The recent discovery of a backdoor in XZ Utils, a core compression utility embedded in countless Linux systems, has sent shockwaves through the cyber security community.

As journalist Kevin Roose of the New York Times pointed out in relation to the XZ Utils fiasco, in some places, the internet is held together by the digital equivalent of bubble gum and Scotch tape, and the inherent fragility is a draw for cyber criminals.

According to today’s joint alert issued by the Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF) and the OpenJS Foundation, the XZ Utils breach might not be an isolated incident.

Beyond XZ Utils: Broader concerns

The open source community has reported that at least three separate JavaScript projects have been targeted by unknown individuals.

While the details surrounding these projects remain scarce, the involvement of the OpenJS Foundation, a key player in fostering the development of popular JavaScript tools, noted that these projects underpin a significant portion of the modern web.

According to the alert, the attackers made suspicious update demands or requested admin access, indicating deliberate attempts to manipulate or gain control over these specific projects.

The growing threat landscape for OSS

Open source software (OSS) has been a driving force behind technological innovation. Yet, a single compromised project, especially one as widely used as XZ Utils, can have a ripple effect, impacting countless users and downstream applications.

The targeting of XZ Utils, and now JavaScript projects, highlights the level of vulnerability within the open source software development landscape.

The need for a multi-pronged approach

The recent incidents underscore the need for a multi-layered approach to securing minimally maintained open source projects. Here are key areas of focus:

  • Generally fortifying OSS security. The open source community needs to prioritize more intensive security measures, such as stricter code review processes, the adoption of secure coding practices, the development of stronger tools for vulnerability detection…etc. In addition, increased funding for open source initiatives is warranted in order to better secure under-resourced projects.
  • Collaboration and intelligence sharing. It might sound trite, but effective collaboration and communication between software developers, security researchers and government agencies can make a huge difference in threat prevention. Shared intelligence allows for a more coordinated response to any threats that arise.
  • AI-based tools. For example, Check Point’s Infinity AI capabilities can assist with securing open source code. Infinity can integrate with existing code scanning tools to perform static code analyses. In addition, its AI engines can analyze code for known vulnerabilities and potential weaknesses beyond simple syntax errors, identifying patterns indicative of backdoor insertions (like that used in the XZ Utils case).

A call to action for CISOs

The recent open source attacks also mean that CISOs and cyber security professionals must further enhance code-related security protection. Within individual organizations, CISOs should ensure that development teams are using secure coding practices; secure design, code reviews and testing.

CISOs can also integrate security into the software development lifecycle by performing regular software security assessments (static analysis, dynamic testing…etc). And there are many other ways in which CISOs can ensure the security of software – get more insights here.

For further details pertaining to the JavaScript story, please visit Reuters. Lastly, to receive cutting-edge cyber insights, groundbreaking research and emerging threat analyses each week, subscribe to the CyberTalk.org newsletter.