How MongoDB Protects Against Supply Chain Vulnerabilities

Software supply chain vulnerabilities became national news in late 2020 with the discovery of the Solar Winds cyberattack. A year later, as if to put an exclamation point on the issue, the Log4j security flaw was discovered.

Before these incidents, cybersecurity headlines typically focused on ransomware and phishing attacks, and organizations responded by increasing defensive measures, expanding network security beyond the perimeter, and mandating security awareness training. Protecting organizations from supply chain vulnerabilities, however, is a more complex undertaking.

Transparency and testing

Few organizations have complete transparency into the software supply chain. The software supply chain includes all components — third-party dependencies, open source scripts, contractors, and other miscellaneous components and drivers — directly involved in developing an application. When dealing with a dozen or more vendors, applications, and service providers, it's hard to know all the elements that comprise your organization's software supply chain.

As a backend solutions provider with open source roots, MongoDB is keenly aware of the need for security and transparency in the software supply chain. Long before supply chain vulnerabilities became national news, we implemented numerous safeguards to ensure the security of our products throughout the software development life cycle (SDLC).

For example, in the planning stage, we look at our software from an attacker's perspective by trying to find ways to bypass authentication and gain unauthorized access. In the sprint stage, we conduct thousands of CPU hours of tests every week, and we run builds on thousands of compute nodes 24/7 on different combinations of every major hardware platform, operating system, and software language. And in the deployment stage, we perform hundreds of hours of automated testing to ensure correctness on every source code commit.

We also invite the MongoDB Community and other third parties to submit reports of bugs found in our products, both open source and enterprise packages. Finally, we conduct periodic bug hunts with rewards for community members who contribute by improving a release.

Securing third-party software

The area that organizations have the least visibility into is perhaps the use of third-party libraries. Almost all applications use software that was written by someone else. According to some industry estimates, third-party libraries make up between 30% and 90% of typical applications.

At MongoDB, all third-party libraries are evaluated and vetted by the security team before being incorporated into MongoDB products. We also use security tools to scan source code, identify known security vulnerabilities, and test against government benchmarks like Common Vulnerability and Exposure (CVE) and Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE), as well as private-entity frameworks like the SANS Institute’s list of software vulnerabilities.

If we identify a vulnerability, we use the IETF Responsible Vulnerability Disclosure Process to evaluate and mitigate the issue, communicate with our user base, and perform a postmortem assessment. Details are also published to the MongoDB Alerts page along with release notes and a description of fixes.

Using SBOMs

To encourage even more transparency within the software supply chain, we've been at the forefront of the push for a software bill of materials (SBOM, pronounced “S-Bomb”). A software bill of materials is a list of ingredients used by an application, including all the libraries and components that make up an application, whether they are third-party, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS), or open source.

By providing visibility into all of the individual components and dependencies, SBOMs are seen as a critical tool for improving software supply chain security. MongoDB’s CISO, Lena Smart, recently conducted a panel discussion with a handful of cybersecurity experts on the need for SBOMs in the wake of President Joe Biden’s executive order on supply chain security.

Vulnerabilities in software will always exist, and the determination of malicious actors means that some of those vulnerabilities will be exploited. MongoDB believes that secure digital experiences start with secure software development. That means having the proper controls in place, continuously probing for weaknesses, and maintaining transparency in the CI/CD pipeline.

For more detailed information, download our white paper Supply Chain Security in MongoDB's Software Development Life Cycle.