Securing the Software Supply Chain for Python Developers (Part 2)

September 26, 2023
6 minutes
Learn why software supply chain security is essential for Python development today, and explore historical supply chain breaches like Log4j and SolarWinds, and how to protect against them.

Welcome back to our series on Software Supply Chains, this time focusing on software supply chain security for Python developers. In this instalment, we’ll discuss various tools and techniques to secure your software supply chain.

Why is Software Supply Chain Security Crucial?

Considering the vast integration of open-source software (OSS) packages in over 90% of codebases, ensuring the security of your supply chain is more important than ever. 

Possible consequences of an insecure supply chain include unauthorized access to sensitive data, disrupted services, and compromised software integrity, potentially causing long-lasting financial and reputational damage.

We recommend implementing a well-rounded security strategy to minimize your project’s risks, including code vulnerability checks, dependency analysis, installation policies, and continuous monitoring.

Historical Context: Software Supply Chain Breaches

To understand the criticality of maintaining software supply chain security, we can learn from instances where lapses led to severe repercussions.

  • SolarWinds Orion: One of the most severe software supply chain attacks occurred in 2020 involving the SolarWinds Orion software. An alteration in the update mechanism of the SolarWinds Orion platform enabled threat actors to inject malicious code into the platform’s builds. This code acted as a backdoor, affecting over 18,000 customers worldwide - including several Fortune 500 companies and US government departments. This case underscores the severity of supply chain attacks, which can infiltrate and compromise even the most secure entities through unnoticed entry points.
  • The Log4j vulnerability: More recently, in December 2021, a critical vulnerability - coined Log4Shell and subsequently Log4j - was discovered in Apache’s Log4j, an open-source logging library widely used in enterprise applications. The exploit leveraged the JNDI (Java Naming and Directory Interface) to run arbitrary code remotely, offering hackers comprehensive control over the impacted system. This flaw impacted countless applications across industries, proving that even seemingly minor elements in a software supply chain can be exploited to dreadful degrees.
  • Event-Stream and NPM: Another infamous incident involves the JavaScript library event-stream on the Node Package Manager (NPM). Unknown to the developer community, maintainership of the widely used library had been transferred to an anonymous developer who unsurprisingly introduced a malicious version affecting users at large. This attack primarily affected the Bitcoin wallet application Copay, which had a dependency on event-stream.

Lessons from these incidents cannot be ignored. They stress the importance of constant vigilance in identifying and mitigating risks associated with software supply chains. At Safety, we equip you with tools and strategies to identify vulnerabilities early, helping you safeguard your software ecosystem.

Remember, the best defence against these risks is ongoing, multi-layered security that integrates seamlessly with your development processes. Through techniques like updating dependencies, regular vulnerability scanning at all stages of the development lifecycle, and employing reliable security tools like Safety, your Python projects can remain secure despite a rapidly evolving threat landscape.

Security Best Practices for Python Developers

  • Use the latest version, where possible: Regularly update your Python dependencies and libraries to the latest stable release to benefit from enhanced security and performance improvements.
  • Monitor security vulnerabilities: Utilize tools like Safety to monitor your codebase for known vulnerabilities across all dependencies.
  • Shift Left Security: Monitoring at CI/CD and beyond is often too late. By using Safety to identify vulnerabilities at the developer machine level, we help to prevent vulnerabilities from reaching CI/CD or Production. 
  • Limit the use of unpopular packages: Minimize dependency on unverified third-party libraries to mitigate potential security risks. By employing Safety Gateway, we can set policies that prevent the installation of malicious packages or packages that don’t meet the security criteria of your organization.
  • Enforce access management: Establish proper authentication and authorization mechanisms and manage user roles within your development process.
  • Embrace code peer reviews: Encourage your development team to review each other’s code, helping to identify security vulnerabilities and improve code quality collectively.

As Python developers, securing your software supply chain must be a top priority. You can ensure a secure development environment by combining best practices with powerful tools like Safety. In an upcoming series on security best practices, we’ll dive into this topic in much more detail.

Tools and Techniques for Enhancing Software Supply Chain Security

  • Safety: Leveraging the industry’s leading database of vulnerabilities and malicious packages, Safety streamlines the process of detecting vulnerabilities and outdated packages within your Python projects. Safety Platform combines severity, exploitability, reachability, and project health factors into a single risk score. The result is a 90% reduction in vulnerability noise compared to other platforms, allowing developers to prioritize those that really matter. Together, Safety’s suite of products - Safety Platform, Safety CLI Scanner, Safety DB, and Safety Gateway - provide the only truly end-to-end solution for Python supply chain security.

  • GitHub Dependabot: This automated tool from GitHub scans your dependencies for known vulnerabilities and creates pull requests to update them. The downside? Dependabot contains just 12% of the vulnerabilities tracked by Safety, meaning you will have an unclear picture of what vulnerabilities may impact your dependencies. 
  • Snyk: a security platform designed for larger enterprises. As with Dependabot, Snyk contains fewer vulnerabilities and is regarded as overkill for most organizations. Its primary disadvantage is that it only caters to larger enterprises with a more extensive set of needs. For smaller organizations or individual developers, Snyk could appear quite overwhelming and unnecessarily complex. Additionally, compared to Safety, Snyk falls short in its vulnerabilities database. It covers fewer vulnerabilities, meaning developers could potentially miss out on detecting several threats that can compromise their software supply chain.
  • Anaconda: a distribution platform offering tools and libraries for Python and R. However, the strength of its package management tools comes with corresponding demands. Anaconda requires dedicated personnel for its management, becoming a resource-intensive option for teams with constrained or limited resources. Anaconda’s complexities can render it less adaptable and user-friendly, particularly for smaller teams or projects with shorter timelines. Anaconda may seem more cumbersome and less efficient than Safety Gateway, a lightweight, easy-to-deploy package proxy. Safety Gateway offers a lighter-weight, easier-to-deploy package proxy to achieve the same result.

Software supply chain security is of paramount importance. As Python developers, taking proactive steps toward securing your software supply chain has an immediate and lasting impact on the reliability and integrity of your applications. By leveraging robust tools like Safety and adhering to best practices, you can enhance your security posture, reduce risk, and protect your valuable data. Remember, the efficiency of your defence mechanisms is contingent upon their seamless integration into your development workflows and the continuous evolution of your strategies in response to the changing threat landscape. 

We hope this article has helped to improve your understanding of software supply chain security. For more information on Safety or any content discussed in this series, please get in touch with us at

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