experienced hackers do not need the source code to find and exploit holes in software. An adept penetration tester uses an array of security tools to study the operations of the application against the operating system to find attack vectors.

What are the advantages of open source?

The advantage of open-source software is that it can be used without charge and offers a competitive alternative to commercial applications. FOSS provides an outlet for education, exploration, and innovation in software development.

There are many advantages to open-source software. Small businesses can save a lot of costs by utilizing open-source software. The community handles everything from collaboration and communication to development, code review, and patching. Users don’t need to invest money in any of these processes unless they decide to modify and use the source code for other purposes.

Mike Chu

Mike is a web developer and content writer living as a digital nomad. With more than 20 years of devops experience, he brings his "programmer with people skills" approach to help explain technology to the average user. Check out his full author bio by clicking here.

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