Friday, August 4, 2023

Guide To Software Composition Analysis

Guide To Software Composition Analysis

Software Composition Analysis is claimed to be the best friend of the developer. Although it is not new, the SCA has become famous among enterprises because open-source softwares dominate them in the last few years. But along with many benefits, open-source components will also bring some software vulnerabilities.


If we just take the top four open-source systems like .NET, Java, Python, and JavaScript in combination, they have around 37,451,682 versions of different components between them, states the State of the software supply chain, a report by Sonatype. Even in the last years, the software supply chain attacks increased by 650% YOY to exploit the weaknesses of the open-source systems.


In this guide, we will take a look at the workings of SCA, its security issues and what traits should you look for in a SCA provider.


Generally, a software bill of materials or SBOM is created and maintained by a custom software development team not only because it's a best practice but also because an engineering team understands the modules used in the codebase.

What is Software Composition Analysis?

Software Composition Analysis was prompted after the launch of the open-source manual scanner. Organizations would use it to obtain greater visibility into their codebase. The SCA needed some human intervention as well as an adherence to the agile methodologies to resolve its issues.


Gartner says that although companies nowadays have simplified the software development process, they have failed to bridge the gap of critical visibility. They cannot actively summarize or accurately record the huge volumes of softwares they have developed, consumed, and operated. They also state that the lack of visibility makes the software components vulnerable to licensing compliance and security risks.


The software composition analysis is used to identify the codebase software. Then this tool automates the tracking process and analyzes the software components and their dependencies. This becomes responsible for faster release cycles.

Why is SCA important?

Software composition analysis prompted the shift left paradigm that is generally seen in modern environments like DevOps and DevSecOps. Doing regular and early SCA testing can help developers and QA analysts enhance both the quality of software and the overall productivity of the team.


The SCA can analyze the software code to identify all the security vulnerabilities in it. Manual analysis can be very tiresome. But utilizing SCA can just automate the entire process with the promise of speed, security, and reliability.


In February 2022, Gartner reported that attackers now have been actively going after the open-source projects to plant malicious code in them instead of just exploiting publicly disclosed security vulnerabilities. Therefore, companies need to use SBOMs to verify the security of open-source software systems.


When the SCA finds some vulnerability, it will flag the location in the code base and then will analyze its impact as well as suggest some remediation steps that you should take. This effectively bridges the gap between detection and remediation. Software Composition Analysis can also guide companies on how to comply with relevant industry regulations.


Gartner has predicted that almost 60% of companies that are engaged in either development or purchase of software with critical infrastructure will standardize and mandate SBOMs in their software engineering practices in 2025. That will be an increment of almost 20% from the stats of 2022. The company also said that almost 90% of the SCA tools would be able to generate and verify the SBOMs to help with the secure consumption of open-source softwares in 2024. This is again a rise of around 30% from 2022.


After scanning the codebase for security vulnerabilities, an SBOM lists all the software components and their dependencies. So you can say that the SBOM is useful in tracking vulnerabilities and licenses for every component. And to do that, these software components are compared against different databases including but limited to National Vulnerability Database.


The comparison of components against the databases will help security teams identify security and legal vulnerabilities and then they will immediately take actions to fix these issues. The SCA tool will also offer suggestions to remediate them.

Why do you need SCA tools?

The more the complex architecture of an open-source codebase, the more vulnerabilities it would contain. And you need to remediate all of these vulnerabilities. Also, these issues pose the highest risks so it's necessary to look beyond the CVSS scores.


If you truly want to deal with modern cyber threats, you have to scan all the pipelines in your SDLC for various kinds of vulnerable dependencies. Infrastructure as a Code (IaC) dependencies, build module dependencies, build modules, dev tool plugins, dev tools, and many more should be included in these security scans.


In an open-source system, you will find many software interdependencies. Gartner recommends, “Software engineering leaders must decide upon one common industry standard for SBOM formats which helps in navigating through the software dependencies and relationships.” Currently, CycloneDX, SWID, and SPDX are the three types of SBOM standards from which CycloneDX and SPDX have better community support and wider market traction.


Gartner also said that the generation and verification of SBOMs can be easily automated with the help of a common data exchange format. It also makes sure that the data is shared across the entire supply chain. Software engineering teams would largely benefit from such standardizing as it allows them to share the metadata of the software components.

How to find an SCA tool provider?

Two kinds of SCAs are available. The first one includes the governance systems, the type which DevOps, security, management, and legal teams use. The aim behind the creation of such systems is to provide complete control and visibility over the software portfolio of the organization.


Another type of SCA offering includes developer tools. The purpose of these tools is to help developers avoid using the vulnerable components of an open-source software system. It also helps the developers detect and fix the issues.


There are many factors you need to consider while looking for an SCA tool provider


     Is the tool able to scan the code in the language your team is using?

     Is the tool able to scan the source code and binaries?

     Is the tool accurate?

     Can this tool identify open-source software licenses and components?

     The reports generated by the tool must be easy to understand

     Is your tool updated on all the latest security vulnerabilities?

     Is your tool easily integrable with development tools at various development stages?

     Ensure that the SCA tool your pick can offer a good ROI.

What does SCA not do?

One thing that developers and testers need to remember is that SCA will never prioritize the remediation suggestions even though it offers them to resolve critical vulnerabilities. So the task of deciding which vulnerabilities should be prioritized falls on the shoulders of the IT team. They can check out all the current vulnerabilities against the risk priority to make that decision. But it wouldn't be easy for them to prioritize the issues without conducting a deeper analysis.


The SCA tools can't tell you which vulnerability or security issue is most concerning for your business. And they also fail to provide a context for the point of origin of a vulnerability.

Final Words

Open-source software systems are quickly becoming the primary resources for software development projects in the industry. And despite such heavy reliance, many companies often neglect to conduct due diligence to ensure that every component they are using to build their solutions is up to the basic security standards and is in compliance with all the licensing requirements.


Software composition analysis helps you do just that. And in the process, you are awarded a lot of benefits as a by-product. Some of those advantages are listed below:


     Provide the IT team with full control and visibility over the usage of open-source systems.

     The tool suggests how to remediate the vulnerabilities

     The tracking of open-source software components is automated

     Continuous monitoring helps in detecting weak points

     Identifying and prioritizing the automated management tools throughout the entire software development process

     Handling all the software licenses becomes easy with SCA tools.


SBOMs are very crucial to maintain security and compliance. And they can be enhanced when you use the SCA to verify and validate the health of an open-source software system.