SBOMs and Cybersecurity
Leveraging SBOM Data to Improve Cybersecurity Defense
What is an SBOM?
Before diving into the significance of SBOMs in cybersecurity, let's first understand what they are. A Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) is a detailed list of all the components, libraries, and dependencies that make up a piece of software. It essentially provides a comprehensive inventory of the software's building blocks, including their versions and sources.
The Critical Role of SBOMs in Cybersecurity
In today’s digital age, cybersecurity has become a paramount concern for individuals, businesses, and governments alike. The ever-evolving threat landscape presents a continuous challenge, making it essential for organizations to adopt proactive measures to protect their digital assets and sensitive data. One such critical tool in the cybersecurity arsenal is the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM). SBOMs are not just nice to have; they are necessary in the battle against cyber threats. SBOMs and cybersecurity go hand-in-hand. While they are not a new concept, SBOMs are becoming increasingly recognized as an important cybersecurity tool that organizations can rely on. Their recent emergence has helped reduce security risks and compliance issues.
For government, enterprise organizations, and open source communities, cybersecurity continues to be a huge priority, and that will not change moving forward.
Heightened concerns of software supply chain security stemmed from a few public attacks. The start of SBOMs was attributed to the SolarWinds software supply chain attack, which occurred in 2021. As a result, President Biden signed Executive Order 14028 in May 2021, to improve cybersecurity, which includes provisions pertaining to SBOMs, requiring agencies to enhance cybersecurity and software supply chain integrity.
SBOMs play a large role in exposing the software supply chain of the applications you deliver to end users. In particular, the use of open-source packages, and their dependencies are of primary concern. Building software today means using thousands of interconnected libraries. When one of these libraries has a critical security issue, IT teams need to respond quickly.
But first, they need to discover if they are using the affected package. SBOMs provide that level of information and strengthen IT organization’s ability to respond to a security breach. SBOMS provide:
1. Vulnerability Management:
One of the primary reasons SBOMs are crucial to cybersecurity is their role in vulnerability management. With the proliferation of open-source and third-party software components in modern applications, it’s common for organizations to lose visibility into their software supply chains. SBOMs help organizations identify and track known vulnerabilities in their software components. When a security vulnerability is discovered in a particular library or dependency, having an SBOM enables organizations to quickly pinpoint which applications are affected, reducing the time to patch and mitigate potential risks.
2. Supply Chain Security:
Software supply chain attacks have become a significant concern in recent years. Malicious actors often target the software development process to insert malware or compromise components that are widely used. SBOMs enable organizations to scrutinize their software supply chains, ensuring that all components are trustworthy and free from vulnerabilities. By knowing the origin and history of each component, organizations can make informed decisions about which software components to include and which to avoid, reducing the risk of supply chain attacks.
3. Incident Response:
In the unfortunate event of a cybersecurity incident, time is of the essence. Rapid response and containment are critical to limiting the damage. SBOMs play a vital role in incident response by providing a clear understanding of the affected software components. Security teams can use this information to assess the impact of an attack, determine which components need immediate attention, and prioritize remediation efforts.
4. Compliance and Auditing:
Many industries and regulatory bodies require organizations to maintain transparency and accountability in their software development and deployment processes. SBOMs provide a comprehensive record of software components, making it easier to demonstrate compliance with security standards and regulations. This can be particularly important for organizations in sectors like healthcare, finance, and government, where data security and privacy regulations are stringent.
5. Trust and Assurance:
Building trust with customers, partners, and stakeholders is essential for any organization. By sharing SBOMs with these parties, organizations can demonstrate a commitment to transparency and security. Customers and partners can review the software components used and assess their own risks, fostering a sense of trust and assurance in the organization’s cybersecurity practices.
Why SBOMs Are Necessary for Security
The Executive Order Advocates for SBOMs as a necessary part of cyber security.
As mentioned, SBOMs plays a critical role in cybersecurity, providing a detailed list of all the components and dependencies that make up a piece of software. Tracking this information enables organizations to manage vulnerabilities and ensure compliance standards and regulations.
The rapid adoption of SBOMs to protect the software supply chain has increased. This survey conducted in late 2022 outlines how concerned organizations are about the security of the software they use:
Source: Linux Foundation
SBOMs and Cybersecurity in a Decoupled Environment
In the era of microservices architecture, where software systems are broken down into small, independently deployable components, the need for robust management and visibility has never been greater. One crucial aspect of this is Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) aggregation. SBOM aggregation refers to the practice of collecting and consolidating information about the components and dependencies within a microservices-based application. This seemingly technical task holds significant importance in ensuring the security, compliance, and reliability of microservices-based systems. This is why SBOM aggregation is a critical practice in the realm of microservices.
One of the foremost reasons for SBOM aggregation in microservices is cybersecurity. In a microservices environment, where applications consist of numerous components, tracking vulnerabilities becomes challenging but crucial. SBOM aggregation centralizes the information on all the software components and their versions used in each microservice. This consolidated view makes it easier to identify and address security vulnerabilities promptly, reducing the risk of data breaches, cyberattacks, and system compromises.
Microservices depend on a multitude of external services and libraries. Understanding these dependencies and their interrelationships is critical for maintaining the stability and reliability of the system. SBOM aggregation offers a holistic view of these dependencies, making it easier to manage them effectively. It helps in identifying if any component changes, especially those related to external services or libraries, might impact the overall system’s behavior.
Adding SBOMs to Your Cybersecurity Strategy
Here are 3 reasons for adding SBOMs to your cybersecurity strategy:
- An SBOM is the only way to get a list of all the package dependencies used to create your artifact. This level of SBOM shows source-to-artifact dependencies exposing what open-source and third-party libraries you consume.
- The list of dependencies can become the foundation for zero-trust policies. The SBOM will show if a package you are using has been signed. If not, you may not want to use it.
- Signing confirms the creator’s identity and how it was created – provenance/attestation.
- The signature is used to determine if the package was tampered with. By comparing the signature with the creator’s identity, you can confirm they match.
- The creator’s information to report an issue.
- SBOMs expose the license information and prevent you from agreeing to something you will regret by using it.
And finally, if you are in a highly regulated industry that services the United States government, SBOMs are now a requirement for every release. In May 2021, President Biden issued the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity and directed the Department of Commerce (in coordination with the NTIA and CISA) to publish the minimum elements for a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM). The Executive Order states: “An SBOM advances transparency in the software supply chain, similar to a ‘list of ingredients.’ NTIA is directed to publish a list of ‘minimum elements for an SBOM.’”
This order served as an advisory for federal software suppliers and has created a ripple effect for both enterprise software providers and users.
In an increasingly interconnected and digitally reliant world, the importance of cybersecurity cannot be overstated. Software Bill of Materials (SBOMs) are an indispensable tool in the fight against cyber threats. They provide organizations with the visibility and control needed to manage vulnerabilities, secure their software supply chains, respond to incidents effectively, comply with regulations, and build trust with stakeholders. As cyber threats continue to evolve, SBOMs will remain a critical component of a robust cybersecurity strategy, helping organizations stay one step ahead of their adversaries.
Learn More - SBOM Key Concepts
SBOM automation automatically generates a list of all software components, libraries, and dependencies that make up a software application as part of your DevOps Pipeline and then consuming the data.
Aggregating SBOM data to the ‘logical’ Application level is required if you need to produce an Application SBOM in a decoupled architecture. Learn how DeployHub provides aggregated SBOM reports from hundreds of component SBOMs.
- Software Supply Chain Management Catalogs Explored Whitepaper
- Federated Application Security Intelligence
- Aggregated SBOM Reports
- Open-Source Inventory and Risk Management
- Supply Chain Versioning with Historical Trends
- Component Impact and Blast Radius
- Logical Application Views in a Decoupled Architecture
- Federated Software Composition Analysis Data
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