GitHub wants to make it easier and safer to report open-source software vulnerabilities

Open-source software projects hosted on the repository will now be able to receive vulnerability disclosures from researchers through a new private channel.

BRAZIL - 2022/06/13: In this photo illustration, the homepage of the GitHub website seen on a computer screen through a magnifying glass. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
BRAZIL - 2022/06/13: In this photo illustration, the homepage of the GitHub website seen on a computer screen through a magnifying glass. (Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

GitHub wants to avoid surprise disclosures of zero-day vulnerabilities in open-source software projects with the debut of private vulnerability reporting on the platform.

The service, announced on Wednesday, aims to make it more straightforward for a security researcher who finds an open-source vulnerability to report the issue to the project's maintainers, according to Justin Hutchings, director of product management at GitHub.

And for maintainers of open-source projects hosted on the repository, "we want to really take those barriers down so that those developers aren't surprised about the security problems on their own project," Hutchings told Protocol.

"One of the worst things that we hear about from developers is that they'll find out through Twitter that somebody reported a [vulnerability] on a project of theirs, and they never heard about it," he said.

"They then have their users coming to them and asking, 'Do you have a fix for this problem?' And they say, 'What problem?'" Hutchings said. "And that is just not a good day for anybody involved in open source."

A common issue is that security researchers do attempt to contact open-source maintainers to disclose vulnerabilities, but often the reports end up going to individuals that weren't prepared to receive the reports and hadn't developed a process to respond to them, Hutchings said.

As a result, "oftentimes they get ignored," he said. “It's not malice. It's just the process isn't built for success.”

The problem is particularly acute outside of the most high-profile open-source projects, Hutchings noted.

In response, GitHub’s new private channel will allow open-source maintainers and researchers to privately discuss vulnerabilities within the bounds of the platform. The Microsoft-owned code repository reports having more than 90 million users.

Private vulnerability reporting will be free on GitHub, Hutchings said, and it's now available as a public beta with plans to make it generally available in early 2023.

The goal is to "really make a difference in reducing how many times we have zero-days where the entire open-source community ended up surprised, and has to scramble to create patches," he said.

The service was announced Wednesday in connection with the GitHub Universe 2022 conference, and comes amid growing concerns in enterprise and government about the security risks posed by open-source software components. GitHub has been tackling the issue in a variety of ways, from making it easier for developers to use its database of known vulnerabilities to announcing a forthcoming two-factor authentication requirement.

On Wednesday, GitHub also disclosed other security-related updates including general availability for support of the Ruby programming language.

Outside of security, GitHub announced that seat licenses for its AI-powered code suggestion tool, Copilot, will "soon" be available for purchase by businesses.

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