• 201002.16

    Is Open Source too open?

    I recently read a post on a web development firm's blog (anonymous to protect them and myself). It was talking about how open-source web software is inferior to closed-source. The main reasoning was that open-source allows attackers to find vulnerabilities just by sifting through the code. The company touts their proprietary CMS as better than Drupal or Wordpress because only they (and their customers, heh) see the source code. Therefore it's rock solid.

    I was kind of blown away by this. Obviously it's a marketing ploy to scare unknowing customers into using them instead of doing a simple Wordpress install, but it's blatantly wrong and I feel the need to respond. Oddly enough, their blog is in Wordpress. Hmm.

    First off, all software has vulnerabilities. All servers have vulnerabilities. Yes, it's easier to find them if you know the setup or know the code, but from what I've seen in my lifetime of computer work is this: if someone wants to hack your site, they will. If there is a vulnerability, they will find it. And as I just said, all software has vulnerabilities. It's stupid to assume that because the source is only readily available to people who pay you money and the people who work on their site after you that no vulnerabilities will ever be found. They will be found. Look at Google. They were just hacked by China. Does Google open source their Gmail app? No, completely closed-source. But someone wanted to hack them, so they got hacked. That's what happens. Also, if your proprietary CMS is written in PHP, Python, Ruby, Perl, etc etc...you're still using open source. Someone could attack the site at the language level. Does it make sense to now develop your own closed-source programming language so nobody will ever be able to hack it?

    Secondly, most well-known open-source software has been around a very long time and has had hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people using it. This means that over time, it gets battle-hardened. The common and not-so-common vulnerabilities are found, leaving the users with the latest versions a rock-solid code base that has gone through thousands of revisions to be extremely secure. With open-source, you've got hundreds of eyes looking over everything that's added/changed/removed at all times. With proprietary code, you get a few pairs of eyes at best, with much fewer installs, much fewer revisions to harden and secure.

    Is open-source better than proprietary? If you're poor, most likely, but otherwise they both have their good and bad points. The main point of this article isn't to bash proprietary software at all, it's to refute the claim that because the source is open the product is less secure. I believe the exact opposite, in fact. If your code is open for everyone to look at, you damn well better be good at seeing vulnerabilities before they even get deployed...and if you don't catch it, someone else developing the project probably will.

    Is open source too open? Hell no.