Why Should Product Security Leaders Care About an SBOM?
A Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) can be a powerful component of software security, and that’s why the rise of SBOMs should be good news for product security leaders and their teams.
Because these documents are formal records that contain the details and supply chain relationships of the various components used in building software, they provide extensive histories of the software that can help organizations identify potentially risky components or sources.
The SBOM’s Critical Role In Software Development
SBOMs enable software developers who rely on open source and third-party components to make sure software components are up-to-date and can respond to newly discovered vulnerabilities. Given the complex nature of modern software applications, many software providers might not know what vulnerabilities exist in their software and which are exploitable.
As made clear from the recent Log4j incident, vulnerabilities in software can have a major impact on multiple organizations. And considering the non-stop nature of vulnerability discovery, it is nearly impossible to know all vulnerabilities in an environment at any given time.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has noted that an SBOM “provides those who produce, purchase, and operate software with information that enhances their understanding of the supply chain, which enables multiple benefits, most notably the potential to track known and newly emerged vulnerabilities and risks.”
An SBOM creates a foundational data layer on which security tools, practices, and assurances can be built, the department said. The essential pieces that support basic SBOM functionality serve as the foundation for an evolving approach to software transparency, it said.
The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), a part of the Department of Homeland Security that leads national efforts to understand, manage, and reduce risk to the cyber and physical infrastructure, reported that the SBOM has emerged as a key building block in software security and software supply chain risk management.
Breaking Down the Benefits of an SBOM
The potential benefits of SBOMs in reality start at the beginning of the software development process. Development teams are increasingly being encouraged to incorporate security elements into the development process through efforts such as DevSecOps, and one of the ways they can do this is by referring to the SBOM for possible vulnerabilities, considering the context of these bugs, and then fixing them before the development process moves ahead.
The benefit of this process is it doesn’t leave everything to the end from a security standpoint. It ensures that product security is not sacrificed over speed. In the long run this can save companies a lot of money by avoiding the additional development costs as well as possible financial impacts from security breaches, regulatory fines, lawsuits, and other ill effects of flawed software.
With software playing such a pivotal role in digital business efforts, and with exploitable vulnerabilities putting organizations at great risk, SBOMs—and particularly dynamic SBOMs that can easily account for frequent changes—clearly have a key role to play in bolstering overall cybersecurity. In the end, the real question is not why should product security leaders care about an SBOM; it’s how they could not care.