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The Business Risks and Costs of Source Code Leaks and Prevention Tips

Code leaks can pose significant threats to the security and well-being of businesses, potentially resulting in a range of negative outcomes including financial, reputational, and legal consequences. To prevent such risks and their potential impacts, taking proactive measures is crucial.  

Safeguarding Your Business from Source Code Leaks

In today's digital environments, source code leaks pose a significant threat to businesses and can lead to financial, legal, and reputational damage. As recent high-profile incidents have demonstrated, no organization is immune to the consequences of these breaches and malicious attackers continue to develop and find new ways of compromising commonly used data repositories. 

By understanding the risks associated with code leaks and implementing robust cybersecurity measures, businesses can more effectively protect their valuable assets and maintain their competitive edge. In this article, we’ll explore the costs and impacts of some notable source code leaks, and provide actionable tips to prevent these kinds of incidents from happening to your business. 

Recent Source Code Attacks in the Headlines

Over the last few years, there have been a number of high-profile and damaging source code leaks that have resulted in significant financial losses, led to more severe security breaches, and damaged company reputation, especially when the compromised company is a cybersecurity company. 

One of the most notable code leaks was the Toyota breach in 2022. The automotive giant suffered a major security breach that led to the leak of 300,000 customers' data. The information included sensitive personal data such as email addresses, potentially exposing customers to phishing attacks and other cybercrimes. The leaked source code incident dealt a serious blow to the company's image and trustworthiness, leading to significant financial losses. 

The breach was the result of a subcontractor accidentally uploading Toyota’s code to a public repository. The code contained critical and sensitive data and impacted anyone who registered a Toyota Connect application (what the subcontractor was working on) between July 2017 and September 2022 may have been impacted. 

Another significant code leak occurred in Fall 2022. Comm100 Live, a customer engagement platform, suffered a trojan attack on its Live Chat application. The trojan malware worked via a supply chain attack on Comm100’s development pipeline and was signed using Comm100’s own code-signing certificate. While a handful of victims were known to be impacted, the number of companies and users affected may range in the thousands, given Comm100’s global reach. 

LastPass, a well-known password manager, also suffered a major code leak in 2022. An attacker accessed the company’s software supply chain and developer environment via stolen developer account credentials. This led to a severe compromise and data theft that included customer information such as end-user names, billing addresses, and login IP addresses, as well as Vault data which includes encrypted passwords and secure notes. 

These high-profile incidents serve as a stark reminder of the increasing importance of securing developer accounts and having robust security measures that can defend against attacks leading to code leaks and accidental code leaks. As organizations continue to make digital investments, they must prioritize the protection of their source code and other digital assets. 

Breaking Down the Impacts of a Source Code Leak

A source code leak isn’t just a compromise of privacy and data —  the consequences can be far-reaching. The below are just a few of the ways a source code leak can significantly compromise an organization. 

Exposed Intellectual Property

The exposure of intellectual property due to source code leaks can have severe consequences for a business. When source code leakage occurs, a company's most valuable assets, such as proprietary algorithms, software designs, product plans, and trade secrets, are exposed. Competitors can gain an unfair advantage by replicating or improving upon the exposed source code, or shifting their strategy to counteract what a company originally planned. Malicious attackers, on the other hand, can use the data to further exploit a company to launch further attacks. Ultimately, exposed intellectual property can result in reduced market share, lost revenue, and a weakened competitive edge. 

Unmasked Sensitive Data 

A source code leak can also lead to the unmasking of sensitive data, which can be particularly damaging for companies that have a high priority to keep data secure, such as healthcare and financial companies working under regulatory scrutiny. Source code can contain confidential information about a company's operations, customers, or employees. This data can be exploited by cybercriminals and lead to identity theft, fraud, or additional attacks. As we saw with the LastPass attack, a source code lead could result in a data breach that could impact a company’s reputation. How many customers might think twice before using a personal or enterprise password manager if they suffered a major data breach? 

Business Logic Unprotected 

If a company's business logic becomes exposed, it can undermine a company’s business operations and core offerings. It can lead to spilled secrets such as pricing algorithms, customer data, and partners a company may want to keep hidden. This can lead to lost customers, decreased profitability, and may impact business relationships and partnerships. 

Compromised Downstream Clients

A source code leak can also have significant implications for downstream clients. When code leaks, it may expose vulnerabilities in the software that clients depend on for their own operations. For B2B companies, source code leaks may be an attackers’ dream — they can use your company’s code leak to target your customers and clients. This is how many supply chain attacks can occur. 

Reputational Ruin 

A source code leak can severely damage a company's reputation, leading to lost trust among customers, partners, and investors. This can result in decreased sales, increased customer churn, and difficulty attracting new business. Moreover, the legal implications of a data breach can lead to costly lawsuits, regulatory fines, and other penalties that can further damage a company's financial stability and long-term viability. 

4 Tips to Prevent a Source Code Leak for Your Business 

To protect your organization from the damage source code leakage could cause, it is crucial to implement effective cybersecurity measures. Here are four actionable tips that can help safeguard your business against a code leak, especially when using various Github environments

Limit Access & Employ the Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) 

The PoLP is a crucial security concept that can help prevent source code leaks. PoLP dictates that users should be granted only the minimum access necessary to perform their tasks. By implementing PoLP, you can ensure that sensitive source code is accessible only to those who need it, reducing the chances of a source code leak occurring due to unauthorized access or user error. 

To employ PoLP, start by carefully reviewing and managing user permissions. Restrict access to source code repositories and other sensitive resources to specific employees (or define access by roles). Regularly audit these permissions to ensure that they remain appropriate and up-to-date. 

Continuously Monitor for Anomalies & Suspicious Behavior 

Continuous monitoring is an essential component of modern cybersecurity needs. By closely tracking user activity, network traffic, and activity within your developer environments, you can swiftly detect and respond to any signs of a potential code leak. Github, for example, is subject to a number of vulnerabilities and potential attacks that bypass traditional reviewer processes. By having a detection and monitoring system in place, you can quickly spot a potential incident and significantly reduce the time needed to appropriately respond and recover from an attack, minimizing any potential damage. 

Software supply chain security platforms can help detect anomalies and suspicious behavior, such as unusual access patterns and activity, unauthorized data transfers, or even access during odd hours. These tools can better equip your security team and improve your overall security posture. 

Schedule Regular Code Reviews

Regular code reviews can help identify and eliminate vulnerabilities in your source code and developer pipeline that attackers may exploit. By addressing these weaknesses before they can be exploited, you can significantly reduce the risk of a code leak, or an environment exploit that can risk your product pipeline and lead to the consequences we covered earlier. 

You should establish a formal code review process that includes both manual and automated analysis and encourage a culture of security awareness among developers to minimize friction and secure coding training. By making security an integral part of the development process, you can minimize the likelihood of vulnerable code putting your company at risk. 

Set Repositories to Private Whenever Possible 

Proper repository settings play a crucial role in preventing code leaks. By setting your source code repositories to private, you can restrict access only to authorized users and minimize the chances of an accidental or malicious leak caused by an unauthorized user or a malicious actor who compromised an employee’s account.

Ensure that your development team is familiar with the security settings available in your chosen repository platform and regularly review and audit the settings of your repositories to ensure that they remain configured for maximum security. 

Proactive Actions And Security Tools Can Prevent Code Leaks 

Code leaks can have serious consequences for businesses and may lead to worse incidents or compromises. This can lead to a range of consequences from legal to financial to reputational. To mitigate the risks and potential impacts of source code leaks, taking preventative and proactive measures are necessary.

Monitoring and detection tools can help improve your overall cybersecurity posture and we recommend looking for solutions that automate monitoring and detection across the end-to-end software supply chain to minimize the resource load on your team. Look for tools that can scan your develop environment and automatically surface any potential security issues, misconfigured databases, or code errors.

Many vulnerabilities are due to human error or simple mistakes that can get lost amidst a busy development team’s workload. Having a tool that simplifies database discovery and ensures maximum visibility goes a long way in securing your company’s complex developer environment. To learn more, schedule a product demo and check out the Legit Security Platform.

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Published on
April 24, 2023

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