Published on
January 30, 2023

A Detailed Guide to Software Bill of Materials (SBOM)

min read

The term SBOM (Software Bill of Materials) has been all the rage lately, but what exactly is an SBOM? In a nutshell, SBOM (Software Bill of Materials) is a list of all the open-source and third-party components within a codebase. And to understand it fully, it's crucial first to comprehend its basics.

So, let’s dive deep into the concept of SBOM, and how it can help you to improve the security posture for your organization. This guide is designed specifically for those wanting to understand all the pieces behind SBOM.

What Is An SBOM (Software Bill Of Materials)?

Logo  describes about SBOM

Simply put, an SBOM (Software Bill of Materials) lists all open-source and third-party components used in an application. This list includes both direct (i.e. components directly called by your application’s code) and indirect dependencies (i.e. components called by the direct components).

The simplest analogy for an SBOM is that it is like a nutritional label on food — it provides information about what exactly goes into a piece of software and how these components interact. This way, developers can identify potential vulnerable components in their code before deploying it.

The Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) concept began in the manufacturing industry, where complex supply chains are involved and manufacturers need to track where all their components come from in case any of them is found to be defective. It has recently been adapted to software development as well. An SBOM is similarly an inventory of all the open-source and third-party components used in a codebase or application with the idea of making it easy to detect which of them are ‘defective’ i.e. vulnerable or risky in other ways.

SBOMs helps increase visibility into all components that make up a specific piece of software, and when combined with other security features like system hardening and least-privilege access regulations can offer an extra layer of protection against cyber attacks.

Benefits Of Using Software Bill Of Materials

There are several benefits to using an SBOM for your software development efforts, some of which include the following:

Improved Visibility And Security

An inventory of all the components that make up your codebase offers improved visibility, allowing you to identify potential risk areas quickly. This, in turn, can help you to improve your overall security posture.

Faster Deployment

An SBOM provides the necessary information to quickly and accurately assess any changes needed before deploying software. This makes it much easier to deploy applications faster while maintaining a high-quality control level.

Easier Maintenance

With SBOM security, you’ll have all the details on every component used in your codebase. This makes it much easier to keep everything up-to-date with the latest patches and updates and maintain overall functionality.

What’s In A Software Bill Of Materials?

A Software Bill of Materials, known as an SBOM, provides a comprehensive view of the components used to create a piece of software.

This structured listing is organized by versions and dependencies, with information regarding the products’ origin, source code integrity, and other parameters relevant for review.

A software bill of materials helps software professionals on various levels – from developers writing code to executives creating policy – understand the exact items that make up each component and how they interact.

Moreover, sharing code across organizations aids in streamlining compliance processes and can minimize the financial risk associated with deploying software applications.

Utilizing Software Bill of Material tracking is increasingly becoming essential to any organization’s IT department’s operations. Some of the aspects that make SBOM wholesome are:


1. Open Source Components

A software bill of materials (SBOM) is a comprehensive listing of all the components that make up a given software program or application. This includes both proprietary and open source elements.

Open source components refer to parts of a software solution created under an open source license; this means developers are allowed - and often encouraged - to use, study, modify and redistribute the code for their projects.

While this flexibility has great advantages, it can also be difficult to track which specific open source projects have impacted the finished product.

That's where a software BOM really shines; it provides an automated way to discover, document, and report on all these components allowing developers to evaluate their impact on the finished piece of software thoroughly.

2. Open Source Licenses

The software bill of materials (or BoM) includes all software components used in a product's building and running. In this list, open source licenses identify which components are using a certain license. This is especially crucial to know as it affects further compliance requirements, such as external audits, as different licenses have different requirements and obligations.

Understanding the open source compliance on software is vital in keeping up with technological transformations and associated best practices to remain competitive.

3. Open Source Versions

Understanding what’s in a software bill of materials can be integral to ensuring software development success. A software bill of materials (SBOM) is a list of elements utilizing open source versions that are included within a particular commercial product or application.

These elements typically comprise programming code libraries, frameworks, and integrated software components that help create the intended functionality or behavior for the product.

An SBOM can provide transparency into the makeup of a product and profile key elements used in its construction to make developers more aware of potential vulnerabilities from using open source versions.

Additionally, it helps with license compliance because each element listed in the SBOM must adhere to specific licensing guidelines for public use. Bringing together all this information about open source versions into one place helps organizations ensure that products meet security and compliance requirements before final delivery.

4. Open Source Vulnerabilities

Regarding open source vulnerabilities, having a Bill of Materials can help you accurately detect threats from outside sources, such as outdated libraries or fewer-known packages running in your systems.

In addition, by using a BOM to analyze open source components, you can easily track correspondences between upstream sources, mitigate risks associated with supply chain attacks, and prioritize actions related to fixing security issues.

A good Bill of Materials entails adopting modern cloud technologies and automation that keeps track of all these elements and informs when something needs urgent attention or remediation must happen without delay.

Why Do Organizations Need A Software Bill Of Materials?

President Biden

In reference to this, an executive order outlining guidelines for how these organizations must secure their software - including SBOMs as an integral part of ensuring safety and integrity - was issued.

These preventive measures will soon become industry standards, setting the bar higher on protection across all software construction, testing, and security management operations.

In light of today's ever-evolving and increasingly complex software environment, it is becoming increasingly important for organizations to focus on secure and responsible software development.

  • A Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) helps facilitate this by providing invaluable insights into the components that make up a particular piece of software.
  • It also helps organizations develop better security and risk management strategies since they have an easily accessible record of all the components that make up a project and their associated vendors.
  • SBOMs allow organizations to quickly identify any potential security vulnerabilities affecting their operations and act swiftly to address them.
  • SBOMs help organizations strengthen their risk management capabilities while ensuring their deployments are secure and compliant with industry standards and company policies.

    How To Generate An SBOM?

    Creating a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) can help ensure that software is secure, quickly identifiable, and up to date. For starters, it allows organizations to understand better their software's composition and its open source dependencies, as well as what third parties contributed to its development.

    Knowing these details can give you the knowledge to determine which versions are trustworthy and provide a roadmap for ensuring they remain safe. So, let's explore more below.

    1. Choose An Open-Source SBOM Generation Platform Like Scantist

    Generating a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) is critical for ensuring software security, but it can be challenging. You can simplify the process with an open-source SBOM generation platform like Scantist.

    Scantist leverages AI and automated deep-packet inspection technology to gather data on components and licenses associated with each component in your software system, creating an accurate and comprehensive SBOM in minutes. Scantist's intuitive user interface also makes it simple to generate SBOMs in custom report formats tailored to the requirements and regulations of various industries, offering complete peace of mind.

    2. Sign Up On Scantist

    To start creating your bill of material (SBOM), you must sign up on Scantist. After completing the registration process and providing details like your contact information and product type, you will be good to go.

    You will then have access to tools such as knowledge bases and Internet intelligence resources that can streamline your BOM generation process. With that, generating an SBOM for tracking componentry becomes a straightforward task no matter how large or small your business is.

    3. Select Your SBOM Reporting Format

    Generating an SBOM effectively starts with the selection of the appropriate reporting format. Finding accurate documentation of your product data is critical to having an easily understandable bill of materials for vendors, legal teams, IT departments, and other project stakeholders.

    By choosing between a text-based, spreadsheet-based, or even an XML-based format, you can ensure that everyone in the chain receives a version they are comfortable working with to best assess risk and compliance areas.

    In addition, incorporating all of these requirements into account will give any team a stronger foundation to move forward in the efforts to secure and manage their adopted open source use.

    4. Configure The Details Of Your Report

    When creating your SBOM, you need to configure details that help create an analysis-ready bill of materials. Start by assessing the input format requirements and the tools available for conversion from existing output files.

    It is also important to document exact version numbers and other required fields so that reports can be properly generated. Additionally, consider tools available for automated data collection from vendors and integration into existing build processes.

    By taking the appropriate steps, organizing your data, and configuring your report details beforehand, you can easily generate an accurate SBOM.

    5. Add The Final Touches

    After generating an SBOM, businesses can add the final touches to ensure it is complete.

    There are several steps in this process. Quality assurance includes checking for accuracy, validating component mapping, scanning documents for technical discrepancies, and linking back to the original supplier information.

    Omitting these steps could render an SBOM useless, given its purpose is to provide visibility into all components throughout a supply chain. As such, this critical last step should not be overlooked when creating an SBOM.


    Software Bill Of Materials Best Practices

    The best practices to follow when creating and managing a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) are critical for software safety and security. Keeping on top of your software bill of materials best practices is essential for preventing security risks and staying compliant.

    Utilizing a best practice workflow model is one way to make sure tasks are completed in an efficient and secure manner, as well as make it easy to identify vulnerabilities.

    Therefore, to learn more about the best practices of SBOM, look below.

    1. Regularly Update The SBOM

    Regularly updating a software bill of materials (SBOM) is an important best practice for ensuring the security and standards of all software solutions.

    Keeping your SBOM up-to-date means constantly monitoring and maintaining all the components that go into the product, such as bug fixes and any relevant updates to those components.

    This helps to ensure increased safety against potential threats or impacts on performance due to outdated technology or a component that has been deactivated or replaced with a similar but more efficient one.

    Regularly updating your SBOM also minimizes legal risks, such as accrued license fees for those components and violations of certain usage restrictions that might apply in some cases. Overall, keeping a current SBOM is essential to maintaining compliance and security with all your operations.

    2. Ensure Data Integrity

    Data integrity is an essential best practice regarding the Software Bill Of Materials. It involves ensuring that all the software component metadata within the bill is accurate, reliable, and up to date.

    Different methods like comparison scanning of the received package and installed files can be used to determine what data should go into the bill and detect any discrepancies in the content. It may have been manipulated outside of your organization's control.

    By routinely maintaining this high level of data integrity, you can have trust in your bill so you can make decisions with confidence.

    3. Clarify Potential Issues That Can Affect Users

    One of the best practices in creating a software bill of materials is clarifying potential issues affecting users.

    This includes ensuring developers clearly state the risks of using different components and how any glitches, bugs, or inconsistencies may be addressed.

    This helps ensure that users understand what they are dealing with and how such issues will be effectively managed while also helping them to avoid any nasty surprises when they eventually come across these issues.

    Properly informing users about potential issues enables them to make more informed decisions when using the software and helps ensure everyone is satisfied with their overall experience.

    4. Identify SBOM Documents

    When managing a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM), there are important best practices to keep in mind. One best practice is identifying SBOM documents by disclosing which nodes, components, and related files make up the product.

    This allows companies to construct an accurate representation of the product's build and its structure, as well as being able to pinpoint critical areas that may require maintenance or upgrades.

    It further ensures that critical components and their respective sub-components can be tracked in an efficient and concise manner, allowing any potential issues with the product or software to be addressed in a timely fashion.

    With this level of organization, it is much easier for organizations to keep tabs on even the smallest details of SBOMs and provide comprehensive updates corresponding to them.

    Challenges Of SBOM

    Securing software can be a complex process, and standardizing on a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) is one approach organizations use to improve their software's security.

    SBOM models can provide valuable information about an application or system's dependencies, libraries, and frameworks. However, they come with certain challenges that organizations must be aware of when implementing this process.

    Some of these challenges are:

    1. Data Accuracy and Completeness

    Many organizations face difficulty validating the accuracy and completeness of data within their SBOMs and ensuring that the information provided is up to date.

    Security risks can be overlooked or underestimated without accurate and complete data, leading to potential vulnerabilities.

    2. Standardization Issues

    Organizations use different methods for creating SBOMs, making it difficult to maintain a consistent standard across the software development world.

    Additionally, some components have different versions, meaning that it can be hard to identify which version of each component should be included in an individual organization's SBOM.

    3. Component Dependencies

    Software components are often dependent on other components or libraries to work properly. This means that organizations must be wary of any potential dependency issues, as changes to one component can ripple effects on the entire system.

    By understanding the challenges associated with SBOMs and taking the necessary precautions, organizations can strengthen their software's security and ensure compliance with industry standards.

    With this knowledge, companies can make more informed decisions about the security of their applications and systems and ensure that users enjoy a secure experience.

    Ultimately, SBOMs provide an important tool for ensuring software security and compliance, but organizations must be aware of the risks associated with implementing such models.

    With this in mind, companies can equip themselves with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about software security, ensuring a secure and compliant experience for their users.

    Try SBOM With Scantist

    An SBOM (Software Bill of Materials) can be an incredibly useful tool for developers, allowing them to identify any potential security risks and deploy applications faster and more quickly.

    It’s also a great way to ensure that all the components used in your codebase are up-to-date with the latest patches and updates. So be sure to take advantage of this technology and reap the benefits it has to offer!


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