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Secure Open Source Collaboration: An Empirical Study of Linus’ Law

Adobe PDF IconAndrew Meneely and Laurie Williams.  Computer and Communications Security (CCS) 2009.

Open source software is often considered to be secure. One factor in this confidence in the security of open source software lies in leveraging large developer communities to find vulnerabilities in the code. Eric Raymond declares Linus’ Law “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” Does Linus’ Law hold up ad infinitum? Or, can the multitude of developers become “too many cooks in the kitchen”, causing the system’s security to suffer as a result? In this study, we examine the security of an open source project in the context of developer collaboration. By analyzing version control logs, we quantified notions of Linus” Law as well as the “too many cooks in the kitchen” viewpoint into developer activity metrics. We performed an empirical case study by examining correlations between the known security vulnerabilities in the open source Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 kernel and developer activity metrics. Files developed by otherwise-independent developer groups were more likely to have a vulnerability, supporting Linus’ Law. However, files with changes from nine or more developers were 16 times more likely to have a vulnerability than files changed by fewer than nine developers, indicating that many developers changing code may have a detrimental effect on the system’s security.

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  1. January 10th, 2010 at 10:38 | #1