Google debuts new API for detecting open-source security vulnerabilities

Google debuts new API for detecting open-source security vulnerabilities

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Google LLC is releasing an application programming interface that will enable developers to scan the open-source code they use for vulnerabilities and other issues.

The deps.dev API, as it’s called, debuted today. It extends an open-source cybersecurity project called deps.dev that Google launched in 2021.

Developers often incorporate packages from the open-source ecosystem into their software projects. A package is a collection of ready-made code modules focused on performing a certain task, such as formatting data. Such code modules remove the need for developers to build all their applications’ features from scratch.

Open-source packages can potentially introduce vulnerabilities into an application. To address that risk, Google launched deps.dev in 2021. The project provides access to cybersecurity data about more than five million open-source packages.

Using deps.dev, a software team can check whether a package contains known vulnerabilities. Google also provides information about other issues, such as licensing restrictions. Some open-source packages have licenses that limit commercial use, which means they can’t be used in certain enterprise software projects.

The company says that the new API introduced today will make it easier for developers to use the deps.dev dataset. The API does so by facilitating the creation of automation workflows. According to Google, those workflows can use information from deps.dev to detect vulnerabilities and other issues more efficiently than was possible before.

Using the API, a company can create a plugin that integrates deps.dev with its developers’ code editor. Such a plugin could detect when a developer downloads an open-source package and automatically scan it for vulnerabilities. Potential licensing issues can be detected in a similar manner. 

Software teams use so-called CI/CD, or continuous integration and continuous delivery, tools to compile their code into functioning programs. Google says that the new deps.dev API can be integrated with such tools. Before processing a new code file, a CI/CD tool could check it against the deps.dev dataset to find potential issues.

Besides automating cybersecurity tasks, Google’s new API will enable developers to interact with the deps.dev dataset in more ways.

Open-source packages contain documentation that explains what components they contain. However, that documentation is not always up to date. The new API introduces a so-called real dependency graph feature that scans a package’s code and creates a more accurate list of components.

“This gives a real set of dependencies similar to what you would get by actually installing the package, which is useful when a package changes but the developer doesn’t update the lock file,” Google senior software engineer Jesper Sarnesjo and product manager Nicky Ringland detailed in a blog post. “With the deps.dev API, tools can assess, monitor, or visualize expected (or unexpected!) dependencies.”

According to the search giant, the API also adds support for hash queries. That feature will make it easier to detect supply chain attacks, or cyberattacks in which hackers add malicious code to a company’s applications. Such malicious code is sometimes distributed through open-source packages.

Using the new hash query feature, developers can quickly identify if a certain code file was added to an application through an open-source package. Moreover, the feature highlights the specific version of the package that contained the file.

“We hope the deps.dev API will help the community make sense of complex dependency data that allows them to respond to — or even prevent — these types of attacks,” Sarnesjo and Ringland wrote. “By integrating this data into tools, workflows, and analyses, developers can more easily understand the risks in their software supply chains.”

Image: Google

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