Developer Sabotages Open-Source Software Package
Schneier on Security
2022 03 21
This is a big deal:
A developer has been caught adding malicious code to a popular open-source package that wiped files on computers located in Russia and Belarus as part of a protest that has enraged many users and raised concerns about the safety of free and open source software.
The application, node-ipc, adds remote interprocess communication and neural networking capabilities to other open source code libraries. As a dependency, node-ipc is automatically downloaded and incorporated into other libraries, including ones like Vue.js CLI, which has more than 1 million weekly downloads.
The node-ipc update is just one example of what some researchers are calling protestware. Experts have begun tracking other open source projects that are also releasing updates calling out the brutality of Russia’s war. This spreadsheet lists 21 separate packages that are affected.
One such package is es5-ext, which provides code for the ECMAScript 6 scripting language specification. A new dependency named postinstall.js, which the developer added on March 7, checks to see if the user’s computer has a Russian IP address, in which case the code broadcasts a “call for peace.”
It constantly surprises non-computer people how much critical software is dependent on the whims of random programmers who inconsistently maintain software libraries. Between log4j and this new protestware, it’s becoming a serious vulnerability. The White House tried to start addressing this problem last year, requiring a “software bill of materials” for government software:
…the term “Software Bill of Materials” or “SBOM” means a formal record containing the details and supply chain relationships of various components used in building software. Software developers and vendors often create products by assembling existing open source and commercial software components. The SBOM enumerates these components in a product. It is analogous to a list of ingredients on food packaging. An SBOM is useful to those who develop or manufacture software, those who select or purchase software, and those who operate software. Developers often use available open source and third-party software components to create a product; an SBOM allows the builder to make sure those components are up to date and to respond quickly to new vulnerabilities. Buyers can use an SBOM to perform vulnerability or license analysis, both of which can be used to evaluate risk in a product. Those who operate software can use SBOMs to quickly and easily determine whether they are at potential risk of a newly discovered vulnerability. A widely used, machine-readable SBOM format allows for greater benefits through automation and tool integration. The SBOMs gain greater value when collectively stored in a repository that can be easily queried by other applications and systems. Understanding the supply chain of software, obtaining an SBOM, and using it to analyze known vulnerabilities are crucial in managing risk.
It’s not a solution, but it’s a start.