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Why Open Source Data Must Be Protected

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Open source data powers the digital world. Open-source technology allows anyone to innovate, contribute, and solve problems with tech. Unfortunately, open source data is inherently vulnerable. To keep enjoying its benefits, we have to protect it. 

Open source codes changed the digital world. Software like  WordPress, VLC Media Player, Mozilla Firefox, Linux and Javascript democratized innovation in tech. Almost all tech solutions and services incorporate open-source solutions through projects or public forums, creating avenues for public coding. Companies like Walmart, JPMorgan, IBM and Microsoft are also embracing open-source and championing its industry-led, widespread adoption. Over 60% of the world’s websites are powered by Kubernetes, an Open Source Software (OSS) for cloud computing. 

Open-source means the source code for the software is freely accessible. Anyone can interact with the source code, inspect it, alter it, modify, and redistribute it. Source code is a fundamental part of any computer software program and was initially available only to the programmers or software teams of the application. However, open source makes it available to developers from anywhere around the world.

Not all open-source software is free. Some require licenses and payments, but their accessibility and usability remain.

 Open sourcing supports the technology and business side of digitalization. A survey by the TODO Group showed that over 90% of companies have interacted with or integrated open source for commercial, non-commercial, or internal purposes. The survey called open source software the “ …lifeblood of many small businesses….” Businesswire predicts that by 2026, open source services will be worth over $66 billion. Along with this would come an influx of developers, businesses, and tech companies in the industry, and an increase in the number of (interactions with) open source codes, programs, software, and services. 

Open Source Risks & Vulnerabilities

With open-sourcing, developers can collaborate on projects, and share knowledge and experiences. They fix software bugs faster, improve software functionality, and drive innovation in tech. However, data security becomes challenging as more people have access to software source codes. The increase in the adoption of third-party OSS also comes with additional vulnerability since it involves making source code public. 

In 2017, the United States recorded 145 million data breach incidents due to open-source code vulnerabilities. Many open source risks come from gaps malicious people can exploit to alter source code, damage the software, or extract sensitive data. Because open source allows anybody to access the source codes, there’s no way to tell the bad folks from the good. 

Here are some of the causes of open source risk

  1. Code is publicly available.

There is a saying that more eyes spot bugs faster, and open sourcing encourages this. However, open sourcing does not tell what types of eyes are on the code – hackers and malicious developers have eyes too! 

     2. Infringement of IP rights

When organizations do not track open source, components may become liable for IP infringements. Many developers and contributors may be unfamiliar with regulatory and software compatibility; they may incur IP issues. This is a difficult problem to curb, as tracking becomes more difficult with more components and software use. 

     3. Poor developer practices

Some developers engage in poor coding practices and this may affect the security of open source codes. For example, developers who copy and paste codes may transfer bugs and security threats to the source codes. 

    4. Operational risks

Open sourcing sometimes may interfere with the activities of the team or project developers and engineers. Because the software is open source, there may be a lack of consensus on the best way to use it or integrate it into their projects.

Why Should Open Source Data Be Protected?

Open source birthed a new era for developers and projects. The cost of development was reduced, it was easier for developers to use and interact with, coding efficiency improved and the speed of project execution increased. The quality of the software also improved significantly because several people fine tuned the code, fixed bugs, and innovated. Any threat to open sourcing and its security is not to be taken lightly—the implications for digitalization can be dire. 


Open source software is also used to power a significant part of internet security. In one survey, 84% of organizations said their security structure depended on open source code. This means any open source data security breach could endanger global cybersecurity.  Also, if open source data is not protected. Open sourcing drives collaboration and tech evolution. When security becomes an issue, more organizations would dump open source protocols and make their source codes inaccessible. With that, the speed and progress associated with shared knowledge would decline. 

How to Secure Open Source Components

Although securing open source components is challenging, there are steps you can take to make your open data program more secure. Here are some of them.

  1. Have an Active Open Source Community and Be Part of It

One advantage of open sourcing is supporting developers to collaborate on projects and programs. Having a community where these people can interact, share knowledge in real-time about your source code, provide required technical and non-technical expertise, and identify gaps and risks is a huge advantage. It also helps you communicate the project objectives, get better technical support and receive feedback. 

If you already have one, be actively involved in the community. Community members are more likely to discover bugs or security threats before you do. Being actively involved ensures swift escalation and resolution.

    2. Update Your Open Source Components and Software Regularly

You can avoid most breaches and malware attacks by updating your components regularly. Common vulnerabilities like shellshock and heartbleed capitalize on unpatched servers, and could affect new updates.

   3. Track and Monitor Open Source Components

Tracking open source components helps you discover new threats and code gaps, and act on them quickly. Even after the software is live, tracking does not end there. Proper tracking and timely monitoring help improve source code policies for use. Several tools can track and monitor open source code,  notifying you of possible risks and vulnerabilities–use them. 

   4. Adopting Open Source Code Policies

Creating good policies for publicly available code is one way to mitigate risks and vulnerabilities. A good policy establishes step-by-step procedures for developers and contributors, standardizing the process. It should also contain incentives for improving the code and catching bugs. The best way to achieve this is to have dedicated teams overseeing these policies. These teams should ensure proper documentation and adherence to the policies, be open to feedback, and ensure awareness of policy details among members of the open source community.


  1. Incorporate Automated Solutions

Automation can improve the efficiency of open source code. It can help maintain, secure, and scale open source code security—and do it fast. Artificial intelligence (AI) should be incorporated into open source data protection. Doing this can provide solutions to code vulnerabilities without human intervention. 

Open source code is here to stay, and so are the challenges of keeping it secure. We must invest in protecting open source codes through human and AI solutions for a safer, better, digital world.

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