GPL explained

The GNU General Public License (GPL) in InfoSec and Cybersecurity: A Comprehensive Guide

4 min read Β· Dec. 6, 2023
Table of contents

The GNU General Public License (GPL) is a widely used open-source software license that has significant implications for the field of Information Security (InfoSec) and Cybersecurity. In this guide, we will explore what GPL is, its origins, its purpose, how it is used, and its relevance in the industry. We will also discuss various examples, use cases, career aspects, and best practices associated with GPL in the context of InfoSec and Cybersecurity.

1. Understanding GPL

The GPL is a copyleft license designed to protect the freedom of software users and encourage the development of free and open-source software (FOSS). It was created by Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in 1989 to ensure that software users have the freedom to use, modify, and distribute software without restrictions imposed by proprietary licenses. The GPL achieves this by granting certain rights and imposing certain obligations on software users and developers.

2. Key Features and Provisions of GPL

The GPL contains several key features and provisions that make it unique and influential in the world of FOSS. Some of the notable provisions include:

  • Copyleft: The GPL is a copyleft license, which means that any derivative works or modifications of software licensed under the GPL must also be licensed under the GPL. This provision ensures that the software remains free and open-source, even if it is modified or incorporated into other projects.

  • Source Code Availability: The GPL requires that the source code of the software be made available to users. This provision enables users to inspect the code, understand how it works, and modify it to suit their needs. The availability of source code also enhances transparency and security in InfoSec and Cybersecurity.

  • Distribution and Redistribution Rights: The GPL grants users the right to distribute and redistribute the software, both in its original form and as modified versions. This provision encourages collaboration, innovation, and knowledge sharing within the FOSS community.

3. GPL and InfoSec/Cybersecurity

The GPL has significant implications for InfoSec and Cybersecurity professionals, as it promotes the use of open-source software and encourages transparency and accountability in software development. Here are some ways in which GPL intersects with InfoSec and Cybersecurity:

  • Security Auditing and Code Review: The availability of source code under the GPL allows InfoSec professionals to conduct security Audits and code reviews to identify vulnerabilities, bugs, or backdoors. This helps in ensuring the security and trustworthiness of software used in critical systems.

  • Secure Collaboration: The GPL fosters collaboration among developers, enabling them to work together to identify and fix security Vulnerabilities. The open nature of GPL-licensed software allows for peer review, which can enhance the overall security of the software.

  • Compliance and Licensing Management: InfoSec professionals need to ensure that the software they use complies with licensing requirements. The GPL's copyleft provision ensures that modifications or distributions of GPL-licensed software also adhere to the GPL, reducing the risk of non-compliance and legal issues.

  • Secure Supply Chain: In an era of increasing supply chain attacks, the GPL provides a level of assurance by allowing organizations to vet the software they use and understand its security implications. By having access to the source code, InfoSec professionals can assess the security posture of the software and mitigate potential risks.

4. Examples and Use Cases

Numerous projects and organizations utilize the GPL in InfoSec and Cybersecurity. Here are a few notable examples:

  • Linux Kernel: The Linux kernel, one of the most widely used operating system kernels, is licensed under the GPL. The open nature of the license has allowed for rapid development, extensive security auditing, and the creation of numerous security-focused distributions such as SELinux and Grsecurity.

  • OpenSSL: OpenSSL, a widely-used cryptographic library, is also licensed under the GPL. The availability of its source code has facilitated security Audits, vulnerability fixes, and the development of secure applications and protocols.

  • OpenSSH: OpenSSH, a secure remote administration protocol, is another example of GPL-licensed software in InfoSec. The ability to review and modify the source code has contributed to its widespread adoption and reputation for security.

5. Career Aspects and Relevance

For professionals in the field of InfoSec and Cybersecurity, familiarity with the GPL and open-source software licensing is essential. Understanding the GPL allows professionals to navigate the legal and Compliance aspects of using FOSS, contribute to secure development practices, and leverage the benefits of open-source software.

Professionals with expertise in GPL compliance, secure code review, and open-source security auditing are highly sought after in the industry. They play a crucial role in ensuring the security and integrity of software systems, mitigating risks, and promoting the use of secure and trusted software.

6. Best Practices and Standards

To effectively leverage the benefits of GPL in InfoSec and Cybersecurity, it is important to follow best practices and adhere to relevant standards. Some recommended practices include:

  • License Compliance: Ensure that all GPL-licensed software used within an organization is compliant with the terms of the GPL. Maintain an inventory of open-source software and implement processes to track and manage license obligations.

  • Secure Code Review: Establish processes for security code review and auditing of GPL-licensed software. Leverage tools and techniques to identify and mitigate Vulnerabilities and ensure the overall security of the software.

  • Secure Collaboration: Encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing within the FOSS community. Contribute to secure development practices, report vulnerabilities responsibly, and participate in security-focused initiatives.


The GNU General Public License (GPL) is a powerful open-source software license that has significant implications for InfoSec and Cybersecurity. By promoting transparency, collaboration, and accountability, the GPL enhances the security of software systems and fosters the development of secure solutions. Professionals in the field of InfoSec and Cybersecurity can leverage the benefits of GPL by understanding its provisions, adhering to best practices, and actively contributing to the FOSS community.


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