Mitigating Memory Safety Issues in Open Source Software

Copy paste programmers

Memory-safety vulnerabilities have dominated the security field for years and often lead to issues that can be exploited to take over entire systems. 

A recent study found that “~70% of the vulnerabilities addressed through a security update each year continue to be memory safety issues.” Another analysis on security issues in the ubiquitous `curl` command line tool showed that 53 out of 95 bugs would have been completely prevented by using a memory-safe language.


Software written in unsafe languages often contains hard-to-catch bugs that can result in severe security vulnerabilities, and we take these issues seriously at Google. That’s why we’re expanding our collaboration with the Internet Security Research Group to support the reimplementation of critical open-source software in memory-safe languages. We previously worked with the ISRG to help secure the Internet by making TLS certificates available to everyone for free, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work together on this new initiative.

It’s time to start taking advantage of memory-safe programming languages that prevent these errors from being introduced. At Google, we understand the value of the open source community and in giving back to support a strong ecosystem. 

To date, our free OSS-Fuzz service has found over 5,500 vulnerabilities across 375 open source projects caused by memory safety errors, and our Rewards Program helps encourage adoption of fuzzing through financial incentives. We’ve also released other projects like Syzkaller to detect bugs in operating system kernels, and sandboxes like gVisor to reduce the impact of bugs when they are found.

The ISRG’s approach of working directly with maintainers to support rewriting tools and libraries incrementally falls directly in line with our perspective here at Google. 

The new Rust-based HTTP and TLS backends for curl and now this new TLS library for Apache httpd are an important starting point in this overall effort. These codebases sit at the gateway to the internet and their security is critical in the protection of data for millions of users worldwide. 

We’d like to thank the maintainers of these projects for working on such widely-used and important infrastructure, and for participating in this effort.

We’re happy to be able to support these communities and the ISRG to make the Internet a safer place. We appreciate their leadership in this area and we look forward to expanding this program in 2021.


Open source security is a collaborative effort. If you’re interested in learning more about our efforts, please join us in the Securing Critical Projects Working Group of the Open Source Security Foundation.