Beware Open Source Violations Lurking in Your Code

As open source rises in popularity, so too does the likelihood that licensing violations have seeped into your applications.

IT organizations that feel safe from open source licensing violations might be wise to check their code, as open source components are rapidly seeping into applications by way of offshore and in-house developers taking open source shortcuts, as well as a growing population of open source-savvy grads entering the workforce.

"With all of these new aspects, open source is something companies are going to have to get their heads around," says Anthony Armenta, vice president of engineering at Wyse Technology, a maker of thin clients.

[ For more on the future of open source, see InfoWorld's roundtable on the state of open source. ]

It's not just about unearthing open source code that's in violation of licensing, either. Open source must be managed like any other software component, as security vulnerabilities arise and patches become available. Wyse has been using Palamida, which checks code bases against a 6TB library of known open source projects, fingerprints, and binary files, to track its open source usage for the past year.

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Last year, Palamida added open source vulnerability alerts and other security-related features to its service. Today, the company announced both electronic delivery of vulnerability updates and unique identifiers to better manage open source code.

One Palamida customer, a commercial software vendor, discovered nearly 24 million lines of undocumented open source among the 60 million lines in its core product's code base, Palamida says. Another Palamida customer found that it had received open source code from a third-party developer, in violation of their agreement.

Wyse, which today announced a deal with Novell to distribute Suse Linux Enterprise on its thin clients, has had to tread carefully with its proprietary code as it has deepened its reliance on open source components.

"We need to carefully track the [intellectual property] we're creating inside Wyse and keep it separate from the open source that we use," says Wyse's Armenta. "We also need to make sure that the code that comes from vendors and partners is clean, in good shape, and has a good security profile."

For Armenta, the open source journey has been educational. Where open source and proprietary code tread close together, Wyse has had to clean up some of its code. One such nexus lies between Wyse's proprietary software for multimedia acceleration and its use of open source GStreamer for multimedia playback.

Meanwhile, some open source components Wyse installed only six months ago have "exposures," while others from third-party developers are quickly becoming dated and must be addressed at the next revision cycle.

But open source management is still in its infancy, despite the rising popularity of open source among developers. "Palamida's technology is for inventorying [and] cannot have insight into the code," says Joseph Feiman, an analyst at Gartner. "Another problem is that enterprises don't have a rigorous process for not taking from open source. You might have better or worse policies -- or no policies -- but there is a growing understanding that checking should be done."

Nevertheless, companies should get serious about managing their use of open source code sooner rather than later, says Armenta.

"If you can catch [open source] when the engineer is thinking about using an open source project, and you can get a legal and management review right away, that's cost-effective," Armenta says. "If it's already in the code and you're in beta, that's not where you want to find this kind of stuff."

This story, "Beware Open Source Violations Lurking in Your Code" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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