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For the DevOps and software engineer, there’s nothing more important than having a safe and secure product. With cybersecurity hacks becoming more than a passing trend today, it has become imperative to take extreme steps to protect the software supply chain and its many components.

Why is software cybersecurity important?

The Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) is a lengthy process. Given how fast-paced the world of software development is, it is common to have engineers use several other third-party sources and components to aid them rather than build everything from scratch.

This method is rather important for quick product and update delivery. However, the truth is that it exposes software to several corruptions and vulnerabilities, which, when exploited by hackers, become gaping security weaknesses that can compromise the entire project.

These vulnerabilities often exist for considerable dwell periods, such as in the case of the SolarWinds hack, before discovery. In the latter’s case, the vulnerabilities lay undiscovered for several months.

The respective hackers (suspected Russians) were only too glad to take advantage of the illegal backdoor to the software, stealing dollars worth of private and government data, including state secrets.

Upon discovery, the phenomenon shook the entire software industry, highlighting the importance of maintaining top-notch security practices throughout the development pipeline.

Since then, many standardized approaches have emerged. One essential way to protect your supply chain’s integrity is to assess the SBOM.

In this article, we’ll comprehensively examine the concept of SBOM and go on to explain the best ways to automate its creation.

Read on.

What is SBOM?

SBOM is an acronym for Software Bill of Materials. Software Bill of Materials definition implies a comprehensive inventory of all the constituent elements or components of the software.

In a non-software context, an SBOM can be likened to the ingredients that make up a canned good, including its source. Here, it would include the manufacturers of the can m, the farm where the raw ingredients were sourced, and so on.

An SBOM includes all third-party components used in software development, including code libraries, packages, patch status, dependencies, component version, license type, etc.

What formats does the SBOM take?

So vital is the data contained with SBOMs, particularly to mitigating the risk involved in cyberattacks, that the US government has strict regulations regarding it.

By law, software companies working with the government are required to provide a comprehensive SBOM in any one of three standardized formats.

These formats are identified by the NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) as methods for generating a comprehensive SBOM inventory list inclusive of software entities and related metadata.

Here are the three formats:

  • ●       OWASP Cyclone DX
  • ●       SPDX (Software Package Data Exchange)
  • ●       SWID (Standard for Software Identification)

The SPDX is an open standard for SBOM generation containing security references, copyrights, and software components.

On the other hand, the OWASP CycloneDX standard is used in generating inventories of third-party and proprietary software constituents for risk analysis. This makes it ideal for documenting information like firmware, libraries, containers, operating systems, frameworks, etc.

SWID is an ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) definition that consists of an XML file containing software components inventory such as patch statuses, licenses, and installation bundles.

A “software bill of materials” (SBOM) has emerged as a key building block in software security and software supply chain risk management.

CISA

Why is it important to automate SBOM generation?

SBOM formats are designed to be machine-readable. As they comprise so much data, the manual analysis, curation, and processing of this data is time-consuming.

Even the smallest software is often composed of several components. Culling an inventory of these constituents is a near-impossible task per manual execution.

As such, automating the process the crucial to generating SBOMs. This way, there will be better consistency in the change implementation after release. Additionally, it facilitates the digital cryptographic verification and signing of components by vendors. Besides, it ensures continuous scanning to generate SBOMs, inherently making them valuable to the Continuous Integration/Continuous Delivery pipeline.

Also, SBOM automation offers machine speeds, thus saving valuable time. Instead of devoting crucial hours to curating the inventory, your software organization can focus on effective deployment. Additionally, it becomes easy to flag and isolate the faulty component and run update scans for risk mitigation if vulnerabilities are detected.

Methods for automating SBOM creation

There are three common methods of automating SBOM creation:

SCA tools

SCA stands for software composition analysis. These tools automate SBOM creation by comprehensively analyzing third-party code integrity, license compliance, and software security.

The process is highly efficient, guarantees code integrity boosts productivity, and does not compromise security.

Some of the components that SCA tools investigate include the following:

  • ●       Binary files
  • ●       Manifest files
  • ●       Source code
  • ●       Container images.

SCA tools provide security and reliability by analyzing tons of data points. Today, they’re highly useful in the cloud niche.

Use plugins

Another way to generate SBOMs is to use plugins within the CI/CD pipeline. This involves creating and auditing SBOMs in the DevOps pipeline.

A common plugin is the CycloneDX maven plugin which generates comprehensive SBOMs based on various project dependencies.

To begin with, the pox.xml file will have to be configured, with the culmination of the process being a generation of a bom.json file.

Next, the inventory is audited by a Dependency-Check SCA tool, after which the SBOM is finally generated.

Use Scribe

Scribe is an all-in-one software supply chain tool that helps developers generate comprehensive SBOMs.

The tool provides end-to-end security as far as your software supply chain is concerned, with a steady assurance of quality and code integrity throughout the SDLC.

The generated SBOMs can be shared with your team and your vendors, granting unhindered insight into code tampering and vulnerabilities in your software project.

With Scribe, you get comprehensive visibility, actionable insights, evidence-based compliance, and code integrity validation.

Conclusion

SBOMs are indispensable as far as the software supply chain is concerned. They’re the link between software developers and their respective project dependencies.

Without the comprehensive outlines they provide, optimizing cybersecurity practices within the development pipeline will be impossible.

As such, it’s important to generate a standardized SBOM in the course of a project’s development. It’s more than just essential- it is a necessity.

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