Hidden Risk of Unpopularity in Open Source (2021)

By Chujiao Ma & Vaibhav Garg, Comcast Cable

Software development across the industry relies on the use of open source components (OSCs). Because these components are open-sourced, there is an assumption that these components are tested for security by third party researchers or open source communities. A vulnerability in a popular component can have ripple effects across the ecosystem. Consequently, more popular components are more likely to attract the attention of third-party researchers or the community. Less popular components are thus often left unexamined and potentially vulnerable. In this paper we propose a model to identify OSCs that create the greatest attack surface. Specifically, we propose a metric called relative popularity ratio and use it to risk rank a set of JavaScript OSCs. We further refine the ranking using observable properties of code, such as number of lines of code. We then validate the efficacy of this metric by engaging third party university researchers to find vulnerabilities. Our results conclude that the hidden risk from unpopular OSCs is concentrated and can thus be addressed by small investments in the security analyses of OSCs.

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