SBOM to Improve Software Supply Chain Security

As software systems become more intricate and the use of third-party components increases, the security risks within the software supply chain also escalate. To combat these risks, organizations are turning to the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) as a valuable tool. 

This blog will guide you through the concept of SBOM and its impact on software supply chain security. In addition, we'll explore its benefits and understand how you can implement or create a software bill of materials to safeguard your software ecosystem.

However, before we delve deeper into the significance of SBOM for software supply chain security, let's first understand the fundamental concept of SBOM.

Overview of Software Supply Chain Security

A software supply chain includes everything that plays a role in software development during the software development life cycle (SDLC). And software supply chain security is the act of securing or safeguarding all those components, practices, and activities involved in the SDLC, such as:

  • Third-Party Proprietary Code
  • Infrastructure
  • Deployment Methods
  • Development Tools
  • Developer Practices
  • Interfaces and Protocols 

Organizations developing software solutions are responsible for ensuring software supply chain security and presenting proof of the same to their consumers.

Now that you know what software supply chain security is, let's learn how to achieve it.  

Importance of Software Bill of Materials (SBOM)

A practical method of ensuring software supply chain security is by creating the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM). 

An SBOM is a collection of all the components (open source and third-party) included in a software codebase. In addition, an SBOM consists of the version, patch status, and the licenses governing the components. All this information helps security teams or developers to identify potential vulnerabilities and mitigate the risk.

The concept of SBOM comes from the manufacturing industry, wherein a Bill of Materials includes all the items used in a complete product. 

Take the automotive industry, for example. A BOM lists parts supplied by third-party vendors and the manufacturer. If something goes wrong in one of the parts, officials can refer to the BOM, track the source of that part, and take the necessary action.

In a similar fashion, in the software industry, the SBOM lists the components included in the software, such as frameworks, libraries, licenses, etc. This SBOM allows easy scrutiny of the components ensuring high-quality, secure, and compliant code.

What Does an SBOM Include?

Here's what a typical SBOM includes:

  • Open-Source Components: Open-source components are the ones that are licensed to be used, distributed, and used in other applications, regardless of who developed them. Examples of open-source components include open-source libraries and frameworks.

  • Vulnerabilities: An SBOM also includes potential vulnerabilities in the open-source components making it easy to assess and analyze the risk. 

  • Version Information: An SBOM offers you information about the versions of the components used in your software. Using this info, you can detect and replace outdated components, minimizing the risk.   

  • Licenses: SBOM lists licenses that govern your software's open-source components.  

  • Dependencies: A comprehensive list of dependencies attached to the components also comes with an SBOM 


Benefits of SBOM in Software Supply Chain Security

Here are the benefits the SBOM supply chain brings:

Software Supply Chain Risk Management

Every software includes one or more pre-built components such as libraries, frameworks, open-source packages, or other third-party resources to speed up the development process. 

However, unverified developers often create these components that contain malicious files. And as a result, there's a chance of malicious components entering your source code.

With a Software Bill of Materials, you can determine where each component came from, its version, license, and more. This way, security officials can always monitor the components a software includes, leading to effective supply chain risk management.

Risk Mitigation Becomes Easy

According to the OSSRA report, out of 2400 audited code bases, 81% had at least one vulnerability. While these vulnerabilities are less likely to be exploited, the news gets public quickly if such an incident happens. 

Take the example of Equifax in 2017. During such a time, every second matters.

However, with an SBOM in place, it becomes way easy to identify and thus mitigate the issue. This enables you to take quick action before things get out of hand.

Increases Consumer Confidence

Buyers are very well aware of the security risks associated with software that uses open-source components. Therefore, it becomes imperative for software development companies to ensure complete safety and win consumer trust. Otherwise, you might end up losing business.

An SBOM acts as a list of ingredients on any packaged food product. Your potential buyers can go through the list of components and be confident of what they're buying, giving you a competitive advantage. Moreover, an SBOM makes the auditing process should your company indulge in a merger.

Supports Regulatory Compliance

As the instances of data breaches increase, the government is becoming more vigilant and strict. For example, the Biden administration in the US has issued an order wherein any software sold to the Federal government should mandatorily include a Software Bill of Materials.

So, having an SBOM can help you comply with government regulations and avoid legal repercussions.

Now that you know how beneficial an SBOM can be, let's learn how to create one for your software solution.

How To Create a Software Bill of Materials?

A traditional way of creating SBOM involves manually entering all the details about the software on a paper or spreadsheet. However, this method is not effective.

For instance, entering and updating data can be cumbersome if the software is large and as more components add up. And this makes the method nonscalable. Plus, manual efforts are always prone to errors which can attract legal repercussions.

However, there's an effective method for creating SBOM that you can rely on. And that is Appknox's SBOM solution.

Appknox's SBOM solution lists everything from third-party components such as libraries and frameworks. It helps you track and identify vulnerabilities in your software and get answers to the following:

  • What components are used?
  • Are the components vulnerable?
  • Are new versions of the components available?

Just upload the binary of your app, and start the analysis. Once done, you can review and analyze the results and potential vulnerabilities. After that, you can conveniently download the OWASP CycloneDX-compliant SBOM report and share it with the engineering team for remediation.

Book a free demo to learn more about Appknox's software bill of materials.




What Should Be Done To Improve the Security of the Supply Chain?

Using a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) is a valuable approach to enhance the security of your software supply chain. Essential factors to consider include promoting transparency, conducting risk assessments, fostering collaboration with suppliers, implementing secure development practices, managing vulnerabilities effectively, and staying informed about emerging threats. SBOM is a critical component in addressing these considerations and strengthening overall supply chain security. 

What Is the Purpose of SBOM?

SBOM (Software Bill of Materials) provides a comprehensive and detailed inventory of all the components and dependencies used in a software application or system. It aids in:

  • Security and Vulnerability Management
  • License Compliance
  • Risk Assessment and Mitigation
  • Supply Chain Security
  • Software Development and Maintenance
  • Regulatory Compliance

What Is Software Supply Chain Risk Management?

Software supply chain risk management is identifying, evaluating, and mitigating risks associated with third-party components used in the software. It involves proactive measures taken by organizations to safeguard their software supply chain from potential threats that could compromise the integrity, security, or reliability of the software.

What Is Included in SBOM?

An SBOM includes details about all the components used in the software development lifecycle, such as open-source libraries and frameworks. The typical components included in an SBOM are:

  • Direct Dependencies
  • Indirect Dependencies
  • Open-Source Software
  • Commercial Components
  • Version Information
  • License Information
  • Dependencies of Dependencies
  • Build Tools
  • Development Environment Information
  • Checksums or Hashes
  • Additional Metadata

Who Creates an SBOM?

Software vendors or organizations that create or develop software solutions must create SBOM to ensure software supply chain security.

Published on Jul 7, 2023
Raghunandan J
Written by Raghunandan J
Raghunandan J is a senior product manager at Appknox, a mobile security suite that helps enterprises automate mobile security. With over a decade of expertise in driving the product vision and strategy for a cloud-based mobile security platform, Raghu is a certified ScrumMaster and Business Analyst.
He is the driving force behind our mission to revolutionize AppSec and has a rich experience in agile methodologies and stakeholder management.


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