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Software bill of materials (SBOM)

What is an SBOM?

Software bill of materials (SBOM) — A sort of nutrition label for software, listing all components used to develop a software package. SBOMs offer visibility into the make-up of software, so that security teams can understand the attack surface and minimize risk. Advocated by the the White House and Federal Government agencies, they are considered an essential first step for an effective software supply chain security approach. 

Why is an SBOM important?

An SBOM is “a formal record containing the details and supply chain relationships of various components used in building software,” according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) also characterizes it as a key building block in software security and software supply chain risk management. Most SBOMs include these key elements: component name, publisher name, component version, file name, software license, and dependencies. 

According to Synopsys, 75% of code stored in codebases is open source.1 As companies increase their dependence on these resources and enlarge their attack surface, they must confirm the efficacy of foreign code that is included in critical projects.

SBOMs help developers and organizations ensure that open-source components are secure and legal to use. For example, Log4j was an open-source package that contained malware, and development teams that used it had to scan their components and verify that they did not have that vulnerability and were not exposed to the Log4j attack. Also, if an enterprises is not FOSS-compliant (meaning working in accordance with free and open-source software licenses), it would be illegal for it to integrate and use certain components in specific ways.

Business benefits of SBOMs

SBOMs are an extremely useful tool for security teams. Here are key reasons to generate and regularly review SBOMs:

• With SBOMs, organizations can better tell whether the software components they use are vulnerable. When a component is targeted in an attack, security teams can use SBOMs to determine which libraries are affected and thus respond more quickly and effectively. It is extremely important to keep SBOMs updated.

• SBOMs promote efficiency by enforcing a common set of standards for auditing components and determining risks. That helps ensure that companies consistently remediate important issues. With security practices better enforced, teams spend less time communicating with one another and more time solving problems.

• SBOMs are an inventory for each component and their features, helping companies follow many different data-compliance mandates.

• SBOMs are time- and cost-efficient because they can find vulnerabilities at the beginning of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Vulnerable components detected late in the SDLC take longer to remediate, and those that go undetected can lead to major breaches that could cause significant damage — and great expense.2

Who uses SBOMs?

Many enterprise teams will find SBOMs to be useful: legal, DevSecOps, application security, and risk and compliance.

Legal teams: These teams can use SBOMs to verify that components are FOSS-compliant and so confirm that they are legal for development teams to use, update, and distribute.

DevSecOps: DevOps and security can confirm with SBOMs that the packages that are integrated in their builds are safe to consume, minmizing vulnerable components and active malware before they are deployed.

App sec: SBOMs help app sec to understand the risks of a software package by identifying all components in the supply chain — and the size of the attack surface. This allows the teams to determine their short- and long-term security goals, as well as which policies to enforce.

Risk and compliance: Compliance and risk teams are served by SBOMs because they allow them to ensure that best practices are followed to support software supply chain security. They help determine whether coding and security practices are compliant with regulations and guidelines.

Challenges when compiling SBOMs

Issues to look out for when introducing SBOMs include the need for teams to be flexible and able to quickly adjust to changes to the size of their attack surface, the composition of applications, or the adoption of new security standards.

Another challenge is the need to understand how components’ version, features, and contributors change over time as SBOMs are continuously collected.

Environments constantly evolve as teams add new open-source packages to their applications and as components are updated. By ensuring that SBOMs are regularly collected and up to date, organizations can understand how their components, environments, and risks change over time, allowing them to identify emerging trends and risks.

Learn more about SBOMs

To learn more about SBOMs, see ReversingLabs' SBOM solution page for several resources that detail the background information, importance, and use cases for them.

To help you understand the risks across your software supply chain, ReversingLabs provides the most comprehensive SBOM in the industry, which includes a supply chain risk analysis — for free.


What the heck is an SBOM?

What the heck is an SBOM?

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