When you shop for groceries, you can always look at the list of ingredients to determine what your packaged food contains. In the spring of 2021, President Biden issued an executive order that requires software vendors working with the federal government to follow a similar approach. They now need to provide a Software Bill of Materials that lists all the software’s components.
You don’t need to sell software to the U.S. government to recognize the benefits of SBOM. Eventually, it will probably become standard practice. Are you asking, “What is SBOM?” If so, no worries. The following article will go over the basics and a few details that will help you understand why it makes sense for development teams and software purchasers to require Software Bills of Materials.
What is SBOM: the basics
When you ask, “What is SBOM?” it doesn’t help much when someone tells you, "It’s a Software Bill of Materials.” Really, what does that mean? An SBOM is a finalized, official document that lists all components in a piece of software. It often includes proprietary and open-source software components. It can also include the modules and libraries developers used to build the software. Software companies should deliver SBOMs with all their products. It’s also good practice to include SBOMs for your internal products.
Why do organizations need to know what SBOMs are?
What is SBOM? It's more than a simple list of software components. Security is the primary reason organizations want SBOMs. When you have a full list of software components, you can identify potential threats that leave you vulnerable to hackers. For example, you might know that an open-source component named “awesome-code” contains code that exposes data and sends it to a group of hackers. Once you learn about the threat, you can look at all your SBOMs to discover which ones contain “awesome-code.” At that point, you can take the appropriate steps to protect your network.
This type of security threat is called a software supply chain attack. Unfortunately, a compromised component in a popular piece of software could get used by several developers. Alternatively, sophisticated hackers could write code, break into a developer’s system, and insert the malicious code into a component. That’s potentially what happened with the SolarWinds hack that hurt so many government agencies and multi-national corporations. As long as you have SMOBs, you can find infected components much more quickly. It often helps to maintain a central repository that includes every component used by your organization and individual SMOBs connected to the specific pieces of software you use.
SMOBs can also assist your software development teams. Just as you want a list of ingredients when you try cooking something new, developers benefit from having access to a list of components when they build and update software. As your development team pushes more packages to repositories, they can see precisely what the software contains. Ideally, they will discover opportunities for improvement.
Will SBOMs put proprietary software components at risk?
Often, open-source software contains the components you need to worry about. Without a financial incentive to maintain every aspect of the code, open-source software vulnerabilities can plague products for weeks or months before someone addresses the problem. Many software development teams mix open-source software with proprietary components. The proprietary code sets your products apart from other products.
Since you spend a lot of time and money building those parts of your software, you don’t want to give competitors easy access to your code. If you do, they could make small adjustments and potentially sell a similar product at a much lower price. You don’t need to worry about SBOMs giving away your corporate secrets because you maintain control over the document and what it contains. While you need to provide a complete list of software components, you do not need to give anyone access to your code. Additionally, you can set your SBOMs to public or private. The public setting will let anyone view your software components. The private setting only gives access to vendors, customers, and developers you trust.
You can correct problematic code quickly
The moment you learn that your product contains problematic code, your developers can make changes to correct the code. That might involve removing open-source components, which could mean you need to write custom code as a replacement. It could also involve updating code and pushing packages to your central repository. From there, the packages get sent to every device within your IT ecosystem. It’s a fast, effective way to maintain strong software security without completely abandoning useful open-source options.
How Packagecloud can help
Knowing what SBOMs are can aid in your cybersecurity, but it still forces you to know about the latest vulnerabilities. Packagecloud adds to your security efforts by scanning your packages for vulnerabilities, supply chain poisonings, and trojan-horse attacks before pushing new code to the machines in your IT ecosystem. That way, you can prevent problems before vulnerable code reaches users.
You also benefit from storing all your packages in one place, making it easier to manage all your code and identify potential issues. When you find a package that contains vulnerable code, you can remove it from your repository. It’s that easy.
Secure your packages and software supply chain by signing up for a free trial with Packagecloud. Once you see how well it works, you'll want to make it an essential tool for software development.