The Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF) has made available a prototype of a package analysis tool that has already identified more than 200 malicious packages uploaded to PyPI and npm software components.
Caleb Brown, an OpenSSF maintainer of the project, said the goal is to understand the behavior and capabilities of packages available on open source repositories. It also tracks how packages behave over time to make it easier to identify when previously safe software began to act in a suspicious manner.
Most of the malicious packages detected are employing dependency confusion and typosquatting techniques, Brown said. They usually contain a simple script that runs during installation and provides a few details about the host to an external command-and-control system. Most of these packages are not exfiltrating meaningful data except the name of the machine or a username, but they make no attempt to disguise their behavior. The issue is that any one of these packages could have done far more damage, noted Brown.
Future goals for the project include detecting differences in package behavior over time; automating the processing of the package analysis results; storing the packages themselves as they are processed for long-term analysis and improving the reliability of the pipeline. As such, the OpenSSF is looking for application developers and cybersecurity researchers to contribute to the project. The expectation is that many providers of application security tools will incorporate the package analysis tool offering within their offerings rather than requiring each vendor to create their own version of the same tool, said Brown.
The OpenSSF has launched a series of initiatives to improve the overall state of open source security. Most recently, it added an Alpha-Omega Project to automate security testing processes for open source software using a $5 million initial investment provided by Microsoft and Google. The core challenge is that many organizations are dependent on open source software projects created and maintained by just a handful of volunteer maintainers and contributors. The individuals that created those projects don’t always have a lot of cybersecurity expertise. In fact, many of them would argue that the onus for securing open source software is on the organizations that use what amounts to free software. It’s not the responsibility of the contributors and maintainers to, for example, drop everything and immediately create a patch to address a zero-day vulnerability.
It’s not clear how easily open source software could be compromised by cybercriminals that insert malware into downstream applications that rely on that code. However, in the wake of a series of high-profile breaches, it’s safe to assume that more cybercriminals than ever are trying to compromise open source software projects. While some organizations may opt to limit their dependency on open source code that has not been properly vetted, there is no way to entirely avoid using open source code. The challenge is finding a more efficient way to ensure the integrity of that code for all concerned.