How to Secure Application Dependencies Against Known Vulnerabilities

November 26, 20234 min read

When developing an application, managing and securing its dependencies is crucial. Dependencies, which are external code libraries or packages that an application relies on to function, can contain vulnerabilities that might be exploited by attackers. To minimize risk, it’s important to follow a set of best practices.

Inventory Your Dependencies

  • Catalogue Every Dependency: Keep an up-to-date list of all the libraries and packages your application uses across all its parts, including back-end, front-end, and any sub-components.
  • Understand Dependency Trees: Dependencies often have their own dependencies, which can create complicated trees. Understanding this hierarchy can help you determine where vulnerabilities might reside.

Keep Dependencies Up-to-Date

  • Automate Updates: Use tools that automatically check for and apply updates for your dependencies. This ensures you receive security updates promptly.
  • Version Pinning: Pin your dependencies to specific versions and only update after reviewing changes to avoid introducing breaking changes or unexpected behaviors.
  • Subscribe to Security Alerts: Most dependencies are managed via package management systems that can notify you when a vulnerability is discovered in a package you’re using.

Vet New Dependencies

  • Conduct Code Reviews: Before adding a new dependency, review its code—when feasible—for clear signs of vulnerabilities or suspicious activity.
  • Check the Dependency’s Track Record: Investigate the dependency’s history for past vulnerabilities and how quickly and effectively they were addressed.
  • Evaluate Community and Support: Consider if the dependency is widely used and supported. A larger community often means more scrutiny and quicker fixes for issues.

Use Automated Scanners and Audit Tools

  • Static Analysis Security Testing (SAST): Implement SAST tools that scan your dependencies’ source code for known types of vulnerabilities.
  • Software Composition Analysis (SCA): Utilize SCA tools that particularly look at the composition of your dependencies to identify any with known vulnerabilities or licensing issues.

Secure Your Build Process

  • Control the Build Environment: Ensure that your build server is secure and that only authorized personnel can initiate builds or alter the process.
  • Secure Deployment Keys and Credentials: Protect any keys and credentials required during build or deployment to prevent unauthorized use or access.
  • Reproducible Builds: Make sure your build process is reproducible and that it can be verified for integrity, ensuring dependencies haven’t been tampered with.

Implement Dependabot or Similar Tools

  • Setup Dependabot: GitHub’s Dependabot, or similar tools, can be set up to automatically monitor dependencies for known vulnerabilities and create pull requests to update them.
  • Customize Configuration: Customize the settings of these tools to manage pull requests, update schedules, and prioritize security updates.

Employ Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)

  • Automate Security Checks: Integrate dependency security checks into your CI/CD pipeline to catch issues before deployment.
  • Break the Build on Security Issues: Configure your pipeline to fail builds if security vulnerabilities are found, ensuring they are addressed immediately.

Engage in Regular Security Auditing

  • Conduct Periodic Audits: Regularly audit your dependencies, even if there have been no updates, to ensure there are no new vulnerabilities.
  • Review and Refresh Your Practices: Stay updated on best practices for dependency management and integrate them into your processes.

Educate Your Team

  • Promote Security Best Practices: Make sure all team members are aware of the importance of secure dependency management.
  • Regular Training: Provide regular training sessions on new tools, updates, and strategies for maintaining secure dependencies.

By following these detailed strategies, organizations can significantly reduce the risks associated with application dependencies and create a more robust security posture for their software development lifecycle.