If you’ve spent a moment on supply chain safety over the past year, you’re probably acquainted with the term “Software Bill of Materials,” shortened to SBOM. In its simplest form, an SBOM can be compared to a software’s ingredients list; however, in real terms, it’s much more sophisticated.
In today’s digitally-driven enterprises – with a high reliance on software resellers, open-source tools, and white-label applications – the value of having a software bill of materials can’t be overstated.
What is a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM)?
A software bill of materials lists the fundamental components (like code resources) used for building a product. It offers machine-readable information and details outlining the connections between the various software elements in your supply chain.
SBOMs are essentially about the integrity of the digital “materials” one works with, focusing on trust and security. They can identify the components of a piece of software, where these files originated, how they were built, and whether trusted individuals securely signed them.
SBOMs are a tool that software developers and consumers can use to foster confidence and credibility in the software development and distribution lifecycle.
Gartner estimates that by 2025, 60% of organizations developing or procuring software for critical infrastructure will be obliged to use SBOMs, a sharp uptick from less than 20% in 2022. Let’s examine why and what precisely is the value of a software bill of materials.
SBOM and Cyber Security: Why Maintaining Software Bill of Materials is Critical
In both public and private sectors, cyberattacks are now all too commonplace. In the second half of 2022, the number of intrusions against government sectors jumped by 95% compared to the same period in 2021.
The global economic impact of cyberattacks is anticipated to rise dramatically from $8.44 trillion in 2022 to $23.84 trillion in 2027.
That is why enterprises, cyber security advocacy groups, and even governments push SBOM as an essential part of digital infrastructure –not a nice-to-have.
The U.S. Executive Order (EO) 14028 from May 2021, titled “Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity,” mandates using SBOMs to bolster the security of U.S. federal databases. It makes software bill of materials mandatory for any software provider working with a government agency.
Ultimately, companies need to know what is inside their software to fully understand and assess the risk it brings to the company or possible downstream customers.
Use Cases of SBOM
In addition to giving visibility into third-party software, thereby making it easier to tackle supply chain attacks, software bill of material helps in:
Strengthening vendor-buyer relationships
Both software developers and their users need to have faith in the software with which they’re working. Individuals can use the metadata in an SBOM to verify the software’s integrity and quickly recognize faulty or vulnerable components that could impact their systems and processes.
Similarly, SBOMs can highlight the safety measures that software developers need to take to create secure, state-of-the-art software.
Conducting more comprehensive vulnerability analyses
Companies can inspect SBOM components for vulnerabilities. If an issue exists, they’ll also be mindful of which dependencies to rectify. A vulnerability is a defect that can be exploited by malicious actors looking to damage software or harm the system it operates on.
SBOMs can ensure the software is updated regularly and in its most current avatar. If not, you can conduct a risk analysis on only the outmoded components instead of throwing away resources on a review of the entire software.
Delivering better quality software
As the old saying goes, “Say what you do, do what you say.” In a similar vein, the act of creating and evaluating an SBOM typically helps developers in determining whether the software build is truly at its most optimum state.
Is it consistent and repeatable? Does the generated SBOM reflect what engineers believe to be contained within the software? Or does a chasm exist? Most SBOM generators uncover at least a few items about the software the vendor was unaware of, allowing them to improve software quality and publish only the best builds.
Improving decision-making for procurement
Using SBOMs offered by third-party software providers enables procurement managers to make more informed software purchasing decisions. With a software bill of materials, IT procurement specialists can go ‘under the hood’ of software to figure out how it functions before purchasing.
Suppose the SBOM isn’t available before purchase. In that case, you can take advantage of this use case within a reasonable window after purchase – before vendor lock-in can set in – and switch providers if necessary.
Building interoperable enterprise systems
Enterprise architects are in charge of constructing a company’s technology framework. As with a building architect, assembling a tech stack is much simpler if you grasp each element of the resources at hand. This holds especially true for mergers and acquisitions, where architects don’t have complete visibility into the software’s provenance, capabilities, and limitations.
Bolstering response to security incidents
SBOMs can validate event findings and recommendations — a directional indicator of what went awry. As supporting evidence, the SBOM assists in investigating the incident and assessing its effect on concurrent systems or earlier system versions.
During and after an incident, SBOMs can also facilitate interactions between collaborators, afflicted groups, and customers.
Validating that the contents enumerated by an SBOM were reasonably accurate at the time of dissemination and that no identified or unresolved vulnerabilities existed is a further application of SBOMs in incident response management.
This can reduce legal risk and liabilities for companies that have faced a data breach or an incident of equal severity.
Enterprise Considerations for Using SBOM: How to Maximize Their Value
The vendor is responsible for assembling, formatting, and furnishing a complete software bill of materials. However, obtaining the SBOM isn’t enough; enterprises need a governance strategy to route SBOMs to the most valuable use cases.
Know which vendors to send an SBOM request
Since resources generally come with a fixed limit on usage, you need to start with a business impact analysis to determine your most essential service providers and Commercial Off-the-shelf or COTS software solutions.
For some businesses with stringent security standards, all vendors affecting the organization’s data must submit an SBOM. Only a subset of key service providers must be part of this process for other parties.
Also essential to consider is the level of expertise of your vendors. An established corporate vendor will be more prepared to deliver what you require when compared to a scrappy startup.
Decide the cadence of SBOM updates and use automation
The regularity with which you must submit SBOMs is also essential. In specific industries, customers may require updates whenever the software is updated.
This can occur on an ongoing – hourly or daily basis – for SaaS platforms, but this level of frequency would overburden vendors with SBOM data collection and delivery duties. Typically, requesting SBOM “glimpses or snapshots” of products at scheduled intervals (daily, with every new version, etc.) is preferable.
Verify if your contract includes an official Service Level Agreement (SLA) for SBOM delivery.
Establish an SBOM exchange and version control workflow
A mailbox filled with JSON and XML files is an ineffective way to manage data. At a minimum, organizations require a structured method for monitoring and overseeing the version of each SBOM.
Ideally, you need a system that can ingest, decode, and evaluate the contained information. SBOM data can be ingested by platforms such as Anchore and Mend.io to send automated alerts and carry out mechanical security analyses, among other features.
To further strengthen your organization’s security protocols, connect SBOMs with vulnerability administration tools. For example, app or container scanners can use SBOM data to search for recognized vulnerabilities and risks.
As the frequency of cyberattacks increases, supply chain safety is now an essential consideration for all businesses. Software bill of materials is a highly beneficial tool that helps organizations identify and monitor software components. It also keeps users fully apprised of potential safety or efficiency issues.
Next, build your SBOM strategy with Splunk’s latest insights on Security Beyond Compliance. If you enjoyed reading this article, share it on social media by clicking the Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn button above.