Open-source vs Proprietary Software - Which One Is More Secure?
author By Urvashi Melwani
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Open-source vs Proprietary Software - Which One Is More Secure?

author By Urvashi Melwani Sep 6, 2019
open-source-vs-proprietary-software-which-one-is-more-secure
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Today, IT security is paramount to succeed in business. Enterprises are spending hefty amount on security than ever before. Progress in both security and hacking technologies such as intrusion detection systems, honey pots, honeynets, and other various security-related hardware and software solutions are showcasing the pressing need for transformation in the information security domain.

One of the reports by Gartner cited that enterprises in India alone are going to spend laboriously on the information security front which will mark up to US$2 billion in 2020.

The increasing awareness on the benefits of the risk assessment and the realization of the fact that security is one of the driving forces for digital transformation are boosting enterprise security globally. 

The battle between open-source and proprietary software has been throwing a fit since long. Multiple issues and concerns are being examined and scrutinized by both sides of the story. In the most recent phase of this fanatical dispute, both camps have inspected the issue of security with serious tenacity.

Having said that, let’s take a sneak peek into this blog for further insights on the same.

Myths Are Meant to Be Debunked

Proprietary software is more secure than open-source software. This myth comes from many prejudices. But a commercial license doesn’t assure security. Unlike proprietary software, open-source software is transparent about potential vulnerabilities.

#Myth1: Anyone can view the code 

Because it is open source, anyone can view the code. People often want to argue that being able to view the code allows nefarious hackers to look at it and exploit vulnerabilities.

However, this openness enables collaboration. Unlike, say, one proprietary software, which is developed and is maintained by a single company, Drupal is developed and maintained by more than one hundred thousand programmers around the world. These programmers might work for companies that compete with each other, or they might volunteer to create something new that’s then given away. For free.


In fact, in 2015 Google open sourced its artificial intelligence engine, TensorFlow. Something which is a core part of its business. It hoped more developers would make the software better as they adapted it to their own needs. And it did, by making it open source, Google boasts of more than 1,300 developers, outside Google, have worked on TensorFlow making it one of the standard frameworks for developing AI applications, which could bolster its cloud-hosted AI services. 

#Myth2: Proprietary software are secure and not prone to attacks

There have been multiple instances in the past that depicts that proprietary software has been attacked several times. Such as:

Melissa Virus and ILoveYou Worm - spread through Microsoft Word email attachments. The email contained attachment. If the victim’s system had the Microsoft outlook application installed, then the virus would send the email to 50 too all contacts in the Outlook program’s address book. would also overwrite & consequently destroy various types of files on the victim’s device including MP3 files, JPEG files, and more. It led Microsoft to shut down its inbound email system.

Wannacry - a worldwide cyberattack that took place in 2017. It was a ransomware crypto worm attack that aimed at computers using Windows operating systems, encrypting all the files on hard drives on these machines. It didn’t let users access the files until they paid a ransom in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

The WannaCry attack impacted major entities all over the world, such as the National Health Service in Britain and Scotland, the University of Montreal in Canada, State Government websites in India, and Russian Railways.

With that said, it's evident that proprietary software is also easily vulnerable to attacks!

Although countermeasures like anti-virus programs and security patches were implemented to mitigate the threats and weaknesses, the long-term and especially exorbitant effects of these dangers have been engraved for permanent into the memories of people all over the world. This is because these attacks not only damaged vital electronic data but also shut down business operations and services, and facilitated malicious infiltration and theft of money & proprietary information.

History of Open source Software

The term “open-source”, popular since its inception in the late 70s and early 80s has come from a revolution, “open-source revolution”, which completely revamped the way software is developed- resulting in the birth of the community-generated software development method.

Box with text written inside it

In 1971, Richard Stallman, a young software engineer from Harvard, joined the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab with the intent of developing computing platforms. After serving for a few years in the early 1980s, the MIT Lab became extinct due to the booming of proprietary software in the market and lost its talented developers to privately held tech companies.

Stallman, who was closely involved in the field knew customers’ software requirements believed customers should be empowered enough to fix and debug the software themselves instead of simply operating it.

“Users should be empowered enough to fix and debug the software themselves-instead of simply operating it”

The majority of software until now was controlled in its entirety by the developer where individual user rights were completely discarded. This was also a pain point for MIT AI Lab since they failed to incorporate this feature into their software development strategies.

The Disembarkation of the Free Software Movement

But this was until 1984. Post evaluation, Stallman began his GNU Project. Initiating with a compiler, GCC and a new operating systems-Stallman felt that GNU project was the major turning point in the evolution of free software community.

“The Free Software Foundation was formulated to let users run the software as they wanted”

Stallman believed that software should be available for free in terms of accessibility. Hence, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) was formulated so that users can run, modify, update, and disseminate software in the community.

Later on, he also introduced the concept of copyleft, wherein a program is first copyrighted, and then additional distribution terms are added for its further use.

Challenges Associated With Proprietary CMS 

Proprietary CMS comes up with a set of restrictions which makes it less flexible in comparison to open-source software. 

“The contribution and development teams of proprietary cms are smaller, which makes it evident that there is a probability of missing out on mistakes and bugs in the code”

It might appear that closed source software or proprietary software is more secure since the code is not available. But unfortunately, it is not the case! The contribution and development teams of proprietary CMS are smaller, which makes it evident that there is a probability of missing out on mistakes and bugs in the code.

You might not know what issues the proprietary system has had in the past, or is having currently because the provider of the proprietary CMS isn’t going to voluntarily reveal this information. This sets a major drawback for proprietary CMS users in terms of security as well.

Let’s further see the challenges associated with proprietary CMS-

Not many customizations options

Since these proprietary CMS are developed for a specific kind of industry and audience, it gets difficult to customize the website to fit the exact needs of the people. Users are not building their system so it's obvious that they will have limited flexibility options.

Portability is beyond the bounds of possibility

Users don’t have an option to extract data and files out of their system with a proprietary solution. They are quite restricted because they won’t be able to even move their website from one hosting service to another.

“Several CMS vendors don’t upgrade their platforms, so it's better to do a bit of research first and then jump onto doing business with a vendor”

You don’t have any option other than trusting the company blindly

Since the company owns the platform and the storage space your website will be built upon, you’ll have to manifest a lot of trust into your vendor. They will have to continuously develop and refine their software, to handle their consumers’ needs better. The vendor should also be in reach whenever you need assistance with your website

Several CMS vendors don’t upgrade their platforms, so it's better to do a bit of research first and then jump onto doing business with a vendor.

You are just renting software

Even if you have bought the proprietary CMS, you won’t own the code it's built with. It is not yours and hence requires a monthly rent from you, to keep your website running.

Benefits of Open-source Software

“People in the open-source community come forward to find solutions, assist each other, and to share extensions that would benefit the masses”

  • It is open-source!

This implies that the source code is available for anyone who wishes to study it, analyze it, and modify it in any way.

Thanks to this feature that people can easily extend the code and add specific functionalities as per their requirements.

  • An open-source CMS is maintained by the large community

There is always a primary group of developers, similar to WordPress but it is also supported by its user base. People in the open-source community come forward to find solutions, assist each other, and to share extensions that would benefit the masses.

Rectangle with various lengths of horizontal bar
Source: Sas.com

  • An open-source CMS can be hosted ubiquitously

Most of them, like Drupal, offers one-click installs in the control panel of the accompanying hosting service, which again is very user-friendly and comfortable.

  • The CMS software itself is usually free of cost

You can easily make use of plenty of extensions, themes, and a variety of tools for free. However, there are plenty of paid extensions and themes as well. Some solutions can only be leveraged with paid software. An open-source CMS is usually the most budget-friendly solution.

Alternatives to Proprietary Software

It is interesting to see that there are so many open-source software alternatives for the existing proprietary software which are equivalent or more reliable, secure, and flexible. 

If you are contemplating to migrate from proprietary software to open-source, you can surely - that too with ease!

Software Category

Proprietary Software

Equivalent Open-source Software

Operating System

Microsoft Windows

Linux Ubuntu

Browser

Internet Explorer

Mozilla Firefox

Office automation

Microsoft Office

Open Office

MATHWORKS

MATLAB

Sci Lab

Graphics Tool

Adobe Photoshop

GIMP(GNU Image Manipulation Program

Drafting tool

Auto CAD

Archimedes

Web Editors

Adobe Dreamweaver

NVU

Desktop Publishing

Adobe Acrobat

PDF Creator

Blogs

Blogger

WordPress

Mobile

IOS

Android

Media Player

Windows Media Player

VLC Player

Database

Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server

My SQL, Mongo DB, HADOOP

Server

Microsoft Window Server

Red Hat Server, Ubuntu Server

Web Server

IIS

Apache

Open-source Security in Drupal

Drupal, having a proven track record of being the most secure CMS, has been rolling with punches against critical internet susceptibleness. Thanks to Drupal security team for earnestly finding anomalies, authenticating them, and responding to security issues.  

The responsibilities of the security team include documentation of these identifications and alterations made so that developers don’t feel heebie-jeebies when faced with similar kind of situation.

“Drupal community comprises of over 100,000 contributors towards its enhancement”

Besides, the team also assists the infrastructure team to keep the Drupal.org infrastructure secure. They ensure that any security issues for code hosted on Drupal are reviewed, reported, and solved in the shortest period possible.

Important features that make Drupal 8 the best WCMS in regards to Security-

  • The Security Working Group (SecWBG) ensures that Drupal core and Drupal’s contributed project ecosystem provides a secure platform while ensuring that the best practices are followed.
  • The community makes sure that people are notified the day patches are released, which are released every Wednesday for contributed projects, and the third Wednesday of every month for core, usually for a fixed period.
  • Drupal abides by the OWASP ( Open Web Application Security Project) standards and its community is devoted towards prevention of any security breaches.
  • Drupal community comprises of over 100,000 contributors towards its enhancement. An open-source code base, where contributed modules are properly reviewed, verified, and sent a notification if that module is acceptable for use.
  • Apart from encrypting and hashing the passwords, Drupal provides those modules which can support two-step authentication and SSL certificates.
  • Any member can make changes to Drupal modules and report any issues or bugs that occur in their system.
  • Access controls offered by Drupal is a superb feature. Dedicated accounts can be created for certain user roles with specified permissions. For instance, you can create separate user accounts for Admin and Editor.
  • It’s multibranched cache structure that assists in reducing Denial of Service (DoS) attacks and makes it as the best CMS for some of the world’s highest traffic websites like NASA, the University of Oxford, Grammys, Pfizer, etc.

Statistics Says It All

Sucuri, a security platform for websites, curated the “Hacked website report 2018”. It evaluated more than 34,000 compromised websites. Among the statistics it shared, one of the factors was to juxtapose the affected open-source CMS applications.

drupal-sucuri

The results were clearly on Drupal’s side declaring it a better WCMS than other leading platforms for preventing safety hazards.

The infection crept in these websites due to improper deployment, configuration, and maintenance.

Additionally, Cloud Security Report by Alert Logic also marked Drupal as the website content management system with the least number of web application attacks.11 Columns and 8 rows with text written inside them                                                                        Source: Alert Logic

Difference Between Open-source and Proprietary Software

Factor

Open-source

Proprietary

Cost

Open-source software is free which makes it an alluring option if you have in-house capacities to meet your business requirements.



Proprietary software costs differently from a couple of thousand dollars to one hundred thousand dollars, depending upon the multifaceted nature of the framework needed.

 

Service and support

Open-source software communities of developers are huge and steadfast which helps clients with prompt solutions to their problems.

Proprietary software vendors offer progressing backing to clients- a key offering point for clients without specialized mastery.

Innovation

Open-source software boosts innovation by providing users the opportunity to modify, append, or distribute as per their requirements.

Proprietary software vendors don’t permit its users to view or adjust the source code, thus making it unfit for organizations who desire scalability and flexibility.

Only developers can incorporate new features to the product as and when requested by users.

Security

As open-source code is available to everybody, it increases the possibility of finding more vulnerabilities easily. 

It is also worth noting that open-source communities fixed security vulnerabilities twice as quickly as commercial software vendors do.



Proprietary software is considered secure as it is developed in a governed condition of the employees having a frequent direction.

However, getting rid of the possibility of backdoor Trojans as well as lowering the threat of any other bugs or obstacles can be troublesome in proprietary software.



Availability

Open-source software is available for free on the web with 24*7 support from the community.




Proprietary software is accessible if the companies have the rights to the bundle or they have purchased from the respective vendors.

The trial version is also accessible for free to test.

Flexibility

As organizations aim at deriving more business values from less, open-source software can deliver high flexibility, lower IT costs and increased opportunities for innovation.



With proprietary software, such as Microsoft Windows, and Office, companies are required to upgrade both software and hardware on a timely basis. Updates must be installed for the proper working. However, not all updates are flexible with all the versions of the software.

In The End

Website security has always been a cause of hindrance in the journey of digital transformation and survival due to several potential threats. 

Open-source software can be considered as a befitting solution than a closed source or proprietary software. Further, this report indicates that there is an obvious desire among companies to adopt open-source technology and also prioritize the task of enhancing security in their organization.
Rectangle with text written inside Source: Gartner

However, it all depends on the preferences and needs of the organization and the on-going project for their digital business.

Drupal, an open-source content management framework, comes out as the most secure CMS in comparison to the leading players in the market.

It has been the pacesetter when it comes to opting the security focussed CMS. More individuals working on and reviewing the product always means a higher chance of a secure product!

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