March 1, 2024

Open Source Compliance: Tools, Software + How Configuration Management Streamlines Compliance in OSS Technologies

Security & Compliance
Configuration Management

Security and compliance are important in any organization. And most organizations use open source software (OSS) somewhere in their application stack. Open source compliance keeps OSS technologies secure by making sure they’re used in a way that aligns with security best practices, internal policies, and regulatory expectations.

Open source compliance is unique in the world of IT compliance, and the right open source compliance management software can help keep systems secure and compliant, even in large-scale, complex networks. Read on to learn the many ways configuration management improves compliance while reducing time and effort spent on it.

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What is Open Source Compliance?

Open source compliance is the process of satisfying requirements for the use of open source software. Open source compliance can cover aspects like open source licensing, security, and more.

Open source compliance shares principles and goals with IT compliance, but it’s distinct from the broader concept. Open source compliance refers specifically to the terms and conditions associated with using open source software.

OSS evangelist Javier Perez describes the elements that go into open source compliance in his blog >>

General IT compliance encompasses a larger set of legal, regulatory, and internal standards and regulations an organization must meet in its use of software and other IT, irrespective of the licensing model.

Internal vs. External Open Source Compliance

There are two broad types of open source compliance: Internal and external compliance.

  • Internal compliance is the set of rules and policies an organization sets out for their infrastructure hardware, software, and more.
  • External compliance comprises the standards, benchmarks, frameworks, and regulations imposed on an organization by regulatory bodies and other sources outside the organization.

Examples of external compliance include CIS Benchmarks, DISA STIGs, CMMC 2.0, and others. It’s important to know the difference because an internal compliance policy can help an organization secure its IT and still not make it compliant with relevant laws and regulations. Similarly, meeting internal and external compliance expectations is only a metric of adherence to written standards and can still leave systems vulnerable.

To put it another way, you can be compliant without being secure. Organizations typically craft their internal compliance policies in a way that ‘covers the bases’ of numerous overlapping external compliance expectations they’re subject to. It’s also why compliance and security are measured differently despite being part of the same IT security conversation.

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How to Ensure Compliance in Your Open Source Software

Establishing compliance policies, keeping software patched and up-to-date, and continuously monitoring adherence to desired state across your open source software are all effective ways to achieve OSS compliance.

Open source compliance is a combination of practices, expertise, disciplines, tools, and software. The techniques and tools you use to enforce compliance in your OSS will vary based on your specific compliance needs (the size of your infrastructure, your policies, and more). But pretty much every organization’s compliance management includes a few common things:

  • Regular OS and application patching
  • Establishment of compliance policies
  • Team education
  • Maintain an inventory – often referred to as a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) - of all the OSS you’re using across your organization
  • Know what compliance expectations you have to meet
  • Continuously monitor compliance
  • Choose tools that are already compliant with the licenses of your open source software
  • Use version control software to track changes to source code and infrastructure configurations 
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Open Source Compliance Management Software: Tools + Examples

Open Source Compliance Factor 


Tools for Doing It 

Vulnerability Management 

Making sure software is updated and free of security vulnerabilities 

  • Continuous monitoring tools 
  • Patch management software 

License Compliance 

Ensuring that your use of open source software meets the terms of the licenses associated with it 

  • Automated license scanners 
  • Policy enforcement tools 

Access Management 

Controlling access to servers, applications, and data to align with security policies 

Logging + Monitoring 

Monitoring logs for unauthorized activity, recording incidents, and documenting remediation 

  • Configuration management tools 
  • Monitoring software like Splunk 

Audit Prep 

Understanding regulations and maintaining evidence of compliance over time 

  • Configuration management systems 
  • Audit tools for document prep, pentesting, and more 
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Using Configuration Management for Open Source Compliance

Configuration management is one of the strongest tools for managing compliance in open source software. Configuration management tools like Puppet automate and manage system configurations, making sure that systems are configured according to predefined policies or desired states.

Configuration management keeps systems in a defined state, which helps reduce the risk of inconsistencies across environments. That consistency is important because sysadmins define software versions, configs, and security settings in them – what’s known as the desired state of a system.

Take a look at some common configuration management tools + find out which are right for your needs >>

Configuration management also reduces the risk and degree of configuration drift in your systems, which often throws them out of compliance with internal and external policies. If a configuration management system detects inconsistencies between the desired state and the actual state on a target node (due to drift or unauthorized change), it can automate remediation back to the defined configuration.

Crucially, configuration management tools provide a record of changes made to system configurations. That helps teams track and manage changes that can impact security and compliance in open source software and is itself a common requirement of regulations and policy.

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The Secret to OSS Compliance: Keeping Things in a Desired State Using Continuous Compliance

With Puppet, you can write the desired state configurations as Puppet code, and the Puppet agent will automatically and continuously enforce those configurations on the systems you tell it to.

Here’s a simplified version of what that looks like in terms of open source compliance:

  • You write compliant OSS configurations as Puppet code. These can include software package versions, service configurations, security baselines, logging and monitoring configurations, and even custom facts for license compliance.
  • Those configurations are stored on the Puppet primary server.
  • The Puppet agent, installed on nodes across your IT estate, turns your configuration code into commands and executes it on the systems you specify. (This is called a Puppet run.)
  • The Puppet agent repeats this process, every 30 minutes by default.
  • If you deploy new code to the Puppet primary server, the Puppet agents will reflect the changes you make to configuration code, enforcing your new desired state on target systems automatically.

With desired state configuration, you only need to define your compliant configurations once and they’ll be automatically enforced continuously. And because Puppet uses agent-based automation for configuration management, it works even during network outages and interruptions, so your systems stay in your desired, compliant, secure state until you make a change.

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How Puppet Compliance Enforcement Makes Open Source Compliance Easier

Compliance Enforcement uses Puppet infrastructure as code (IaC) to automate security baseline configuration enforcement on servers managed by Puppet. Available for Open Source Puppet and Puppet Enterprise, this premium Puppet package is designed to enforce alignment with two of the most popular expert-defined security recommendations: CIS Benchmarks and DISA STIGs.

Puppet’s Compliance Enforcement premium package encapsulates configurations, templates, and scripts that enforce popular IT security standards. Compliance Enforcement removes the manual work of coding and maintaining open source security configurations in your Puppet primary server – but it’s also designed to let you define custom exceptions you can apply to defined groups. That way, you can declare your ideal level of compliance to retain the infrastructure flexibility users need without sacrificing security.

Learn more about Puppet Compliance Enforcement and how Puppet streamlines security and compliance at the link below.


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