Open source hack of GitHub

Skip to first unread message

Nancy Anthracite

Apr 1, 2024, 11:27:10 AMApr 1

SHAKEN, NOT SHATTERED — A brazen attempt to inject malicious code into a critical open source software tool is fueling urgent conversations in Washington about fortifying the digital supply chain. But it's also providing a dramatic illustration of the resiliency of the open source community itself, some experts say.

John reports on more details about what happened in his reporting here. But let's unpack some lessons learned after the episode was revealed on Friday:

— Nation-state suspicions: Investigators say sophisticated hackers likely spent years building credibility before taking control of the widely used Xz data compression utility and attempting to insert tainted code that could enable cyberattacks. The operation bore some hallmarks of a nation-state campaign leveraging human intelligence tactics rarely seen in open source.

“I think it’s more likely than not to have been a nation-state,” explained Michael McLaughlin, former counter intelligence at Cyber Command. “That was a very specific work station with a very particular scope.”

— Protecting not abandoning: While the breach initially raised fears of a software supply chain nightmare, the rapid detection and response likely averted a worse crisis.

"For those of us who believe the open and cooperative nature of open source software makes us more secure, we will point back to this as the most important example proving that," Anjana Rajan, the White House’s assistant national cyber director, tells MC.

— A rallying cry: After a suspect GitHub user dubbed "Jia Tan" compromised Xz's controls through an elaborate deception, an "angry mob of nerds" quickly descended on the code, scrutinized every commit and expunged the malware in under 24 hours, according to white hat researcher Marc Rogers.

"What it has illustrated is the power of that angry mob of nerds carrying pitchforks and torches," Rogers said of open source's grassroots defense. "I'm confident that this was exercised within a 24-hour window."

While the purge was successful, the hack's sophistication and gall was alarming, and will likely spark investigations by the FBI and NSA into potential nation-state involvement, John writes.

— Keep watching: Still, the close call is spurring cyber leaders to reexamine the security of the open source ecosystem — where many vital internet utilities are maintained by volunteers with limited resources, creating entryways for skilled threat actors.

But rather than abandon the open source ethos, Rajan and others argue the Xz incident shows a path toward strengthening those community-driven processes and funding mechanisms.

"We need to have conversations about what we do next to protect open source," Rajan said, "but this wasn't a failure — it was open source's principles at work."


Nancy Anthracite

Nancy Anthracite

Apr 1, 2024, 11:28:04 AMApr 1
I should have mentioned this came from an email from Politico

Nancy Anthracite

Greg Kreis

Apr 1, 2024, 11:44:20 AMApr 1

I can see incentive for deploying a code -oriented AI to scan code on check-in, looking for sophisticated injections.

To unsubscribe, send email to

You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups "Hardhats" group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an email to
To view this discussion on the web visit
Greg Kreis, President
Pioneer Data Systems, Inc
678-525-5397 (mobile)

K.S. Bhaskar

Apr 1, 2024, 1:29:42 PMApr 1
to Hardhats
Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages