Open source cyberattacks increasing by 650%, popular projects more vulnerable

Sonatype released a report that revealed continued strong growth in open source supply and demand dynamics. Further, with regard to open source security risks, the report reveals a 650% year over year increase in supply chain attacks aimed at upstream public repositories, and a fascinating dichotomy pertaining to the level of known vulnerabilities present in popular and non-popular project versions.

open source cyberattacks

Based on survey responses collected from 702 software engineering professionals, the research observes a fundamental disconnect between people’s subjective beliefs about software chain management practices, and objective results as measured across 100,000 applications.

The report analyzed operational supply, demand and security trends associated with the Java (Maven Central), JavaScript (npmjs), Python (PyPI), and .Net (nuget) ecosystems. Furthermore, researchers studied software engineering practices gleaned from 100,000 production applications and 4,000,000 component migrations made by developers over the past 12 months.

Open source supply, demand, and security dynamics

  • Supply increased 20%. The top four open source ecosystems now contain a combined 37,451,682 different versions of components.
  • Demand increased 73%. In 2021 developers around the world will download more than 2.2 trillion open source packages from the top four ecosystems.
  • Attacks increased 650%. In 2021 the world witnessed an exponential increase in software supply chain attacks aimed at exploiting weaknesses in upstream open source ecosystems.
  • Production apps utilize only 6% of available projects. Despite a huge available supply of open source projects, utilization is concentrated in a surprisingly small number of popular projects.
  • Popular projects are more vulnerable. 29% of popular project versions contain at least one known security vulnerability. Conversely, only 6.5% of non-popular project versions do so, suggesting that security researchers are focused on the most utilized projects.

open source cyberattacks

Empirical metrics to identify the best open source projects

  • Projects with a faster mean time to update (MTTU) are more secure. They were found to be 1.8 times less likely to have vulnerabilities.
  • Popularity is not a good predictor of security. Popular open source projects were 2.8 times more likely to contain vulnerabilities.

Dependency management practices vary widely among development teams

  • Software developers make suboptimal choices 69% of the time when updating third-party dependencies. Newer versions of projects are generally better, but not always best.
  • Commercial engineering teams only manage 25% of components they use, leaving the majority of their open source dependencies stale and susceptible to increased security risks.
  • Automation could save organizations $192,000 a year. Equipped with intelligent automation, a medium sized enterprise with 20 application development teams would save a total of 160 developer days a year.

Software supply chain management practices: Perception vs. reality

There is a disconnect between subjective survey feedback and objective data. People believe they are doing a good job remediating defective components and indicate that they understand where risk resides. Objectively, research shows development teams lack structured guidance and frequently make suboptimal decisions with respect to software supply chain management.

“This year’s State of the Software Supply Chain report demonstrates, yet again, how open source is both critical fuel for digital innovation and a ripe target for software supply chain attacks,” said Matt Howard, EVP of Sonatype.

“While developer demand for open source continues to grow exponentially, our research shows for the first time just how little of the overall supply is actually being utilized. Further, we now know that popular projects contain disproportionately more vulnerabilities. This stark reality highlights both a critical responsibility, and opportunity, for engineering leaders to embrace intelligent automation so they can standardize on the best open source suppliers and simultaneously help developers keep third-party libraries fresh and up to date with optimal versions.”

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