The manual method of creating a software bill of materials can be very physically demanding, and it often ends with many mistakes on the SBOM.
Numerous mistakes on a software bill of materials are something that no organization would want as they can lead to misinformation and security vulnerabilities. So to make it easier for organizations, there’s a need to automate the creation of software bills of materials.
Not only does automation make an SBOM more accurate, but it is also much faster than a human being and reduces the risk of security vulnerabilities. In this article, you will learn about the meaning of a software bill of materials, the challenges of creating one, and how an organization can automate its creation.
What is SBOM?
Software bill of materials definition is understandable when explained very well — SBOM is a detailed description or list of all elements and components that come together to make up a fully functional software.
To make it easier for you to understand, imagine SBOM as the list of all the parts or components of a car. A car comprises an engine, a trunk, a door, a rear mirror, a gas pedal, brakes, seats, and many other components.
It is the same as a software product; it comprises dependencies, libraries, open-source components, licenses, and many other things. So, a software bill of materials lists the relationship between dependencies and libraries, author and supplier name, open source components, compliance requirements, and version strings of software.
Software bill of materials is often written in metadata readable by machines, showing a comprehensive description of the software an organization adds to their product.
Challenges Associated with Creating SBOM
Below are some of the challenges an organization might face in the process of creating a software bill of materials (SBOM).
One of the major issues faced with software bills of materials is creating another one when software releases a new update.
With software bill of materials being important in any organization that uses a software product, it must be generated whenever a new update of the software is released.
The only problem here is that creating SBOM can be physically demanding, especially if an organization does not have the necessary tools to automate its creation. This is an important reason why SBOM needs to be automated; lack of automation makes the work harder and more difficult to keep up with updates.
● Steady Creation
For an organization still using the manual method of generating SBOM, it can take a lot of work to continue its creation consistently. Even when an organization tries to keep up, there is more room for error than when a trusted platform has automated it.
Using the manual method of SBOM creation leads to much information being left out by those carrying out the task. Also, when an organization does not have a full understanding or information in their SBOM, it gives room for security threats.
● Vulnerability of tools
Even when an organization uses automation to create its SBOM, such tools are still associated with vulnerabilities
Because of these vulnerabilities, hackers can easily manipulate an SBOM report by hacking into one of these tools. To reduce the chances of a tool being vulnerable, an organization has to use reliable and reputable tools to automate its SBOM creation.
The Best Ways to Automate SBOM Creation?
Below are some of the best ways that can be utilized to automate the creation of software bills of materials in an organization or company.
● Open Source Tools
Open-source tools are the most basic method of automating the creation of software bills of materials, and they often come without a price tag.
However, it comes with some downsides; they only cover the most basic parts of software bill of materials generation. If an organization needs an advanced method for creating SBOM, it should use something other than open-source tools for this task.
Besides covering only the basic part of SBOM, open-source tools also produce an SBOM report using mostly CycloneDX and SPDX formats. Also, when creating an SBOM report using an open-source tool, you might have to use different combinations to make it happen.
For instance, if an organization uses an open-source tool called Paketo to create an SBOM report, they have to use Pack CLI and Paketo Build packs. These are two different tools, and they serve different purposes, which, combined, will help crest a software bill of materials.
● Composition analysis (SCA) tool
The composition analysis (SCA) tool is another instrument that can be used in software bills of materials automation. One of the major advantages of an organization or company using this method to create SBOM is that it speeds up the whole process without compromising accuracy.
Composition analysis (SCA) is a method used by a company creating an SBOM to analyze code legitimacy, third-party software components and security, and software licenses. Composition analysis (SCA) tools are the foremost recommendation for companies looking to automate their software bill of materials.
What differentiates tools such as this from other methods is that it has the combined benefit of security, reliability, and speed in analyzing a huge amount of data needed for SBOM. Another advantage of this method is that it allows you to personalize your software bill of materials report, both the language and company details.
● Plugin within the DevOps pipeline
The third method used by organizations in automating the process of generating a software bill of materials is a plugin within the DevOps pipeline.
For organizations looking forward to using this method, the most common plugins used here are the maven plugins at the build stage of the CI/CD pipeline. Creating a software bill of materials using this method may have complex processes as it involves using two or more tools.
A software bill of materials is very important information or document on any organization using software in their product. This is a comprehensive list of components used to make or build software, such as dependencies and libraries.
Creating software bills of materials without automation can be very stressful and create security vulnerabilities due to human errors. But using automation in SBOM creation ensures that an organization reduces mistakes when creating one.
Different methods can be used to automate the creation of SBOM, such as Composition analysis (SCA) tools, open-source tools, and plugins within the DevOps pipeline.