Top 12 Open Source Code Security Tools

By Eyal Katz November 24, 2020

Open source software is everywhere. From your server to your fitness band. And it’s only becoming more common as over 90% of developers acknowledge using open source in their development pipeline. 

The reasons are clear – it’s cost effective, it offers quick feature integration, ease of access and is often maintained by others. There are also risks to open source code, with security and compliance being two of the top factors.

What is open source code security (and whose job is it anyway)?

Lets face it, when developing software you want to keep costs down and deliver fast. What you do not want is to waste time re-inventing the wheel by writing your own implementation of code that others have previously released as open source. Not to mention the added value of fewer and faster bug fixes, open standards and of course – community support.

However, nothing in life is perfect, and open source solutions are no exception. FOSS is rarely well documented or tested. Moreover, with the transparency of open code comes the risk of many eyes looking for vulnerabilities to exploit (and potentially weaponize).

More and more software companies integrate open source into their code. As a result, the need to proactively monitor projects for continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) through DevSecOps (development security operations) has become vitally important. The role of DevSecOps includes a number of functions and tasks that covers both pre and post development stages:

  •  Create a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM), a list of OSS components and libraries integrated into the end product.
  • Limit exposure by prioritizing OSS libraries which pose the least risk.
  • Track library dependencies required for OSS code integration to ensure no code of unknown origin is introduced into the project by a dependency.
  • Reduce use of multiple libraries that offer similar functionality by standardizing the libraries available to developers on a project.
  • Analyse runtime usage, tracking potential OSS vulnerabilities by measuring the application’s behavior.
  • Detect and block attacks from within the application itself through runtime application self-protection (RASP).
  • Review code, both manually and by using automated workflows.
  • Scan for license compliance issues, verifying open source licenses are compatible with the project’s license and suggesting alternatives whenever required.

Why are open source libraries particularly vulnerable to cyber attacks?

Unlike open source libraries maintained by internet giants, most open source libraries targeting specific features may not be designed with security in mind. In addition, they are often maintained by a single developer or a small team of “volunteer” developers (if not abandoned altogether). How often the code is audited for vulnerabilities is a complete unknown and almost certainly not a part of any formal process.

Dependencies in an open source library may integrate code from other open source libraries which themselves may be vulnerable. Beyond exploits in the code itself, there are other risks of forked repositories with intentionally vulnerable code masquerading as the original repository, as well as abandoned repository take-overs.

Why is open source security important now more than ever?

As use of open source libraries spread, the number of vulnerabilities discovered has grown significantly. In 2019, 968 new vulnerabilities were assigned a CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) designation, up from 421 in 2018 – a 224% increase year over year. Add to that the fact that 7 in 10 applications have a security flaw in an open source library, while attacks targeting open source components have risen by 430%.

The main culprit in security breaches lies in the difficulty of tracking hundreds of dependencies used by open source libraries developers rely on. This is not limited to the vulnerabilities themselves, 90% of which are fixed in a timely manner. Without knowing that a down-stream open source library is vulnerable or has a fix available, vulnerabilities may remain lurking in code for years, waiting for hackers to exploit.

Real life examples include typosquatting Python libraries stealing SSH and GPG keys and critical vulnerabilities found in SaltStack’s open-source event-based IT automation and configuration management tool Salt. In the case of Salt, the vulnerabilities were actively exploited within days of it being patched, before several prominent users of the tool noticed the issue and installed the fix.

It’s worth noting that open source risks are not limited to vulnerabilities and exploits. A major pain for software developers is realizing (after the fact) that code included from an open source library is using an incompatible license (e.g. GPL), requiring additional rewrites and delaying the product’s deployment.

Top 12 DevSecOps open source security tools

It’s pretty obvious that securing code against open source vulnerabilities requires tools and services integrated throughout the software development lifecycle. It is also quite unsurprising that there’s a broad selection of such tools and services out there.

To make your search easier, we collected the top open source security solutions for DevSecOps.

1. Contrast OSS

Contrast OSS works by installing an intelligent agent that equips the application with smart sensors to analyze code in real time from within the application. This allows the software to automatically discover open source dependencies and provide critical versioning and usage information. 

Alerts are triggered when risks and policy violations are detected anywhere across the SDLC. In production, Contrast monitors, blocks and alerts on attacks targeting open source libraries and components.

Price: Not listed, but it is priced per-application. There is a demo available and you can try the tool with one app for free.

Pros: A cool interface and low false positive reports.

Cons: There is room for improvement in the reporting features as users claim it is not suitable for a high-level view that can be presented to management personnel. In addition, Contrast lacks support for client-side libraries such as jQuery or JavaScript. Contrast is also described by users as difficult to automate as setup differs for each application.

2. Spectral

Spectral works by finding and mitigating misconfigurations and exposed secrets as soon as they appear in the coding pipeline. The setup process is nearly completely automated with support for over 20 different data sources (e.g. GitHub, GitLab, Npm, etc) and over 200 custom and customizable detectors generated using a programming language agnostic AI and machine learning models.

Price: Spectral does not announce its pricing. You can request a free trial by clicking the “Get Started” button on Spectral’s home page.

Pros: Highly optimized, an average sized repository can take less than a second to scan. Very flexible, scanning logs, code, apps, images and more.

Cons: While Spectral introduces many interesting new features, it is still the new kid on the block and as such, it still has to prove its worth.

3. WhiteSource

WhiteSource makes it easy to develop secure software without compromising on speed or agility. With native integration into all environments, WhiteSource enforces policies automatically, spotting problems before they surface or remediating as soon as they are detected. 

WhiteSource promises to reduce up to 85% of security alerts by prioritizing vulnerabilities based on whether your proprietary code is utilizing them.

Price: The annual pricing depends on the number of contributing developers and ranges from $5,460 for a single developer up to $192,400 for 500 developers. A free trial is available.

Pros: The ‘fix suggestions’ feature traces back to where the vulnerability is within your code and offers suggestions on how to fix the issue. The attribution and license due diligence reports satisfy the required software licenses copyright and component usage disclosures.

Cons: The user interface and user experience are not as intuitive as they could be. Some detected libraries do not specify where in the source they were used.

4. Sonatype Nexus

Nexus claims to automatically stop risky components from entering your software supply chain by letting you know exactly what components are inside your software applications. It also helps to enforce open source policies across the SDLC and automatically generates a Software Bill of Materials.

Price: Nexus offers multiple products covering different aspects of open source security with annual subscription prices ranging from $120-780 per user and $1,000 per app.

Pros: The vulnerability description clearly shows where the problem is and the software offers an explanation of the vulnerability as well as a recommendation on how to fix the problem. This is especially helpful when there is no possibility to fix the issue by updating the library. The low rate of false positives keeps developers happy and the product features a REST API that can be used for automation.

Cons: Mainly Java centric with support for other languages somewhat lacking. The API is fairly limited, lacking support for the more powerful RESTful API. In addition, users have claimed that the user interface is not very intuitive.

5. ShiftLeft Scan

ShiftLeft Scan lets you protect custom code with static analysis (SAST), secure open-source libraries (SCA), and employ hard-coded secrets detection and OSS license violation checks. ShiftLeft Scan claims to be built with usability and rapid time-to-value in mind, with one-click deploy marketplace integrations for popular DevOps tools and cloud infrastructure vendors.

Price: As an open source project released under the GPL3 license, ShiftLeft Scan is free to use.

Pros: Privacy! Your code, dependencies, and configuration never leave your builds. All scanners, rules, data and vulnerability databases are downloaded locally.

Cons: It looks like ShiftLeft is shifting away from Scan and no longer providing support for the solution, focusing on their new “NextGen Static Analysis” product instead.

6. Dependency Track

Dependency Track is an intelligent software supply chain component analysis platform that identifies and reduces risk from the use of third-party and open source components. Among its features: impact analysis, workflow auditing, out-of-date detection, vulnerability aggregation, bill of materials, API support and more.

Price: Released under the Apache 2.0 license, Dependency Track is free to use.

Pros: Well documented and easy to integrate. Includes an extensive automation API, and tracking for application, library, framework, operating system, and hardware components.

Cons: With a small community of part time developers, fixes may be harder to obtain and support is limited to volunteers.

7. SonarQube

Supporting 27 programming languages, SonarQube automatically scans your code in real time to ensure the code does not contain known vulnerabilities. It offers continuous code inspection with thousands of automated static code analysis rules

Price: A free community version is available while a developer version starts at 120 euro plus additional cost based on the project’s line count.

Pros: A friendly UI that is easy to use and understand. A security hotspot feature that identifies where your code is prone to have security issues.

Cons: Users claim it is difficult to set up without support and documentation is not clear enough. They also note that SonarQube sometimes misses security breaches in code that were caught by competing products.

8. Safety

Safety is a Python command line tool used to check local virtual environments, requirement files or any input from stdin for dependencies with security issues.

Price: As an open source tool released under the MIT license, Safety is free to use.  However, the vulnerability database is only updated once per month. For more frequent updates, you will need to invest $99/month on a subscription.

Pros: Simple to install and use.

Cons: Very limited feature-set, with support only for the Python language.

9. Snyk

Snyk automatically finds, prioritizes and fixes vulnerabilities in open source dependencies throughout the development process. Among its features are integrated IDE testing while coding, native Git scanning, and an automated CI/CD security gate.

Price: Snyk includes a limited, free plan for open source developers and more feature rich Standard and Pro tiers starting at $417 and $1,999 respectively, billed on an annual basis.

Pros: Powerful Kubernetes, GitLab and JIRA integrations, as well as rich vulnerability information in terms of layer of origin and dependency tree.

Cons: The generated reports are not as clear as they could be. Filtering could be enhanced to improve clarity and notification could be ranked on a greater scale. In addition, users claim that more documentation and tutorials are needed.

10. Veracode

Veracode identifies vulnerabilities in open source libraries and integrates into the pipeline through a command-line agent, with the same agent plugged in directly into the IDE for real-time feedback. Veracode assesses dependencies several layers deep while vulnerability prioritization reduces remediation time by up to 90%.

Price: Veracode does not announce its pricing. You can request a demo or a price quote.

Pros: Veracode uses data mining, natural language processing and machine learning to expand its SCA database beyond the National Vulnerability Database. It provides both static and dynamic scanning with good IDE integration support.

Cons: Some users found the user interface and user experience to be a bit confusing. The generated reports could be clearer and more concise.

11. Synopsys Black Duck

Black Duck Security Advisories go beyond the NVD with enhanced data that is researched and analyzed by the Synopsys Cybersecurity Research Center. This helps to ensure completeness and accuracy and aims to give you early warning and complete insight.

Price: Synopsys Black Duck does not announce its pricing. You can request a demo or a price quote.

Pros: Auto analyzes components where other vendors only make fuzzy recommendations. Good training videos and professional support.

Cons: Users say that Black Duck needs to be more user-friendly. They also cite confusing setup and limited scanning for larger projects that must be split to process.

12. Checkmarx

Checkmarx can help you minimize open source security and license risks, prioritize exploitable vulnerabilities and accelerate informed remediation. The solution claims to integrate and automate open source management for DevSecOps, streamlining operations for SCA and SAST by leveraging industry-leading security research.

Price: Checkmarx does not announce its pricing. You can request a demo.

Pros: Analyzes open source code in all common languages and frameworks while being very user friendly. Always ahead of the game when it comes to finding any vulnerabilities within the database.

Cons: Creating/Editing custom rules is difficult due to additional licensing cost and UI complexity.

In conclusion

Open source is becoming ubiquitous. The great value it provides encourages software developers to integrate open source deep within their projects. With popularity expanding, hackers are looking at every opportunity to exploit open source vulnerabilities.

To remedy this, DevSecOps processes and policies must be enforced with intelligent tools. In our list, we included the top open source security tools that can help software development teams and organizations side-step DevSecOps issues without breaking a sweat. That said, it’s worth noting that security is a moving target. Which means that new tools and technologies are released on a frequent basis. If we missed a particularly new player in the DevSecOps field – do let us know in the comments below.

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