Code Supply Chain Security

There have been a number of attacks in the last few years on source code. In fact, I saw a new one this week for an e-commerce WordPress plugin. This time hackers got access to the distribution server for the company, Fishpig, and altered the plug-ins that their customers download.

A few years ago this was big news, with the SolarWinds exploit. There was also an attack on PyPy, a popular Python package that many people include in their code.  There have been no shortages of problems in npm packages as well. I’m sure this has happened in other software packages, which is scary. In the days of DevOps where we publish code from a repository, an exploit against your developers might go unnoticed. Then again, maybe not.

Would any of us notice new code in a file share or a folder on our system? We might just compile a large project without realizing it. At least with DevOps, we have the opportunity to include security scans and code analysis checks, some of which could look for known patterns of exploits. I know some companies use these, and often compromised or vulnerable packages are stopped by the automated pipelines.

In the US, various security agencies have released a set of recommendations, as has the Open Source Security Foundation. Both of these are designed to help developers secure their supply chain against attacks. This is likely going to be a continuous problem for software vendors in the future as it’s much easier to attack one vendor whose software many people use than each individual company. I shudder to think about what happens if someone manages to get a ransomware package into a vendor’s codebase.

Ultimately, there will still be problems. Many new projects begin with poor practices precisely because they’re experiments and the authors don’t know if others will find the software valuable.  While we can have good templates and security controls, I’m not hopeful. To me, the best solution for stopping code is to have patterns detectable by security checks in the pipeline. Checks that can be expanded and enhanced as new issues are determined.

Of course, that means the makers of security software need to ensure their supply chain is protected as well.

Steve Jones

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