Author Archives: Tom Li

Microsoft joins OpenSSF to improve open-source software security

Microsoft has joined the recently launched Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF) to help create a healthier, more secure open-source software ecosystem for all, the company announced yesterday in a blog post.

Collaborative efforts such as OpenSSF aim to address these concerns in open-sourced projects. Major technology players including Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others, are confirmed members of the organization’s governing board. Together, OpenSSF says they help set guidelines on vulnerability disclosures, security tooling, and threat identification. Each of the working groups has its won technical steering committee and is self-governed.

“We believe open source is a public good and across every industry we have a responsibility to come together to improve and support the security of open-source software we all depend on,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director at The Linux Foundation. “Ensuring open source security is one of the most important things we can do, and it requires all of us around the world to assist in the effort. The OpenSSF will provide that forum for a truly collaborative, cross-industry effort.”

Microsoft has warmed up to open source in the last few years. Earlier this year, the company finally admitted that it was wrong about open-source, referring to an era when Steve Balmer fiercely belittled Linux. Since Satya Nadella took the helm, however, Microsoft has been actively embracing open source with projects like Visual Studio Code, Linux subsystem on Windows, and open-sourcing some of its older projects. On June 4, 2018, the company officially acquired GitHub, one of the world’s largest code repository hosting platform, for US$7.5 billion.

Open-sourcing relies on public governance and support from its user base. The code can be scrutinized by anyone to validate their security, and any party can modify the solution to suit their own needs.

But the very nature of open-source software raises inherent security risks. Since support is decentralized, no one person or party is responsible for bugs. There’s also the risk of attackers, under the guise of a maintainer, injecting malware into popular projects. And because popular tools are cloned and continuously modified, version verification is a time-consuming process.