The npm registry's safe word is Socket
In the past few years, the maliciously inclined have increasingly focused on compromising package registries like npm in what's known as a supply chain attack. Subverting a popular software library has the potential to enable widespread viral distribution.
Those running the npm registry have put in place various defenses over the years, such as
npm audit, a vulnerability scanning command in the npm command line interface (CLI). But the tool's implementation leaves something to be desired and developers often ignore audit warning messages, particularly if automated resolution doesn't work.
Socket built its own vulnerability scanning system and last year made it available for free (with paid tiers for teams and organizations) for open source projects. Its scanner runs as a GitHub app on code repositories when changes are made. It catches more issues than npm audit – covering not just supply chain risk but also quality, maintenance, vulnerability, and license concerns.
Ring in some changes
But Socket's scanner is also now available as a CLI that developers can install on their machines. On Thursday, Socket updated its CLI with a
safe npm command that defends developers whenever they invoke
npm install or
npm uninstall, which perversely can install packages amid removing others.
"npm creates what is called the 'ideal tree' for a given
package.json," explained Feross Aboukhadijeh, told The Register. "So by removing a package you might actually change what the ideal tree is. Removing a package may remove a constraint which is keeping a package on an older version, so then npm may update those packages to a more ideal/recent version."
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Aboukhadijeh said that the average npm package has 79 transitive dependencies, so installing one is likely to bring dozens of additional packages along for the ride. And vetting all of those manually is not something most people have the ability, time, or inclination to do.
npm audit may surface known vulnerabilities, the Socket CLI now goes deeper, thanks to the addition of the
safe npm command. It can be set up by running
npm install -g @socketsecurity/cli, which adds a socket command to the
PATH environmental variable that specifies where executable programs can be found.
Thereafter, developers can invoke the tool by entering
socket npm install instead of
npm install. And aliasing the command can make this more convenient still. The org recommends adding
alias npm="socket npm" to their
.bashrc profile (or
.zshrc, or whatever shell is being used) so that the familiar
npm install invocation passes transparently to the Socket CLI.
Demo of an npm command-line interaction with Socket's safety on
safe npm tool transparently wraps the
npm command and protects the developer from malware, typosquats, install scripts, telemetry, protestware, and more – 11 issues in all," it said.
This approach can also guard against more fraught commands like
npm exec, which immediately execute downloaded code.
"Due to the prolific usage of these commands, we made sure to add protection for these commands too, so that you don't accidentally run bad code by copy-pasting an
npx command from a README file or StackOverflow answer and get compromised," the biz promised. ®