What are SBOMs and Why Are They Important

What are SBOMs and Why Are They Important

SBOM is an abbreviation for software bill of materials. In simpler terms, it is a list of all of the components in a piece of software. Nowadays, it is quite common for software vendors to create products by assembling open source and commercial software components. For this reason, SBOMs are created to provide transparency and identify all of the risk-prone components. Just like in the food industry, where all of the ingredients are listed on the packaging to provide clarity in terms of allergies, SBOMs can help you avoid software solutions that might be harmful.

Thus, SBOMs have become a vital part of security, and in recent years their importance has become higher than ever. According to reports, over 72% of modern IT organizations use open source or commercial software internally. SBOMs do a lot of the heavy lifting to ensure these companies remain compliant. Additionally, software supply chain attacks have been on a rise, so the origin of software has become a major concern for many businesses.

Why Should One Use SBOMs?

Looking at an SBOM is the best way for you to evaluate the source code of a product before you buy it. In fact, it is quite difficult to address vulnerable systems without it. There are helpful threat intelligence platforms that can help you scan your IT environments for malware, but the best prevention is achieved through preparation. Each software has vulnerabilities, so you need to do everything in your hands to preserve the integrity of your IT environment. This includes understanding the components of the code you purchase and use.

SBOMs generally have two use scenarios: vulnerability management and product integrity insurance. The former has to do with managing the vulnerabilities created by software supplier risks. With the help of the inventory of components that SBOMs provide, identifying vulnerabilities is much easier. VEX files allow organizations to confirm the exploitability of a vulnerability more precisely and remedy them right away.

On the other hand, the latter has to do with transparency and source code integrity. SBOMs provide certainty in the effectiveness and integrity of software components. Through the use of SBOMs companies create a better cybersecurity ecosystem with higher visibility and control regarding software licensing.

Challenges of Using SBOMs

While SBOMs can be beneficial to many, there are some challenges that may arise from relying on an SBOM solution.

  • Slowing product development: Every time the SBOM tool identifies a vulnerability, the development team needs to stop what they are doing and find a remedy.
  • Insufficient coverage: Many tools have limited coverage and only support a handful of languages and package managers, which results in an incomplete SBOM.
  • False-positive alerts: It is a common problem with SBOM tools to falsely alert for a vulnerability which complicates things for the security team more than it helps.
  • Complete automation: SBOMs need to be automatically generated and machine-readable, so it can be quite a challenge to achieve full automation.
  • Operational bottleneck: Another issue present with most SBOM tools is the inability to scale across the software ecosystem, particularly across organizational boundaries.

Still, it is worth mentioning that all of these challenges are generally found in reporting-centric solutions. SBOM tools like these can be considered risks themselves, as they can generate unfixable or nonexistent vulnerabilities. All of their weaknesses are addressed in other solutions called remediation centric SBOMs, so you should look into those if you are interested in creating a software bill of materials.

Conclusion

In summary, the common use of commercial software and open-source components by vendors has made SBOMs a key element of any IT organization’s security. Companies need to have a list of components so that they can identify and avoid the ones that may harm their organization. These tools provide a layer of transparency and integrity much needed in the cybersecurity world.

SBOMs can be quite beneficial to the companies that use them, as they can help with vulnerability management and product integrity insurance. With their help, you can confirm how exploitable a vulnerability is with high precision, and effectively remedy it on the spot. Ultimately, SBOMs are important for transparency and control in the cybersecurity ecosystem. Even though they can be a little challenging to adopt, they are certainly worth it.

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