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Is Open Source Software More Secure than Commercial Software?

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If you’ve ever wanted to avoid shelling out your cash for a proprietary software like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop, then you’ve no doubt considered downloading an open-source alternative. Depending on your needs, open-source software can be a better choice for you than a proprietary software — the quality and development may both be on par with commercial software.

But when it comes to security, how does open source software compare?

Open source vs. closed source software

Before getting into security, let’s look at the major differences between open and closed source software.

Commercial software, also called closed source or proprietary software, holds the source code of the software encrypted so that users cannot copy or modify it without legal consequences. Before using a closed source software, you generally must purchase it and agree to an End User License Agreement, which restricts what you can do with the software. Open source software is the opposite, and the code in open source software is accessible to everyone. 

Quality

You might expect open source software to be lower-quality, since the code isn’t proprietary and open source software is usually free. But depending on the size and influence of the open source software, its quality often matches that of closed source. With a large number of people working on software, problems are found and resolved quickly.

Development

If you’re using a closed source software and there’s a bug, you have to wait until the company that developed it releases an update. Open source software, on the other hand, receives constant updates as developers all over the world can modify the code at any time. If you use open source software, you’ll continue to get the latest versions as long as the community around the software is large enough.

Open source software: more secure?

Open and closed source software have major distinctions when it comes to quality, price, and development. The two software models also differ on security.

With open source software, you can expect the code to be reviewed by a lot of experts, on a near-consistent basis. Some larger open-source projects even offer cash rewards to developers who can find bugs in their code (contests known as “bug bounties”). Open source software is also customizable. If you have security concerns, you can review the code yourself, and disable any functions that seem less secure.

Making the blanket statement that “all open source software is more secure” wouldn’t be accurate, however. Open source software makes its code available for review, which increases the likelihood that security vulnerabilities are found and corrected quickly. Closed source software may be secure as well, but you have to trust the developers and company who made it. For this reason, open source software has a reputation of being a better option for those concerned about security.

Can open source software be hacked?

Despite the security reputation open source software has, it’s possible for open source projects to be hacked. The targets of malicious actors are usually smaller projects that don’t have enough developers to vet each other’s code properly. Hackers may try to gain the trust of the project’s contributors so they can insert malicious code without anyone noticing. Because open source projects are both flexible and available to the general public, they’re easy attack vectors for criminals.

The bottom line with open source software and security is that all software will have security vulnerabilities and there will always be hackers looking to exploit them. The good news is that you can determine yourself if an open source software has security issues or not.

How to find secure open source software

The best way to find open source software is to do your research. If you’re interested in downloading a particular software, check how active the community around it is. Read through the history of the project and look for previous security issues. Also, see if the product has any independent audits by experts in the security field.

In addition to researching an open source software’s history, make sure you’re downloading the most recent version. Once you’re running the software, always ensure your code is up to date using automated security tools.

Proprietary software and their open source alternatives

If this article made you want to seek out free, open source alternatives to your proprietary software, then check out the below list of popular commercial software and their open source counterparts.

  • Closed source: Microsoft Word. Open source: Libre Office
  • Closed source: Windows. Open source: Linux
  • Closed source: Adobe Photoshop. Open source: GIMP
  • Closed source: Google Chrome. Open source: Mozilla Firefox
  • Closed source: YouTube. Open source: PeerTube
  • Closed source: Windows Media Player. Open source: VLC Media Player 
  • Closed source: Microsoft Office Outlook. Open source: Thunderbird
  • Closed source: Grammarly. Open source: LanguageTool.

If you’re ever looking for a free, open source alternative to a proprietary software, you can check on alternativeto.net, which lets users search and vote on software and applications that are similar to each other.

Open source software and security

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if open source software works better for your needs or not. If you’re concerned about security and don’t mind tinkering with your software’s functionality a bit, then open source software is likely the better choice for you.

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