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Devs spanked for touching vulnerable open-source packages

Broken code often reused while fixes left on the shelf

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Developers are sucking buggy open-source programming frameworks off the web unaware that newer fixed versions exist, according to a new report.

Packages of the Google Web Toolkit, the Spring Model View Controller, and Apache's Struts and Xerces have been downloaded millions of times despite the fact they contain known vulnerabilities - as evidenced by a trawl through the Sonatype.org central repository.

In a joint effort, Sonatype and Aspect Security tallied more than 46 million downloads of out-of-date versions of 31 of the most popular open-source libraries and web frameworks.

One in three of the most popular components were downloaded with holes despite the existence of new versions complete with security fixes.

The research found that dodgy components are going into most of the world's program code: 80 per cent of "typical software applications" are open-source components and frameworks compiled into binary form. The 500 biggest companies downloaded more than 2.8 million packages with holes in one year, according to the study.

Aspect Security boss Jeff Williams called the data "a wake-up call" for software development organisations.

"While the numbers from this report are staggering, the takeaway is clear - open-source software is critical to forward-thinking development organizations, but there must be education and control to accompany its usage," he said.

Earlier this year, code testing specialist Coverity revealed in its annual report that the quality of open-source code was on a par with the closed stuff.

Analysing 37 million lines of code from 45 of the most active open-source projects Coverity found the number of defects per thousand lines of code was 0.45. Linux 2.6, PHP 5.3 and PostgreSQL 9.1 scored best.

That's compared to 0.64 in 300 million lines of code from 41 proprietary codebases. The industry average defect density is conveniently 1.0.

Coverity said those who commit to ensuring software quality by adopting development testing will "reap the benefits of high code quality and continue to see quality improvements over time". ®

Reducing security risks from open source software

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