A common trend in the modern application development environment, which is gaining a lot of traction, very fast, is the use of open-source tools and code components. Software that is being developed, has, therefore, ever-increasing, components from community origin. This has a direct impact on the cyber-attack surface visibility of both the application development as well as its end, production, and users.
Ensuring complete transparency and accountability is the responsibility of the organization doing the development of the application. This necessitates that a formal appsec (application security) process is put into place to oversee every part of the development lifecycle of every application produced. One of the components of appsec is Software Composition Analysis.
Defining Software Composition Analysis
Software Composition Analysis tools are designed to provide visibility into the open-source components and libraries used by developers at various stages of the software development cycle, via automated scanning. Software Composition Analysis enables organizations to control their security and license-related risks. It ensures that any embedded open-source component, in the applications they build, complies with cyber security standards. Preventing the introduction of attack surface growth that could result in an undesirable data breach, felony disputes, or compromised intellectual property.
What are some Use Cases for Software Composition Analysis?
Software Composition Analysis brings two distinct use cases to the table.
Management of Open-Source Licensing
While it is true that open-source software allows unrestricted access to core components and source code of a given project, the label open-source does not always stipulate unrestricted commercial use. Many of the open-source project licenses have specialized or unique requirements for developers implementing the source code in their commercial applications.
Software Bill of Materials
The software bill of materials is a comprehensive list of all the components utilized by developers, both open-source and proprietary. It prevents developers from losing sight of all the ad-hoc components in use on a particular software project. Software Composition Analysis tools can scan and create comprehensive lists of these components. Listing their essential information such as their name, version number, source repository, and utilization within the application project.
This information is crucial because there have been various high-profile incidents where threat actors have exploited vulnerabilities of components to compromise production systems. By maintaining up-to-date and accurate software bill of materials, affected organizations might have been able to address security flaws before implementing them into production environments. Software Composition Analysis tools can analyze and reveal broken dependencies and vulnerable components.
Illuminating the process behind Software Composition Analysis
These tools would typically start the process by scanning the entire codebase utilized by developers, identifying, and verifying each of the open-source elements and their dependencies. In doing this, a comprehensive open-source bill of materials is compiled. This typically includes information such as the components, their version, and license requirements.
Once the comprehensive list has been created, a verification process starts where a search is conducted to validate components, identifying any possible security vulnerabilities that might exist for the components.
The Software Composition Analysis tool would then be in the position to flag any security or licensing risks the organization needs to be aware of. Supplying stakeholders with possible solutions and some tools even have the ability to pause the development life cycle until the risks have been resolved.
Consequential scanning and analysis can be automatically reapplied each time new code sets are checked back into the repository, by members of the development team. Dev leads often include this kind of scanning as part of their CI/CD pipeline orchestration, to streamline the process to test and production.
Organizations can only protect the assets they are familiar with. As a result, keeping the attack surface visible allows for risk identification to prevent cyber-attacks. Furthermore, the risks involved in open-source software components require prioritization, lowering the likelihood of a production cyber-attack. In this case, a proactive security approach guards against potential threats. As a result, it is a more effective approach than a reactive approach in which an organization only reacts to threats after they have occurred.
By implementing a top tier Software Composition Analysis tool these kinds of threats can be identified before code migrates to test or production. Allowing the organization to act preemptively.
Information security specialist, currently working as risk infrastructure specialist & investigator.
15 years of experience in risk and control process, security audit support, business continuity design and support, workgroup management and information security standards.