Open Source Is the Answer. Maybe Not?

October 24, 2022

In my last three lectures, I have amplified and explained what I call the open source frenzy and the concomitant blind spots. One senior law enforcement professional told me after a talk in September 2022, “We’re pushing forward with open source.” To be fair, that’s been the position of many government professionals with whom I have spoken in this year. Open source delivers high value software. Open source provides useful information with metatags. These data can be cross correlated to provide useful insight for investigators. Open source has even made it easier for those following Mr. Putin’s special action to get better information than those in war fighting hot spots.

Open source is the answer.

If you want a reminder about the slippery parts of open source information, navigate to “Thousands of GitHub Repositories Deliver Fake PoC Exploits with Malware.” The write up reports:

According to the technical paper from the researchers at Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science, the possibility of getting infected with malware instead of obtaining a PoC could be as high as 10.3%, excluding proven fakes and prankware.

Not a big deal, right?

Wrong. These data, even if the percentage is adrift, point to a vulnerability caused by the open source cheerleaders.

The write up does a good job of providing examples, which will be incomprehensible to most people. However, the main point of the write up is that open source repositories for software can be swizzled. The software, libraries, executables, and other bits and bobs can put some additional functions in the objects. If that takes place, the vulnerabilities rides along until called upon to perform an unexpected and possibly difficult to identify action.

Cyber security is primarily reactive. Embedded malware can be proactive, particularly if it uses a previously unknown code flaw.

The interesting part of the write up is this passage in my opinion:

The researchers have reported all the malicious repositories they discovered to GitHub, but it will take some time until all of them are reviewed and removed, so many still remain available to the public. As Soufian [a Dark Trace expert] explained, their study aims not just to serve as a one-time cleaning action on GitHub but to act as a trigger to develop an automated solution that could be used to flag malicious instructions in the uploaded code.

The idea of unknown or zero day flaws is apparently not on the radar. What’s this mean in practical terms? A “good enough” set of actions to deal with known issues is not going to be good enough.

This seems to set the stage for a remedial action that does not address the workflows and verification for open source. More significantly, should the focus be on code only?

The answer is, “No.” Think about injecting Fibonacci sequences into certain quantum computer operations. Can injection of crafted numerical strings into automated content processing systems throw a wrench into the works?

The answer to this question is, “Yes.”

Stephen E Arnold, October 24, 2022


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