Surge in cyber attacks targeting open source software projects

There has been a massive 430% surge in next generation cyber attacks aimed at actively infiltrating open source software supply chains, Sonatype has found.

Rise of next-gen software supply chain attacks

According to the report, 929 next generation software supply chain attacks were recorded from July 2019 through May 2020. By comparison 216 such attacks were recorded in the four years between February 2015 and June 2019.

The difference between “next generation” and “legacy” software supply chain attacks is simple but important: next generation attacks like ​Octopus Scanner​ and ​electron-native-notify​ are strategic and involve bad actors intentionally targeting and surreptitiously compromising “upstream” open source projects so they can subsequently exploit vulnerabilities when they inevitably flow “downstream” into the wild.

Conversely, legacy software supply chain attacks like ​Equifax​ are tactical and involve bad actors waiting for new zero day vulnerabilities to be publicly disclosed and then racing to take advantage in the wild before others can remediate.

“Following the notorious Equifax breach of 2017, enterprises significantly ramped investments to prevent similar attacks on open source software supply chains,” said Wayne Jackson, CEO at Sonatype.

“Our research shows that commercial engineering teams are getting faster in their ability to respond to new zero day vulnerabilities. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that next generation supply chain attacks have increased 430% as adversaries are shifting their activities ‘upstream’ where they can infect a single open source component that has the potential to be distributed ‘downstream” where it can be strategically and covertly exploited.”

Speed remains critical when responding to legacy software supply chain attacks

According to the report, enterprise software development teams differ in their response times to vulnerabilities in open source software components:

  • 47% of organizations ​became aware of new open source vulnerabilities after a week, and
  • 51% of organizations​ took more than a week to remediate the open source vulnerabilities

The researchers discovered that not all organizations prioritize improved risk management practices at the expense of developer productivity. This year’s report reveals that high performing development teams are ​26x faster at detecting and remediating open source vulnerabilities,​ and ​deploy changes to code 15x more frequently​ than their peers.

High performers are also:

  • 59% more likely​ to be using automated software composition analysis (SCA) to detect and remediate known vulnerable OSS components across the SDLC
  • 51% more likely​ to centrally maintain a software bill of materials (SBOMs) for applications
  • 4.9x more likely​ to successfully update dependencies and fix vulnerabilities without breakage
  • 33x more likely​ to be confident that OSS dependencies are secure (i.e., no known vulnerabilities)

Additional findings

  • 1.5 trillion component download requests​ projected in 2020 across all major open source ecosystems
  • 10% of java OSS component downloads ​by developers​ ​had known security vulnerabilities
  • 11% of open source components​ developers build into their applications are known vulnerable, with 38 vulnerabilities discovered on average
  • 40% of npm packages ​contain dependencies with known vulnerabilities​
  • New open source zero-day vulnerabilities are exploited in the wild within​ 3 days of public disclosure​
  • The average enterprise sources code from 3,500 OSS projects including over 11,000 component releases.

“We found that high performers are able to simultaneously achieve security and productivity objectives,” said Gene Kim, DevOps researcher and author of The Unicorn Project. “It’s fantastic to gain a better understanding of the principles and practices of how this is achieved, as well as their measurable outcomes.”

“It was really exciting to find so much evidence that this much-discussed tradeoff between security and productivity is really a false dichotomy. With the right culture, workflow, and tools development teams can achieve great security and compliance outcomes together with class-leading productivity,” said Dr. Stephen Magill, Principal Scientist at Galois & CEO of MuseDev.