Log4j: Google and IBM call for list of critical open source projects

After attending a meeting at the White House, Google also proposed creating an organization to serve as a marketplace for open source maintenance.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

Google and IBM are urging tech organizations to join forces to identify critical open source projects after attending a White House meeting on open source security concerns

The meeting, led by White House cybersecurity leader Anne Neuberger, included officials from organizations like Apache, Google, Apple, Amazon, IBM, Microsoft, Meta, Linux, and Oracle as well as government agencies like the Department of Defense and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). The meeting took place as organizations continue to address the Log4j vulnerability that has caused concern since it was discovered in December. 

Kent Walker, president of global affairs at Google and Alphabet, said that, given the importance of digital infrastructure to the world, it is time to start thinking of it in the same way we do our physical infrastructure. 

"Open source software is a connective tissue for much of the online world -- it deserves the same focus and funding we give to our roads and bridges," Walker said.

In a blog post, Walker explained that during the meeting, Google floated several proposals for how to move forward in the wake of the Log4j vulnerability. 

Walker said a public-private partnership is needed to identify a list of critical open source projects, and criticality should be determined based on the influence and importance of a project. The list will help organizations prioritize and allocate resources for the most essential security assessments and improvements.  

IBM's enterprise security executive Jamie Thomas echoed Walker's comments and said the White House meeting "made clear that government and industry can work together to improve security practices for open source."

"We can start by encouraging widespread adoption of open and sensible security standards, identifying critical open source assets that should meet the most rigorous security requirements, and promoting a collaborative national effort to expand skills training and education in open source security and reward developers who make important strides in the field," Thomas said. 

Walker touted the work of organizations like the OpenSSF -- which Google invested $100 million into -- that are already seeking to create standards like this. 

He also said Google proposed setting up an organization to serve as a marketplace for open source maintenance, matching volunteers from companies with the critical projects that most need support. He noted that Google was "ready to contribute resources" to the move. 

The blog post notes that there is no official resource allocation and few formal requirements or standards for maintaining the security of critical open source code. Most of the work to maintain and enhance the security of open source, including fixing known vulnerabilities, "is done on an ad hoc, volunteer basis."

"For too long, the software community has taken comfort in the assumption that open source software is generally secure due to its transparency and the assumption that 'many eyes' were watching to detect and resolve problems. But in fact, while some projects do have many eyes on them, others have few or none at all," Walker said. 

Joe Brockmeier, the Apache Software Foundation's vice president of marketing, said in a statement that there is no single "silver bullet" to solving the security issues inherent to the open source supply chain. He added that "the path forward will require upstream collaboration by the companies and organizations that consume and ship open source software."

Tech giant Akamai, which also had representatives at the White House meeting, backed many of the measures suggested by Google and IBM, adding that governments and the technology community need to build reliable containment plans for when exploits are identified, improve cross-government and industry information sharing when vulnerabilities are first identified and expand government authorization of solutions to increase defenses.

Boaz Gelbord, Akamai chief security officer, told ZDNet that a key takeaway from the meeting was the collective recognition that more needs to be done to support the open source community to thrive within the ever-evolving threat landscape. 

"As a prominent supporter of open source and open standards, Akamai sees a specific need for increased information sharing, strong vulnerability management, and building out containment plans to contain the blast radius of attacks," Gelbord said. "We look forward to expanding our efforts in the open source community and contributing to the important next steps coming out of this White House meeting."

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