When developing new software and algorithms, companies’ number one concern is that they do the job they are meant to do and function efficiently. Cybersecurity features, when implemented, are meant to ensure the protection of users’ data and guard against malicious process hijacking attacks. Source code itself is often left out of these security considerations and its importance as proprietary confidential information is overlooked.
Sensitive data is frequently viewed as referring to individuals’ data that is protected in many cases by law and whose leakage can cause both financial liability and a loss of customer trust. When it comes to source code, inevitably, there are competitors that might develop similar products, but there is a marked difference between them having to do the ground work themselves and simply following a company’s available code as their blueprint.
There is also the risk of source code being used by cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities or embed malware into existing software. PDFs, for example, can now contain malware because Adobe Acrobat had its source code stolen in 2013.
In the case of algorithms, such as those often used by trading companies to exploit opportunities on the market as soon as they appear, these rely on companies’ expertise and experience within their field and thus count as trade secrets.
The Vulnerability of Source Code
The simplest way source code can be leaked is through employee theft or negligence. The human factor is at the heart of many data leaks: whether it is disgruntled employees feeling underappreciated or individuals leaving the company, they often have direct access to the source code and can easily transmit it, post it online or copy it onto portable devices.
Third party contractors are also a notable vulnerability. In today’s interconnected world, companies often rely on outside services to run or improve their software. By outsourcing projects, they put their trust in other companies’ security measures to protect their source code. At the same time, they have no way of monitoring and ensuring the enforcement of non-disclosure agreements.
Many developers today incorporate open source software into their projects. Depending on the type of license used, this can mean that any software incorporating them must also adhere to open source policies. This means that, although companies are not obligated to publically post their source code, they can be legally bound to provide it to individuals who request it.
How Data Loss Prevention Can Help
Data Loss Prevention (DLP) tools can help software developers combat data leakage and theft by ensuring security policies that protect it are in place. This means limiting or blocking employees from copying source code into emails, transferring it via social media channels or uploading it onto websites. They can also stop the copying of source code files onto portable devices such as USB sticks or external drives.
Source code detection in DLP often uses complex libraries to identify programming languages. These require in-depth knowledge to accurately differentiate between various programming languages, leading to heavyweight databases. DLP solutions such as Endpoint Protector, have taken source code detection to the next level by implementing N-gram-based text categorization which greatly improves the accuracy rate of source code detection, as much as 98% in the case of some programming languages.
By accurately identifying source code, DLP tools can more efficiently apply the policies created to manage, limit or block the transfer and use of source code.
The protection of source code is essential for organizations looking to keep their software secure and their trade secrets safe. In the age of endless exploits, companies’ intellectual propriety is often as sought after as users’ personal data as there are always competitors and copycats eager to pay big money to see it as well as cybercriminals ready to use that knowledge to build more efficient software attacks. Companies therefore cannot ignore its importance and vulnerability and must ensure that it is given the same level of protection as all its other sensitive data.