Software composition analysis (SCA) guideline for beginners

Software composition analysis (SCA) guideline for beginners

Businesses must understand an application and how it is built in order to determine whether it is secure and compliant with rules. However, completing all of this manually is a laborious effort. You must understand what you are using as well as all of the open-source license duties and limits of an application. As a result, SCA tools simplify and streamline the process by automatically assessing open-source components. So, what is software composition analysis?

What is software composition analysis (SCA)?

Identifying the open source software in a codebase is done automatically through a procedure called software composition analysis (SCA). To assess security, licensing compliance, and code quality, this analysis is conducted. From this first use case, an automated solution called SCA was created, and it was later expanded to examine code security and quality.

SCA has energized the “shift left” paradigm in a contemporary DevOps or DevSecOps environment. Developers and security teams may now increase productivity without sacrificing security and quality because of earlier and ongoing SCA testing.

What is software composition analysis (SCA)?

Why do we need software composition analysis?

Companies must be aware of the restrictions and duties imposed by open source licenses because manual tracking is challenging and necessitates the use of automation to scan source code, binaries, and dependencies. It became too laborious to keep track of these duties manually, and it frequently missed code and the vulnerabilities that go along with it.

Security, speed, and dependability are what make SCA valuable. Manual code tracking is no longer adequate due to the enormous volume of open source; it simply cannot keep up. Strong and trustworthy SCA tools are also required because of the rising prevalence of cloud-native apps and the complexity of applications. Organizations require security solutions that can maintain development velocity when development speeds soar as a result of the adoption of DevOps practices. Tools for automated SCA accomplish this.

Additionally, open source and software are both being eaten by one another: software. It is difficult to overstate the contribution that open source is making to the digital transformation process. In 2022, open source components will be important pillars of software across almost all industries. From a productivity and security perspective, keeping track of the open source components utilized by your applications with the use of SCA tools is essential.

Why do we need software composition analysis?

How does software composition analysis work?

SCA tools examine manifest files, binary files, source code, container images, and more. The discovered open source is assembled into a Bill of Materials (BOM), which is then examined against a number of databases, such as the National Vulnerability Database (NVD)

In order to identify licenses related to the code and assess overall code quality, SCA tools can also compare BOMs against other (often commercial) databases (version control, history of contributions, and so on). Security teams can find crucial legal and security flaws by comparing the BOM against a database and taking immediate action to rectify them.

The advantages of software composition analysis

  • Faster and safer time to market. Today, open source makes for more than half of the code used in applications. Software programmers employ OS components to speed up their work since competitive advantage is based on who can reach the market first. Software Composition Analysis implements the proper OSS management and scanning to make sure that all responsibilities are met and all vulnerabilities are fixed. The product is supplied more quickly and with fewer delays, and it is safer for end users, which lowers the risk of license non-compliance, legal action, and open source vulnerabilities having a detrimental effect on the company’s operations.
  • Rapid and efficient innovation. Unmatched by proprietary software solutions, open source software (OSS) enables enterprises to be creative, in charge of their own destiny, and make their own decisions for a fraction of the cost. When SCA is used for OS compliance and licensing management, product innovation is safer.
  • Removing unidentified business risks. Less than 10% of an organization’s open source usage is known to the organization. By putting in place the proper procedures and automation to look for, identify, and address open source security and license compliance risk, software composition analysis transforms the unknown into the known.

The advantages of software composition analysis

The challenges of software composition analysis

An SCA solution, like many other techniques for testing application security, allows you to identify potential problems, but it might be difficult to confirm real dangers, address problems, and fix them.

1. Actual Risk Assessment

Numerous lists of potential risks, including trivial risks and false positives, can frequently be generated by SCA tools. These false positives add to the system’s noise and may cause repair to be delayed. It is frequently necessary to manually review the results, which might use up important resources that could be used to address real threats.

It is crucial to have procedures in place to validate results, speed up the evaluation of scan data, and streamline the production of analysis reports when implementing a SCA solution across your firm. Make sure there are procedures in place to notify the right people so they can evaluate the findings accurately.

2. Identifying and Accepting Priority Risks

Determining which team is in charge of fixing a specific problem can be difficult for many businesses, even when real risks are discovered, because an at-risk component may be used across several projects with different teams holding distinct ownership interests. Additionally, teams may easily become overwhelmed by lengthy lists of risks without clear prioritization due to the abundance of possible risks that are frequently found in an organization’s codebase.

3. Technical Debt

Your early SCA scans can reveal a significant technical debt if you have a huge codebase and have not been keeping an eye on open source and third-party software.

You’ll accrue some technical debt as a result of using outdated open source libraries or components. Your development teams are now in charge of fixing any defects, vulnerabilities, or weaknesses in the component. The end consequence can be unanticipated additional development work on open source libraries that are essential to your applications or further development work to modify apps to work without the abandoned or at-risk library.

Make sure your DevOps and development teams are informed about the significance of screening the open source and outside libraries they include into their development pipelines. To protect the organizations from delays and out-of-date code, promote awareness of security and license risk as well as technical debt.

4. Breach in Coverage of Scanning

A scanner to find open source components, a database to compare detected components against, and a front-end tool to view and report on results—these tools are what enable SCA solutions to function. Not every third-party component in your scanned codebase may be picked up by SCA scanners. Additionally, SCA databases might not have information on specific libraries obtained from obscure open-source initiatives or tiny manufacturers. A certain amount of manual component tracking may still be necessary for many SCA implementations.

Keep in mind that runtime analysis, penetration testing, static application security testing (SAST), and dynamic application security testing (DAST) are not interchangeable with software composition analysis. SCA tools ought to be used in conjunction with other cybersecurity measures.

Best practices of SCA

Your best option for identifying vulnerabilities in open source packages and learning how to patch them is to use software composition analysis SCA tools, which will enable you to safeguard your code and the functionality of your apps. When utilizing SCA tools, follow these recommended practices as a reference.

Best practices of SCA

1. Find a tool that is accommodating to developers 

The workflow of your engineers will be slowed down by an unfriendly SCA tool, which will deter them from using it. Easy setup and use are essential for a developer-friendly SCA tool. It should also be easy to connect with current development workflows and tools, and it should do so as early in the SDLC as possible (like version control tools and IDEs).

2. Understand dependencies

Direct dependencies and transitive dependencies are both present in open source packages. A package used by one of your direct dependencies is referred to as a transitive (indirect) dependency. Direct dependencies are packages you include in your own project. A decent SCA tool should be able to recognize and examine transitive dependencies in addition to thoroughly inspecting all of the dependencies in your code. Making ensuring that effective vulnerability detection is taking place at every level is made easier by being aware of the breadth and complexity of the open source packages utilized in your code.

3. Automate scans and discover actionable fixes

A good SCA tool will allow you to schedule automated scans at regular periods. Set up proactive and ongoing code monitoring. Automated scans generate actionable alerts about where vulnerabilities exist and how to fix them. Consider the direction your SCA tool provides for correcting vulnerabilities carefully, and ensure that your developers are comfortable following that direction to apply changes.

4. Add SCA into your CI/CD pipeline

Your SCA tool should not be a point of departure on your journey from development to testing to production. You should be able to integrate SCA scans into your CI/CD pipeline so that discovering and patching vulnerabilities becomes a functional part of your software development and build process. Integrating your SCA tool with the rest of your pipeline also makes it easier for engineers to acclimatize to a culture where code security is part of their everyday process.

5. Consider the significance of reports and SBOM capabilities.

When purchasing software, many organizations require the inclusion of a software bill of materials (SBoM) report. Including a complete SBoM with your product demonstrates that you understand the importance of tracking every component within your application. You may also utilize your SBOM document to identify vulnerabilities and legal issues in your dependencies; use our online SBOM checker tool to see for yourself.

Clear reports on your security scans and updates are also extremely effective. Giving detailed information on your security practices and the number of vulnerabilities patched demonstrates your dedication to security (and strengthens your market position).

6. Enhance security policies and license compliance

Having complete access into the open source packages used by your developers will allow you to set policies that define and enforce your organization’s security guidelines. In addition, utilize your SCA tool to learn about the license terms and conditions of your open source components. When developing security rules, you can include requirements that encourage developers to adopt licensing compliance early in the software development lifecycle.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What distinguishes software composition analysis from other application security tools?

The function of software composition analysis in the growingly powerful world of open source software distinguishes it from other application security techniques. SCA solutions enable secure risk management of open source use across the software supply chain.

2. What characteristics should I seek in a software composition analysis solution?

The following should be achieved by a good software composition analysis solution:

  • Find and follow every open source component
  • Control open source license adherence and minimize risk
  • Recognize and address open source vulnerabilities
  • Run flexible scans according to the situation and requirement.
  • Integrate seamlessly into the build environment of your organization

3. Who makes use of Software Composition Analysis tools?

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) solutions can be utilized by a wide range of industries, as all businesses nowadays are software businesses because they consume and/or generate software applications. The SCA primarily targets software vendors as users. Any organization that uses or is thinking about using open source management strategies for controlling the use of open source in the software they use and/or ship to customers benefits from SCA solutions.

4. How is SCA related to security?

Developers that use open source components now have ownership over and access to potential security flaws that may be present. Given the rise in the adoption of open source across all sectors, it is important to scan for security flaws frequently and early in the software development lifecycle. This will increase the effectiveness of software engineering, allow for early problem detection and resolution, reduce disruptions, and allow for better cost and resource management. The extra benefit of providing clients with safe, secure software is received by software vendors.

As a result, Software Composition Analysis (SCA) assists in enhancing the security and compliance of your program by identifying open-source components that may be susceptible and enabling you to promptly fix them. By deploying the appropriate SCA tool depending on your company’s needs, you can accomplish all of this. To increase your chances of success with your SCA efforts, you can also adhere to several best practices.

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