Since the recent rise in attacks on software supply chains, Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) generation has become a core step of development that teams must complete to build and ship software safely. An SBOM is a comprehensive list that details all the software components used in a software product. The purpose of SBOM security is to ensure transparency and traceability within the software supply chain, allowing organizations to identify and rectify potential security vulnerabilities and compliance risks.
But creating and managing an SBOM is a complicated chore, especially for organizations with a large software portfolio. Identifying all the software components used in a product and keeping track of all updates and patches while ensuring their accuracy requires a systematic approach.
In this article, we will discuss the best practices and strategies for managing an SBOM effectively, the challenges associated with SBOM management, and how to simplify this process in order to keep your software supply chain secure.
What is SBOM Management?
Creating a Software Bill of Materials is only the first step in the process of maintaining the security of your software. But creating a list of software components is not enough; you need to track, validate, edit, and manage your SBOM. Doing this ensures that you’re not only aware of the components of your software, but that you actually understand all the risks of the individual components and their impact on your software.
SBOM management is the process of tracking your Software Bill of Materials as it is generated across your DevOps pipeline. Managing your SBOM involves generating, storing, analyzing, and monitoring your SBOM documentation. Completing these SBOM management tasks across your app lifecycle helps you identify software dependencies and improve the security of your supply chain.
Your SBOM has no use when it is left dormant within the build directory where it was generated. SBOM management helps you leverage this data so you can generate actionable insights and better understand the open-source components of your software package and their impact on the software supply chain. Vulnerability scanning and reporting are also aspects of SBOM management.
So while generating the Software Bills of Material is an important part of the DevOps process, the continuous process of SBOM management is even more important. It allows you to fully leverage and implement vulnerability warming systems, zero-trust policies, and long-term software supply chain intelligence.
Insights into SBOM Management
To keep up with the increasing number of threats to different software across the supply chain, Gartner predicts that up to 60% of organizations that rely on software as critical infrastructure will start mandating the use of SBOMs in the coming years. This is according to Gartner’s 2022 Innovation Insight Report on SBOM which provides vital information about the importance of implementing an SBOM management program.
The report recognizes the importance of SBOM cybersecurity for improving the visibility, integrity, transparency, and security of codes used in software supply chains. Without knowing the components of the software, it’s difficult to understand the extent of the risks and vulnerabilities of this software. The best solution is to simply track every software in an application and check them against a database of known vulnerabilities to ensure they’re safe.
According to the Gartner report, every organization should invest in generating an SBOM for every software package they build. Next, they should verify the SBOM of all the software they use. There’s also a need for continuous SBOM management so they can reassess the data to understand new security risks even after the app has been deployed.
Strategies for Effective Software Bill of Materials Management
Organizations can ensure the security and compliance of the software they build or use by prioritizing SBOM Management. The following are some of the strategies for managing the Software Bill of Materials of an organization effectively.
Automate SBOM Generation
A Software Bill of Material should be created for every iteration of your software. But developers will have a hard time achieving this if they need to generate SBOMs manually for each build. This is why SBOM generation should be built into your software delivery pipeline. Automation makes it possible to achieve “machine speed” for SBOM generation as recommended by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
SBOM automation also increases the integrity and trustworthiness of your SBOM documentation. Automated SBOMs generated within the development pipeline can be cryptographically signed, proving to users that the list of software components in the SBOM is authentic.
All data presented in your Software Bill of Materials management should be structured based on a standard format. While there are several others, SPDX, SWID, and CycloneDX are three of the most popular formats. Since there is no official SBOM recommendation or generalized industry-wide standard, each organization is allowed to choose whatever format works best for them. The most important factor here is consistency, regardless of the SBOM format you choose.
Provide SBOMs for SaaS
When it comes to implementing cybersecurity measures for software, organizations often focus on apps or software they deploy themselves in the cloud or on-premises while SaaS apps they use are ignored.
However, providing SBOMs for these Software as a Service apps is recommended as well. Customers in a SaaS model don’t need to manage software updates or new releases on their end. However, in the event that a customer’s SaaS application is compromised as a result of a vulnerability, providing SBOMs for the application can serve as an early warning which may contribute to their own cybersecurity measures too.
Regular Updates for Each Release
To be most effective, SBOMs should be version-specific; developers should revise the SBOM whenever they roll out an update for their application. It’s easy for developers to fall into the trap of making an SBOM once and just upgrading it every so often due to the difficulty of updating it manually between releases. Companies should ensure that their Software Bill of Materials management is promptly updated anytime a new version of their software is available. This is another reason why automating SBOM generation is important since it makes it easier to generate an updated version of your SBOM each time you release an update.
Establish Clear Communication Channels
SBOM management involves multiple stakeholders connected to the software product in one way or another. This includes software suppliers, development teams, customers, and others. One of the ways to ensure effective SBOM management is to establish clear communication channels between these stakeholders. This ensures that everyone gets access to any new information about the software components in a product and can implement any updates as necessary
The amount of metadata (additional information such as licensing data and patching status) to include in your SBOM documentation depends on the format you are using. While some formats may support more metadata than others by default, developers should prioritize adding as much metadata to their SBOM as possible. This additional information makes SBOM management easier for users since they won’t have to look up these pieces of information manually each time they need them. The metadata also makes it easier to identify and update vulnerable components in your products whenever a security flaw is announced.
SBOM Management Challenges
Despite the widespread adoption of SBOM, many aspects of SBOM management remain challenging for users. Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is the lack of standardization in SBOM formatting across the industry. While adhering to the same standard for SBOM creation and sharing guarantees the best value for everyone, it’ll take a while before consensus can be achieved.
Another challenge is the need to keep SBOMs up-to-date and relevant. The software created by most organizations is dynamic. This means updates are released periodically and new components are added. To remain relevant and safe to use, the Software Bill of Materials must be updated with every new release of the software. Every organization has to make plans for SBOM generation and management tools so they can release new SBOM ‘with every new release of their software more seamlessly.
And then there’s the risk of inaccuracies or omissions within the SBOM, which can lead to exposure to vulnerabilities and compliance problems. Some SBOM generation tools fail to document raw code or binaries included by developers in their source code. SBOMs generated this way create a false sense of completeness which makes them unsafe. For security and transparency, your SBOM should be highly detailed, listing as many components as possible and optimally providing hierarchical information to show the relationship between these components.
Finally, there’s the risk of managing the security of the SBOM itself because it contains sensitive information about software components used during the development process, including potential security vulnerabilities. Therefore, organizations must take measures to safeguard the SBOM from unauthorized access or disclosure.
To wrap up, it is crucial to emphasize the importance of proper management of a Software Bill of Materials for any organization that creates or uses software products. Beyond creating an SBOM, implementing effective SBOM management practices helps a company keep its software products secure and compliant with relevant regulations.
Some of the key components of an effective SBOM management framework include keeping a comprehensive inventory of your software components, scheduling regular updates, carrying out risk assessments as necessary, and automating SBOM generation and management.
By adhering to these best practices, an organization can gain a much deeper understanding of its software supply chains to minimize the risk of security breaches and avoid other potential issues. Ultimately, effective SBOM management will help you build secure and more reliable software products that meet the needs of your customers and all stakeholders.