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A Roadmap for Node.js Security

Node.js has a vibrant community of application developers and library authors built around a mature and well-maintained core runtime and library set. Its growing popularity is already drawing more attention from attackers. This roadmap discusses how some Node.js projects address security challenges, along with ways to make it easier for more projects to address these challenges in a thorough and consistent manner.

This is not the opinion of any organization. It is the considered opinion of some computer security professionals and node enthusiasts who have worked to make it easier to write secure, robust software on other platforms; who like much about Node.js; and who would like to help make it better.

Our intended audience is Node.js library and infrastructure maintainers who want to stay ahead of the increased scrutiny that Node.js is getting from attackers. We have not researched whether, and do not assert that, any stack is inherently more or less secure than any other.

Node.js security is especially important for “primary targets”. Targets are often subdivided into "primary targets" and "targets of opportunity." One attacks the latter if one happens to see a vulnerability. One goes out of their way to find vulnerabilities in the former. The practices which prevent one from becoming a target of opportunity might not be enough if one is a primary target of an actor with resources at their disposal. We hope that the ideas we present might help primary targets to defeat attacks while making targets of opportunity rarer and the entire ecosystem more secure.

When addressing threats, we want to make sure we preserve Node.js's strengths.

  • Development teams can iterate quickly allowing them to explore a large portion of the design space.
  • Developers can use a wealth of publicly available packages to solve everyday problems.
  • Anyone who identifies a shared problem can write and publish a module to solve it, or send a pull request with a fix or extension to an existing project.
  • Node.js integrates with a wide variety of application containers so project teams have options when deciding how to deploy.
  • Using JavaScript on the front and back ends of Web applications allows developers to work both sides when need be.

The individual chapters are largely independent of one another:

"Threat environment" discusses the kinds of threats that concern us.

"Dynamism when you need it" discusses how to preserve the power of CommonJS module linking, vm contexts, and runtime code generation while making sure that, in production, only code that the development team trusts gets run.

"Knowing your dependencies" discusses ways to help development teams make informed decisions about third-party dependencies.

"Keeping your dependencies close" discusses how keeping a local replica of portions of the larger npm repository affects security and aids incident response.

"Oversight" discusses how code-quality tools can help decouple security review from development.

"When all else fails" discusses how the development → production pipeline and development practices can affect the ability of security professionals to identify and respond to imminent threats.

"Library support for safe coding practices" discusses idioms that, if more widespread, might make it easier for developers to produce secure, robust systems.

You can browse the supporting code via github.com/google/node-sec-roadmap/.

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