Open source bugs have skyrocketed in the last year, according to a report from open source licence management and security software vendor WhiteSource.

The number of open source bugs sat steady at just over 4,000 in 2017 and 2018, the report said, having more than doubled the number of bugs from pre-2017 figures that had never before broken the 2,000 mark.

Then, 2019’s numbers soared again, topping 6,000 for the first time, said WhiteSource, representing a rise of almost 50%.

By far the most common weakness enumeration (CWE – a broad classifier of different bug types) in the open source world is cross-site scripting (XSS). This kind of flaw accounted for almost one in four bugs and was the top for all languages except C. This was followed by improper input validation, buffer errors, out-of-bound reads, and information exposure. Use after free, another memory flaw, came in last with well under 5% of errors.

WhiteSource had some harsh words for the national vulnerability database (NVD), which it said only contains 84% of the open source vulnerabilities that exist. It adds that many of these vulnerabilities are reported in other places first and only make it into the NVD much later.

It also criticised the common vulnerability scoring system (CVSS), which was launched in 2005 and was recently upgraded to 3.1. It said that the system has changed the way it scores bugs over time, tending towards higher scoring. WhiteSource complained:

[…] how can we expect teams to prioritise vulnerabilities efficiently when over 55% are high-severity or critical?

FIRST, which organises CVSS, didn’t reply to our request for comment but we will update this article if they do.

Expect to see the number of bugs rise over time, predicted the report. It pointed to GitHub’s recently announced Security Lab as a key development in open source bug reporting. GitHub, which hosts many open source products, has an embedded disclosure process that will encourage project maintainers to report vulnerabilities, it said.

The 2017 bug spike isn’t specific to open source, which happens to be WhiteSource’s focus here. We saw a corresponding spike in general bugs as reported in the CVE database in 2017. However, the number of overall bugs reported as CVEs actually dipped below 2017 levels last year.

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