What Is Open Source Security Software?

Open source security software refers to security tools and solutions that are developed collaboratively and made available to the public for free under an open source license. Yes, that means the source code of the software is openly accessible, allowing anyone to view, modify, and distribute it per the terms of the license.

Open source software is different from proprietary software, which is copyrighted and remains the property of its owner or creator, and can only be used under predefined conditions.

Importantly, open source software is different from open source components. 

Open Source Software vs. Open Source Components

Think of open source software as a fully assembled car, ready to drive off the lot. It’s a complete package, developed and maintained with all the necessary components working together seamlessly. 

On the other hand, open source components are like individual parts of a car – like the engine, wheels, or brakes – that are openly available. These components can be integrated into various projects or software applications, allowing developers to build custom solutions.

Who Makes Open Source Security Software? 

Open source security software is typically developed by either a community of volunteers and enthusiasts, but some projects are initiated and maintained by companies or organizations. For example Suricata, an open source intrusion detection and prevention system (IDPS), is developed and maintained by the Open Information Security Foundation (OISF).

Examples of Open Source Security Tools

There are thousands of open source security tools available across different categories, including firewalls, vulnerability scanners, encryption, and application security. 

Here are just a few examples:

  • OpenVAS: A comprehensive vulnerability scanning tool that helps identify security issues in networks and applications.
  • OpenSSL: A widely used open source library that implements the SSL and TLS protocols for secure communication over networks.
  • ModSecurity: An open source web application firewall (WAF) module that provides protection against a range of attacks, including SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and remote file inclusion.

Why Use Open Source Security Software Instead of Enterprise Software?

While some enterprise companies do leverage open source security software, it’s more often leveraged by individuals and small businesses. Here’s why:

  • Cost: Open source security software is typically free to use, whereas enterprise security software often comes with licensing fees and additional costs for support, maintenance, and updates.
  • Transparency: Open source software offers complete transparency as users can inspect the source code, which allows for a high level of customization to meet specific requirements. Enterprise software, while customizable, may not offer the same level of transparency.

Risks of Using Open Source Security Software

Despite these advantages, individuals and businesses should carefully consider the risks of using open source security software. For example:

Lack of Comprehensive Features

Open source security solutions can lack the comprehensive features and functionalities found in enterprise security solutions. Likewise, open source development roadmaps may prioritize community needs over those of specific organizations, potentially delaying the addition of critical features. 

It’s also important to note that open source projects generally don’t offer mechanisms for enterprises to request specific features to meet unique organizational needs. This lack of tailored support can hinder an organization’s ability to quickly address emerging threats or compliance requirements, increasing the overall risk and operational burden.

To address these gaps, your team might need to invest in custom development or third-party integrations, increasing complexity and ongoing maintenance.

Integration Challenges

Integrating open source software into existing infrastructure can be challenging and expensive, especially when compatibility issues arise with other proprietary or legacy systems. 

Let’s say, for example, your development team uses a popular commercial IDE (Integrated Development Environment) with built-in security features. Integrating an open source SAST tool might require manual configuration or custom scripting to inject the SAST scans into the development workflow. This can be time-consuming to set up and maintain, potentially causing delays in identifying and fixing vulnerabilities during the development process.

Lack of Support and Accountability

Open source software often lacks dedicated support channels and service-level agreements (SLAs) compared to enterprise solutions. Users may rely on community forums or volunteer support, which can result in slower response times and limited accountability for resolving issues. Given the cost and consequences of a data breach, speed and accountability should really be non-negotiable. 

Inconsistent Updates

Unlike enterprise solutions, which typically come with guarantees of ongoing support and development, open source projects can be abandoned by their maintainers. In this case, companies using the open source tooling may find themselves without crucial updates and support. This inconsistency in maintenance can lead to prolonged periods without necessary security patches, leaving systems exposed to known vulnerabilities.

Security Vulnerabilities

Proprietary software is centrally designed, with standardized process for new additions and fixes. Open source is a bit more chaotic. The decentralized nature of development means that patches and updates may not be promptly released or widely adopted, leaving systems vulnerable to exploitation. 

And, because the software is indeed open, security vulnerabilities can be discovered and exploited more quickly than vulnerabilities in enterprise software.

Legal and Compliance Risks

Open source licenses vary widely, with a complex web of permissions, restrictions, and obligations. Managing these licenses across multiple open source security tools can be a significant burden for enterprises. Failure to comply with license terms can lead to legal risks such as copyright infringement or intellectual property disputes.

In contrast, enterprise security vendors provide software with clear licensing terms and handle ongoing compliance updates. They also dedicate resources to staying on top of evolving industry regulations to ensure their solutions meet the strictest compliance standards.


Open source security software’s reliance on community contributions and support can be a double-edged sword. While it fosters innovation, it can also create challenges in keeping pace with the ever-evolving threat landscape. If a project lacks active development or experienced maintainers, it may become outdated or vulnerable over time. This can leave enterprises exposed to novel threats and exploitation techniques as attackers constantly adapt their tactics. 

Enterprise security vendors, on the other hand, have dedicated resources to stay ahead of the curve. They employ security researchers and threat intelligence teams to continuously update their solutions and address emerging vulnerabilities.

Executive Order 14028 and Open Source Security Concerns

While open source software plays an important role in the security space, it has been the target of multiple supply chain attacks over the past several years. In fact, the US government’s Executive Order 14028 (EO 14028) highlights a growing focus on securing the software supply chain, including open source dependencies. Open source software is a significant part of this chain, and EO 14028 acknowledges potential security risks.

One key measure in EO 14028 is the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) requirement for vendors selling to the government. SBOMs provide transparency into software components, including open source. This suggests a growing government interest in understanding and managing security risks within the open source parts of the supply chain.

As we know, government regulations often influence broader industry practices. The SBOM requirement for government vendors could become a de facto standard across other sectors, leading to a heightened focus on open source security across industries.

Should I Choose an Open Source Security Tool?

Ultimately, every organization has different requirements for security solutions. But it’s essential you carefully evaluate your needs and obligations based on internal security expertise, compliance requirements, and IT infrastructure.

Consider open source security software if:

  • Your security team is comfortable managing updates and potential vulnerabilities in open source tools
  • Your team has experience auditing open source code for security risks
  • You’re comfortable relying on community forums for troubleshooting complex security issues
  • Your industry has lax compliance regulations regarding software audits and certifications
  • Your IT infrastructure is relatively small and manageable
  • You have the resources to integrate and manage multiple open source security tools effectively

Consider enterprise security software if:

  • Your security teams’ expertise doesn’t lie in managing open source vulnerabilities
  • Vendor support for security issues would be valuable to your organization
  • You’re looking for an easy-to-configure and user-friendly security solution
  • You handle highly sensitive data, where robust security measures are crucial
  • Documented audit trails and compliance certifications are required or beneficial
  • You have a vast and complex IT infrastructure that requires a scalable security solution
  • A unified enterprise security solution would be easier to manage than integrating multiple open source tools

Enterprise Companies Shouldn’t Rely on Open Source Software

While open source security software may be the right choice for some organizations, they’re not the best option for enterprises. Let’s recap why:

  • Lack of Comprehensive Features: Open source solutions often lack the extensive features and functionalities found in enterprise security software, necessitating custom development and third-party integrations.
  • Integration Challenges: Integrating open source software into existing infrastructure can be complex and time-consuming, especially when dealing with compatibility issues with proprietary or legacy systems.
  • Lack of Support and Accountability: Open source software typically lacks dedicated support channels and SLAs, resulting in slower response times and limited accountability for resolving issues.
  • Inconsistent Updates and Maintenance: Open source projects can be abandoned, leading to inconsistent updates and a lack of necessary security patches, leaving systems vulnerable.
  • Legal and Compliance Risks: Managing varied open source licenses can be burdensome, with the risk of non-compliance leading to legal issues such as copyright infringement or intellectual property disputes.

How Can Cycode Protect Your Enterprise Application Security Environment?

Cycode is a complete Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) platform that offers all the benefits of a robust enterprise security solution, and the flexibility to ingest data from open source software if necessary via seamless integrations

Unlike other ASPM vendors, Cycode’s scanners are proprietary and home-grown. We don’t rely on any open source components. That means security professionals and developers have ultimate peace of mind, from code to cloud.

Want to learn more about Cycode? Book a demo now.