Mårten Mickos has been around the open source world for a long time. He has seen the early days when open source was not taken very seriously, but now he is heading HackerOne, a company that’s building a massive community of white hat hackers to help companies create secure systems. Security and open source might seem like different worlds, but Mickos sees strong influences from one to the other.
Today, open source has become the de facto software development model, but it has not always been that way. “In 2001, when I joined my MySQL as its CEO, people didn’t believe in open source. It looked cute, like a toy. We looked like a small startup. They didn’t have the courage to follow us, but slowly and surely it started growing,” said Mickos.
Now the question is not who is using open source but who is not using it.
Open source impact
Many people may see the benefits of open source from a technological perspective, but open source has had a deeper impact on people, culture, and our society.
“One of the greatest benefits of open source is that it has created a model where smart people who disagree with each other can collaborate with each other. It’s easy to collaborate if we agree, but open source enables collaboration even when people disagree,” Mickos said. “That is the true beauty of this model.”
A common myth about open source is that it survives out of altruism and selfless work by some community members. It might have been true in the beginning, but it’s not true anymore. “It’s not dependent on any charity. It’s not dependent on altruism. It’s not dependent on friendship. It’s not dependent on being kind. I mean, hopefully we are kind and friends, but it’s not dependent on it,” said Mickos, “It’s so smartly built that even as we are yelling and screaming at each other, we can still get work done.”
Open source is powerful but that doesn’t mean it will survive without effort. Like any other component of our civilization, it takes work. “We have to educate everybody, like any civilization needs to keep educating the population on what’s important. You educate them about history, language, mathematics, and other things. We have to do that and the new generation will completely get it,” he said.
Open source and security
Open source is known for being more secure than proprietary technology, but there is no magic there either. Just openness and hard work. “It’s more secure than closed source because you are developing it in the open. Your code is subject to the scrutiny of everybody, and I think it has been scientifically shown to be correct,” he said.
Another factor that contributes to the security of open source is the fact that the community is not afraid of talking about its problems. “It also means we know about all the problems in open source. You might think there are a lot of problems, a lot of serious problems, but as a percentage of the total number of lines of code, I would argue that open source is much more secure than closed source because when there is a vulnerability or a weakness in open source software, everybody will know about it. On the contrary, if there is something like that in closed source, it is kept secret and not fixed,” he said.
Mickos thinks the security industry can learn something from open source. “It can learn how to better collaborate on vital initiatives,” he said.
Today, our world is powered by open source. New technologies are arriving and new business models are evolving, yet, proprietary software will persist.
When asked if our future will be powered by open source, Mickos replied, “Transparency, openness and collaboration will never go out of fashion. It’s also true that every now and then, evolution will go backwards; it will be less open, less collaborative. But open source is an unstoppable force. It will come back and break those models and bring back collaboration, openness and sharing.”
Mickos concluded with these words, “I don’t think we can change it because we are humans and our evolution has made us such. Every now and then, there will be self-centered people driven by their own desire, driving us in a different direction so they can be in power, but then we come back. We are bigger in numbers, we never give up and it is the most productive way to build and sustain a society. That’s what we’re here on this planet to do.”