Zeek and Jitsi: 2 open source projects we need now

Long proven but not well known, these network security monitoring and video conferencing tools couldn’t be more timely

Zeek and Jitsi: 2 open source projects we need now

Everyone has heard of open source projects like Linux, Kubernetes, and MySQL. Far fewer have heard of ROS (Robot Operating System), Apache Flink, or InfluxDB, though these open source projects, too, are getting noticed. However, virtually no one has heard of open source Zeek or Jitsi, despite their having been around for eons. It’s high time Zeek and Jitsi got their due, as they are serving a particularly big need today given world events.

Zeek, for example, is a network analysis tool that helps organizations hunt down bad actors that have made it past perimeter defenses (and, let’s face it, they will). In our work-from-home world, Jitsi provides video conferencing. Open source may not be for everyone but these open source projects just might be perfect for your organization.

Hunting down the hackers

Zeek (formerly Bro, after the Orwellian “Big Brother” in 1984 but renamed for obvious reasons) has been around since 1994 and, chances are, someone within your IT team uses it. After all, more than 10,000 organizations have Zeek sensors installed for network security monitoring, including threat hunting and threat detection. Organizations like the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) have used Zeek (Bro) for years, running at significant scale. It’s a popular tool.

Then why is Zeek so little-known? The reason, said Alan Saldich, chief marketing officer of Corelight, Zeek’s corporate sponsor, is that of those 10,000 organizations using Zeek, just one or two people in any particular company work directly with Zeek. Additionally, Zeek tends to run behind-the-scenes on a sensor of sorts, observing network traffic. Zeek interprets the network traffic and creates transaction logs, file content, and fully customized output, suitable for manual review on disk or in a more analyst-friendly tool, with organizations using Splunk, Elasticsearch, or other tools as the UI.

In other words, Zeek gets lots of use, but not lots of users. And not lots of visibility.

This might change. Not only is security top of mind for every organization, but Zeek is likely to be a more openly explored option. While Zeek has been big with government and education users for years, enterprises like Target, Morgan Stanley, and Salesforce.com are now experiencing the same scale of issues that the DOE encountered years ago, and have turned to Zeek to help improve network security.

As Saldich noted in an interview, “The reality is that hackers get in no matter how hard IT has tried to keep them out.” Organizations should still erect perimeter defenses, but should assume they’ll get through. Organizations can use Zeek to help find the bad actors once they’re in, and boot them out.

Talking to each other

While Zeek helps companies fight the bad actors, Jitsi helps the good actors communicate online. Hosted web conferencing solutions like Zoom have gotten a lot of (positive) press lately because so many people have needed to work from home in order to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic. While Jitsi does offer a hosted version (funded by 8x8), the project tends to be used by companies like Comcast and 8x8 that want to build their own video conferencing solutions.

Jitsi started as a student project in 2003 at the University of Strasbourg in France, with a company (Blue Jimp) spun up in 2009 to provide support and other services for Jitsi. In 2015, Atlassian bought Blue Jimp to improve its Hipchat product. Just a few years later, 8x8 bought the Jitsi assets from Atlassian, bringing along the core contributors to the open source project in a relationship that will hopefully be more enduring than the Atlassian experiment, as outlined on the Jitsi FAQ: “The open source community and meet.jit.si service help to make Jitsi better, which makes 8×8 products better, which helps to further fund Jitsi. This virtuous cycle has worked well in the past and should continue to for many years to come.”

Though the Jitsi project has gone through a bit of corporate ping-pong, it’s getting lots of TLC from 8x8, including the opportunity to use it for free (the hosted version noted above). For those companies that prefer to run Jitsi themselves, there’s great information online about how to do that on a variety of platforms (e.g., here, here, or your own Linux server). For many companies, using something like Zoom is the right approach, but for others (whether cash-strapped or simply anxious to have more control) Jitsi could be the perfect way to bring employees (and customers and partners) together.

Despite the fact that both Jitsi and Zeek have been available for well over a decade, I (and perhaps you) had never heard of them. Which makes me wonder what other great open source software you might use (to run a business, manage a team, or other) that others may not know about it? I’d love to hear about these unsung heroes of open source. Please let me know here in the comments or on Twitter.

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