The 3 Big Issues With Open Source Code Scanners

Open source code scanners were once an effective tool, but there are now better options available. When first launched, open source code scanners were revolutionary, giving organizations a convenient and intuitive tool they could use to conduct open source audits. However, there are now some major issues associated with open source code scanners—and some much better approaches available.

What Is an Open Source Code Scan?

In case you aren’t familiar, an open-source code scan is a practice designed to help organizations scan all their open source components, as well as underlying licenses that were included in their ultimate products. They work by analyzing individual “snippets” or sections of code, and flagging those that appear to resemble snippets in open source components. From there, users would get a prompt to review each snippet individually.

The Major Problems With Open Source Code Scanners

These are the main issues with open source code scanners:

1. Endless false positives. In statistical analysis, a false positive is a kind of false alarm—a signal from a test that something requires your action, when in reality, it doesn’t. In the case of open source code scanners, you likely get false positives all the time; the code scanner recognizes some snippet of your code as being an open-source component, when in reality, it bears little resemblance to the open-source component in question, or was something you engineered from scratch. This wouldn’t be a big deal if it were a rare occurrence, but there are billions of open-source files to consider in the modern era; inevitably, you’re going to get an endless stream of false positives. This demands additional manual effort, and can sometimes compromise the reliability of your approach.

2. Lack of agility. Open source code scanners simply aren’t compatible with an agile software development process. This obsolete method of scanning is incapable of being done on a continuous basis; line-by-line scanning can take weeks to complete, and when done, the flagged components still require a manual review. If agility is a priority for you, an open source scanner will get in your way.

3. Manual efforts and responsiveness. Correcting security vulnerabilities is a time-sensitive demand; once the vulnerability becomes public, attackers are in a perfect position to exploit the opportunity. With an open-source scanner, it could take you weeks, or even months to learn about the vulnerability—leaving you open to attack. If you’re still using open source code scanners, you’re leaving your product vulnerable for longer than necessary.

What to Do Instead

Obviously, you still need some method of identifying and analyzing the open-source components in your products. So if open-source code scanners aren’t the way to go, what is the proper method?

There are several potential solutions available, designed to save time, streamline the process, and ensure a higher success rate of identifying open source components and potential vulnerabilities. For starters, there are plugins available that can create and identify digital signature for open source components in all your repositories—without ever needing to perform a line-by-line code scan. These digital signatures can be quickly cross-referenced with a central database to identify open source components as well as direct and indirect dependencies. From there, you can learn about licenses, security vulnerabilities, and new versions that may be available.

One of the greatest advantages of this approach is that it’s continuous. Rather than conducting periodic manual scans, you can let the plugin do the work, and automatically notify you when something needs your attention.

There are other advantages to consider as well:
· Real-time security alerts. In today’s world, real-time security is becoming more necessary. You’re developing your application constantly, and need to protect your customers and your data constantly. This method provides you with a steady stream of real-time alerts, so you can act on them faster.
· Zero false positives. Because this solution refines the identification process, you’ll no longer have to sort through the endless string of false positives.
· Long-term reliability. Rather than jumping from code scanner to code scanner, you can install and learn a single, comprehensive solution. Ultimately, this saves you time and allows you to become better acquainted with the tool overall.
· Full control of open source components. Most importantly, this type of tool gives you full control of all the open source components in your systems at all times.

If you’re still using an open source code scanner, it’s probably better than nothing, but you can do better for yourself, your team, and your core product. With an integrated, advanced solution, you can avoid the endless stream of false positives and ongoing manual effort inherent in your previous solution—all while making sure your open source components remain up to date and free of vulnerabilities.