What Is an SBOM (Software Bill of Materials)?
A software bill of materials (SBOM) is a comprehensive, structured inventory of all components, libraries, and dependencies used within a software product or application. It typically includes information about the names, versions, and licensing details of each component.
SBOM plays a critical role in managing the security of open source components by providing visibility, enabling vulnerability management, ensuring license compliance, facilitating risk assessment, and fostering collaboration with the open source community.
SBOM security is important for several reasons:
- Supply chain visibility: The SBOM provides a clear understanding of the components used in a software product, making it easier to track and manage the software supply chain. This transparency helps organizations identify vulnerabilities in the components and mitigate potential risks.
- Vulnerability management: Organizations can use the SBOM to quickly assess the impact of known vulnerabilities in third-party components, prioritize remediation efforts, and deploy patches or updates more efficiently.
- License compliance: The SBOM documents the licensing details of all components, ensuring organizations comply with open-source and proprietary license terms, avoiding potential legal issues or penalties.
- Software quality: By highlighting outdated or deprecated components, an SBOM encourages the use of up-to-date and secure libraries, contributing to better overall software quality.
- Incident response: In case of a security breach or incident, an SBOM helps security teams identify affected components faster, allowing them to respond more effectively and minimize potential damage.
- Due diligence: SBOM security is essential in merger and acquisition processes, as it helps potential buyers understand the software's components and assess risks, compliance, and future maintenance requirements.
SBOM and SCA (Software Composition Analysis) are both essential tools in managing software security, particularly in the context of open source and third-party components. While they share some similarities, they also have distinct purposes and features.
- The primary purpose of the SBOM is to provide transparency and visibility into the software supply chain. This enables organizations to identify potential risks, vulnerabilities, and licensing issues associated with the components used in their software applications.
- The primary purpose of SCA is to enhance the security and compliance of software applications by identifying, assessing, and managing risks associated with open-source and third-party components. This includes detecting known vulnerabilities, ensuring license compliance, and mitigating potential risks.
- The SBOM covers all components used in a software application, including proprietary and open source components. However, it does not provide detailed analysis or security insights for these components.
- SCA focuses primarily on open-source and third-party components, providing detailed analysis and insights into their security and compliance aspects. While SCA tools often use SBOM data as a starting point, they go beyond the basic inventory to provide actionable security information and recommendations.
SBOM provides a comprehensive inventory of all components used in a software application, while SCA offers in-depth analysis and insights into the security and compliance of open-source and third-party components. By combining both approaches, organizations can gain a thorough understanding of their software supply chain and effectively manage the associated risks and vulnerabilities.
The SBOM typically contains the following information for each component, library, or dependency within a software product or application:
- Component name: The name of the software component, library, or dependency, as commonly identified within the software development community.
- Version: The specific version or release number of the component, which helps identify potential security vulnerabilities and compatibility issues.
- License information: The licensing details of each component, including open-source and proprietary licenses, to ensure compliance with legal requirements and obligations.
- Supplier or author: The name of the organization or individual who created or maintains the component, which can be useful for tracking and communicating with upstream suppliers about security vulnerabilities or updates.
- Description: A brief description of the component's functionality, purpose, or role within the software product, providing context and understanding for developers and stakeholders.
- Dependencies: A list of other components, libraries, or frameworks that the component depends on, helping to understand the interconnectedness and potential cascading impacts of vulnerabilities or changes.
- Known vulnerabilities: Any known security vulnerabilities associated with the component, as reported in databases like the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) or vendor advisories.
- Patch or update history: A record of patches or updates applied to the component, which can help assess the security posture and maintenance efforts for the component.
The SBOM may also include additional information, such as cryptographic hashes for component validation, file locations within the software, or custom metadata relevant to a specific organization or industry.
The exact contents of an SBOM may vary depending on the format, standards, or guidelines followed, but the primary goal is to provide a comprehensive and transparent inventory of a software product's components and their associated details.
SBOM tools can significantly improve the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) by enhancing transparency, security, compliance, and overall software quality. SBOM tools can contribute to different phases of the SDLC:
Planning and requirements analysis
SBOM tools help identify and track the components used in a software product, enabling organizations to plan and analyze the software requirements more effectively. They also help in selecting secure and up-to-date components and libraries, resulting in better overall software quality.
Design and architecture
By providing a clear understanding of software dependencies, SBOM tools can help architects and designers make informed decisions about component integration and potential trade-offs in terms of security, performance, and maintainability.
Implementation and coding
SBOM tools can automate the process of tracking and managing software components, reducing manual effort and potential errors. They also enable developers to focus on writing secure code by identifying outdated or vulnerable libraries that need to be replaced or updated.
Testing and verification
SBOM tools can assist in identifying potential security and compliance risks during the testing phase, allowing organizations to address these issues before the software is released. This helps improve software security and reduces the likelihood of costly post-release fixes or legal issues.
Deployment and maintenance
With a comprehensive SBOM, organizations can quickly assess the impact of known vulnerabilities, prioritize remediation efforts, and deploy patches or updates more efficiently. This leads to better overall security and faster response times in case of security incidents.
Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD)
In CI/CD pipelines, SBOM tools can help automate component tracking and vulnerability scanning, ensuring that new code commits and releases do not introduce insecure components or dependencies.
Compliance and auditing
SBOM tools facilitate license compliance by documenting the licensing details of all components. This helps organizations avoid potential legal issues, penalties, and ensures adherence to industry standards or regulations.
Choose a standardized and widely-accepted format for your SBOM to ensure consistency, interoperability, and ease of understanding. Formats such as Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX), CycloneDX, and Software Identification (SWID) tags are common choices. Using a consistent format simplifies SBOM generation, exchange, and analysis, and helps stakeholders easily comprehend the information.
Keep your SBOM up-to-date with every software release, including minor updates and patches. Regularly updating the SBOM ensures that the information remains accurate and reflects the current state of the software. This practice helps in tracking vulnerabilities, managing compliance, and responding to security incidents more effectively.
Ensure that your SBOM contains comprehensive metadata for each component, including component name, version, license information, supplier or author, description, dependencies, known vulnerabilities, and patch or update history. Including full metadata improves transparency, security, and compliance management throughout the software supply chain.
For Software as a Service (SaaS) products, it is equally important to generate and maintain SBOMs. SaaS customers should have access to SBOMs to assess potential risks, ensure compliance, and make informed decisions when choosing service providers. SaaS providers should follow the same best practices as for on premise software to maintain transparency and trust.
SBOM security is crucial in modern software development for transparency, compliance, and security throughout the software supply chain. Adopting SBOM management best practices, such as using consistent formats, updating SBOMs regularly, and fostering a security-minded culture, helps organizations mitigate risks and improve software quality. By embracing these practices, organizations can confidently navigate the complex software landscape, minimize threats, and deliver secure, high-quality software products.
About the author:
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Imperva, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Check Point, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership. Today he heads Agile SEO, the leading marketing agency in the technology industry.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire.