The Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) has evolved from being primarily a software inventory list to a critical component of Application Security that helps determine the safety and security of an application based on dependencies, the software supply chain, and the application’s development environment. SBOMs systematically detail an application’s open-source software usage and more, and have become an invaluable tool to get a handle on the complexity behind modern applications.
As software components grow increasingly intricate, ensuring the integrity of every element within the SBOM is a necessity to be able to properly secure it. In this article, we delve into the nuances of the SBOM, detail why it’s so important, and offer strategies to optimize an organization’s SBOM so it can lead to better overall application security and risk management.
The History of the SBOM
The term "Software Bill of Materials" or SBOM as a foundational concept has roots from a few years ago and is defined by CISA as “a list of ingredients that make up software components”. Think of the SBOM as the comprehensive directory of every piece of code, third-party element, and any other component that is involved in the development of a particular piece of software.
History and Evolution of the SBOM
In the past SBOMs were simpler, but the software development landscape has become more complex. With the proliferation of intricate developer environments with nested software components and their dependencies, the depth and breadth of the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) has expanded, as has the need to properly communicate the details within it.
One key factor contributing to this complexity has been the increased reliance on third-party and open-source components. While these components have led to rapid development and a more efficient process, they also introduce new challenges related to software supply chain security. As these components become deeply integrated, keeping track of every nested element and their dependencies, ensuring that they’re all updated, and managing any potential vulnerabilities has become more important and more difficult.
The increasing reliance on the use of open-source components is an ongoing shift in how organizations approach software development, requiring a more robust SBOM strategy. In essence, the modern-day SBOM is not just a simple list, it’s an intricate inventory of nested dependencies that provides the transparency, accountability, and security required today for complex software development environments.
Why SBOM Security Sets the Stage for Success or Failure
Ensuring the security of any product or software throughout the development process often boils down to the components it's made of. Ultimately, a software product's resilience needs to also be reflected accurately in the SBOM’s completeness and integrity. Any potential dependency weakness can manifest as chinks in the armor of the final application, leaving it susceptible to vulnerabilities and malicious attacks.
Having a detailed SBOM is necessary for comprehensive software supply chain security. A total understanding of application component origins, source, versions, and potential vulnerabilities allows security and development teams to fully comprehend their attack surface like a threat actor, quickly finding and addressing potential security risks before they become exposed vulnerabilities.
Embracing and prioritizing SBOMs will improve your organizations overall cybersecurity posture by identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities at the component level. Organizations will be better positioned to swiftly mitigate risks at the root level, strengthening an application’s defenses in a more comprehensive manner. It can also gives teams the information required to act quickly if they do spot a vulnerability or if a successful attack does occur.
With a comprehensive SBOM, an organization is better positioned to remediate a potential security risk faster at the source and have the ability to ensure the vulnerability doesn’t resurface. This can reduce the risk of cyberattacks in general which has the downstream effect of protecting your organization’s bottom line and reputation. So for organizations looking to optimize their Software Security Development Life Cycle (SSDLC) and integrate cybersecurity across the entire software development process, focusing on the SBOM is essential.
Tips & Best Practices for Optimizing SBOM Security
Implementing tried and true SBOM best practices for effective management and maintenance can be the difference between ensuring a secure and robust software environment rather than having one that exposes an organization to unnecessary risk. Here are our top recommendations to enhance your SBOM management.
Prioritize Software Supply Chain Visibility
Having a clear view of every strand within the software supply chain is necessary, which is why visibility should be a priority for your SBOM and application security in general. Prioritizing visibility makes for a much more proactive and scalable approach that gives actionable insights to mitigate risks before they snowball into major security breaches.
Break Down Communication Silos Between Stakeholders
Clear and consistent communication forms the backbone of effective cybersecurity as well as SBOM management. All stakeholders, including developers, third-party vendors, security staff, and employees outside of your dev departments should be aligned to the latest software changes, dependencies, and security updates. By having a cohesive line of communication across these departments and stakeholders, you can streamline operations, reduce information discrepancies, minimize security gaps, and improve the scope and completeness of your SBOMs and their overall management.
Revise Your SBOM with Every Release
Your SBOM should always be up to date and version-specific for maximum security. Every time an update or release is launched, you should update your SBOM to capture any and all changes. Up-to-date information is critical in case an issue arises or a vulnerability is discovered.
Make Your SBOM Generation Automated
If you’re planning to revise your SBOM with every update and release, your department needs an automated SBOM generation solution. This reduces the burden of manually updating and generating an SBOM while minimizing the risk of an error making its way in. By automating the SBOM generation process, you’re optimizing the SBOM management process and improving your overall software supply chain security.
Designate a Standard Format
Organizations should find a way to establish consistency through a single, standard data format. Utilize SBOM management tools that come with pre-established unified formats or can be customized to support and enforce a unified structure to ensure all components and data points are cataloged uniformly. This will improve consistency and result in improved reporting and better overall maintenance.
Future of SBOMs and Beyond
As the SBOM continues to be recognized for its importance in application security, it’s important to consider what the future looks like and how to evolve SBOM management and consider additional ways to leverage it as part of your AppSec and/or DevSecOps program.
On the threat side, we’re likely to see increases of an already observed trend in application security — software supply chain attacks including open source software dependency attacks. Cybercriminals know that organizations struggle with maintaining a robust cybersecurity posture across their software development environments and will continue to target these weak links. This may lead to an increase in data breaches and data exposure, which will put the reputation of affected organizations at risk. It may also impact software production and affect business operations, and as a result, revenue.
Organizations as a whole, including developers, should not only focus on SBOM but also software supply chain security and Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) to stay ahead of the curve. This can help them maintain comprehensive visibility, real-time notification of security issues, as well as automated remediation options, making their software development process agile, resilient, and secure.
Secure Your SBOM Now & for the Future
Maintaining SBOMs is a necessary component of application security and another reminder of why visibility is so important. Without the comprehensive visibility, organizations will struggle to comprehensively secure their assets and environment and ensure their efforts in vulnerability management and risk mitigation are effective within their organization. From understanding the nuances of software supply chain security to realizing the risks posed by potential vulnerabilities in third-party and open-source dependencies, it’s clear that SBOMs play an important role in providing overall visibility.
A platform like Legit Security can help organizations improve their overall application visibility, vulnerability management across complex application development environments, and generate SBOMs to improve the efficiency of their security efforts. By leveraging a platform like Legit Security, DevSecOps teams can integrate security as part of their development process without being hindered or slowed down, all while keeping up with the threats and vulnerabilities that continue to emerge.
To learn more about how Legit Security can help, Book a Demo to see the Legit Security platform in action.