If you’re unfamiliar with open source software, a simple definition states that it’s “software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.”
Expert software engineers, developers, and really anyone interested in software development and design can access open-source code, make contributions, and share it. So when it comes to security, this level of accessibility might give some users pause.
Because open-source software underpins the foundation of the TAO solution stack, we felt it especially important to break down how it is protected so that you, too, will be confident in its capabilities and commitment to security.
Common Misconceptions About Open Source Software
As valuable as open-source testing software is, misconceptions about it hold many back from using and trusting it. The following three are particularly common.
Myth 1: Proprietary software is a better option
While the public can freely use, extend, and distribute open-source software, proprietary software creates a locked system. Its creator remains the legal owner, and the software can not be modified or customized to its users. However, this means proprietary testing systems come at a higher cost, incurring licensing fees, creating data silos, and offering limited potential to evolve.
An open source exam system like TAO, on the other hand, brings the sharing economy to assessment globally. More and more EdTech leaders are benefitting from the flexibility and inherent cost savings of open source testing tools as they begin to digitize assessment. Members of the community are able to collaborate, exchange resources and content, and benefit from the innovations given back to the source code. Because TAO is built on open standards as well as open source, users inherently own all of their content, so there is no risk of creating silos and losing assets to a locked system.
Myth 2: Open-source is interchangeable with crowd-sourced
Open-source software is not crowd-sourced software. But we can see why people would think the two are interchangeable. Many different people can work on open-source software. And that’s essentially the basis of a crowd-sourced project. It’s a large group of people coming together to complete a task.
However, you can’t say crowd-sourced software in place of open-source software. While many people may contribute to a crowd-sourced project, the finished product and rights remain with the person or group that initiated the project. On the other hand, open-source software allows the public to use, modify, and distribute what they create.
Myth 3: Open means less secure
Yes, anyone can use open-source software. But that doesn’t make it a less secure software option. In fact, many users believe that it’s the safer option because many people are working on it simultaneously. So it’s easier to identify and fix bugs and other vulnerabilities.
Let’s dig into security a bit more below.
A Breakdown of Open Source Software Security
As mentioned above, the accessibility of open-source software often feeds into the myth that it isn’t secure. But more accessibility doesn’t mean less security. If you’re wondering exactly how open-source software is secured, keep reading.
Infrastructure refers to the foundation that supports the software system’s operation. How data flows through the system, its functions, and its features are a product of the physical and digital components that comprise its framework.
Open-source software has an open infrastructure. The hardware, software, and networking components of the tools of many users are involved in building the framework upon which open-source software rests.
When you think about how everyone’s tools aren’t created equal, the issue of security glows. But think about how credible people and institutions back many open-source software solutions. TAO’s Cloud Managed Services operate on an infrastructure proven across banking, education, and other industries that rely on robust security.
Also, a vast pool of collaborators means more eyes on and solutions for vulnerabilities. The infrastructure allows for identifying and fixing issues faster, thus securing open-source software even more.
Software development is an incredibly detailed, often complex, and sometimes highly confidential process. There’s a lot of data being used and transferred, much of which only the creators should have access to.
But the open nature of open-source software allows the public to add to and change it freely. So, everyone can essentially see everything. That said, it doesn’t mean there aren’t encryption solutions involved in keeping the software experience secure.
For example, cryptography encryption is standard in open-source software. However, it throws some for a loop because anyone with access to open-source software can find out the encryption algorithm. But you still need a private key or password to access the source code. Without the private key or password, one cannot decrypt the source code, preventing unauthorized access. In addition, the more people there are who understand the encryption algorithm, the more often it can be deconstructed and improved.
Network monitoring is a critical part of open-source software’s security program. The many people using open-source software come with their own networks, whether they’re very secure, not at all, or somewhere in between.
Open-source software may welcome all. But still, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t prioritize keeping threats away from the network and unauthorized users from accessing it.
Domotz sums up network monitoring’s capabilities perfectly, stating, “One way to detect malicious events, like unauthorized access into a network, is to rely on a proactive monitoring system that periodically runs a security check of your networks. Such systems also alert you if any new potential threat is found.”
Open-source software enables network monitoring solutions that do just that: monitor incoming traffic to the platform and detect malicious users and intent in real time.
Audits, backup solutions, and recovery
Any conversation about software security is incomplete without the mention of audits, backup solutions, and recovery options. Data breaches, bugs, and other vulnerabilities will happen in open-source software. We can, once again, thank its abundant accessibility for that.
But because so many people collaborate on the same software, it opens up the opportunity for constant auditing. Users can take any part of the source code or software and analyze it for issues. Many go so far as to conduct a SWOT analysis, identifying the software’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to its success.
These audits also include a lot of testing. The Cloud Managed Services we mentioned above undergo regular penetration tests through third-party testing services to ensure compliance and sufficient security. Many other open-software solutions follow suit.
Backup and recovery solutions are also critical components of open-source software security. Many open-source software solutions has built-in backup and recovery solutions users can take advantage of. Or they may provide suggestions for backup and recovery tools that integrate well with their systems.
At the very least, you’ll be reminded to back up your data. And you can then take the lead on how you want to approach recovering it should it be compromised.
The Bottom Line
Open-source testing software may be accessible by the public, but that doesn’t make it less secure than its proprietary software counterpart. On the contrary, many would agree that open-source software is the safer option. And you might, too, after reading the above breakdown of how open-source software is secured.