Software is a fast-moving space.
In fact, in most business areas software is at the very cutting edge. It supports the progress of entire industries and is revolutionising everything from the speed of key business processes to delivering deeper insight through big data analysis.
So, it is no surprise to find that new ways of doing things are always being tested and quickly adopted in the software space.
In this article, we explore open source and the risks involved and how to mitigate them in this approach to software development.
What Is Open Source?
Firstly we have to ask ourselves, what does the term ‘Open Source’ mean?
Source code is a collection of code written in a human-readable programming language. Software source code will tell people who view the code, exactly how that piece of software has been built and how it works.
Many software developers will keep their source code a closely guarded secret to stop others from copying their code and to stop people from changing how their software works. This is known as closed source software development.
However, those that take an open source approach don’t hide their source code. In fact, they let anyone see their code. For Open source, the author enables programmers to inspect and edit their own version of the software. Its a great collaboration tool, enabling programmers to examine each others work and offer their assistance at any time.
Naturally with most forms of technology, there are risks and open source software development is no different, however there are many advantages too, lets take a look:
Programming Errors Slipping Through the Cracks
By its very nature, open source software is open to anyone who is willing to agree to the terms set out by the original developers. In many ways this is great. However, it also has its downsides.
When anyone can access and edit a version of a piece of software, you are left with no guarantees that the results will be of the quality expected. This is especially true as many developers who work on open-source software do so in their spare time. This means that you can never specify the amount of time, skill and knowledge that will be applied to future development.
This risk is of minor concern as the original developers and assigned volunteers have the final say as to whether these edits can be approved and merged into the software. So, if a mistake in the code is made, anyone can offer their insight and fix the error which will then be reviewed and put live.
Although the volunteers are often knowledgeable about software development, there is no guarantee that they will know how to avoid or check for copyright infringements.
Once again, as the original developers and assigned volunteers determine what is implemented, there will be someone who has copyright knowledge and can check for infringements.
One big benefit to open source software is the fact that it allows developers to respond quickly to security issues. This can be seen as one benefit compared to closed source software, where any security issues can take substantial time to spot and remedy.
However, a lack of centralised control and monitoring of open source software can also mean that security issues are more common. This is because keeping on top of vulnerabilities can be a behemoth task, especially when potential hackers also have access to all the information that the project developers do.
This risk can be mitigated with a conscientious team of developers that can keep a close eye and track any changes that appear on the software. Closed source software is also at risk from hackers, if a hacker wants to get into your system, they’ll endeavor to do so regardless of the security measures.
Developers can monitor the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), which is used to help developers and volunteers to identify any potential vulnerabilities.
Like anything, there are certain risks associated with open-source software. However, many of these risks pale in significance when held up to the benefits of taking an open-source approach. The fact that so many developers can inspect and edit the software at the same time means that any issues will be spotted and rectified quickly. To add, only a certain number of people involved in the project can implement or merge the changes made, so the risk of jeopardising the software is very low.