GitHub blasts code-scanning tool into all open-source projects

Rub-a-dub-dub, give your buggy code a scrub


GitHub has made its automated code-scanning tools available to all open-source projects free of charge.

The aim, said the code repo house, is to help developers suss out potential security vulnerabilities ahead of time, and to do so at a scale that will work for both small and large projects.

The feature, based on the code-checking tools GitHub bought last year when it gobbled up UK-based Semmle, automatically graphs and scans code when a new push request is made and checks it for a number of common errors that can cause security vulnerabilities.

GitHub senior product manager Justin Hutchings told The Register that a key component of the Semmle (and now GitHub) scanning was CodeQL, the query language that graphs and then checks code for mistakes.

"It turns out that capability is extremely useful in security," said Hutchings. "Most security problems are bad data flow or bad data usage in one way or another."

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While the feature itself will be new to GitHub, the underlying Semmle tools have been in use for years, which is why GitHub believes they'll hit the ground running when they launch for free with open-source projects and as an add-on for the paid (enterprise), closed-source part of GitHub.

Although the code-scanning feature could be seen as most beneficial to smaller projects without enough work hours needed to thoroughly check for bugs, Hutchings noted that by making the feature cloud-based, bigger developers are also getting something on their wishlist.

"A lot of our commercial customers are excited about being able to run this at scale on our cloud," he told us.

"Security analysis is compute intensive, you are dealing with millions of lines of code. You want to do this rapidly and we are finally bringing this capability into a hosted cloud environment, so they can scale up more quickly than they could previously."

In addition to scanning for security bugs, GitHub is also adding the option for commercial developers to scan offline repositories and for exposed secrets (keys, credentials, etc) that could lead to network breaches and data leaks if let out onto the public internet. Previously limited to public repositories (such as AWS or Google Cloud), the secret-scanning feature will now be able to run on private GitHub repositories.

This addition, Hutchings said, is not just a security feature but also a stability feature, as it helps developers keep up with security policies that require changing keys at regular intervals by tracking and logging the changes. In this way, developers can avert outages and downtime that might otherwise occur when keys changes don't get properly reported and handled. ®


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