Resources Blog Automating and maintaining SBOMs

Automating and maintaining SBOMs

The software bill of materials (SBOM) is an indispensable artifact of modern software development, detailing all the components of a software supply chain.

Automating the creation of SBOMs for each software release presents numerous advantages, from streamlining audit and compliance procedures to facilitating faster security vulnerabilities response times. This is especially important for highly-regulated industries. For example, certain U.S. government agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, maintain a zero-tolerance policy toward security vulnerabilities. In this context, an SBOM can play an indispensable role in meeting regulatory requirements and enhancing product safety.

This blog post explores several strategies for maintaining automated SBOMs, focusing on the enhancement of operational efficiency and compliance.

The case for automatic SBOM generation

Developers can choose to manually generate SBOMs or automate the process. Manual generation is more time-consuming, but it can be useful for smaller software projects. In this scenario, a developer uses a plugin to manually generate an SBOM locally on their own machines and then integrates the SBOM into their CI/CD pipeline.

However, this method is not scalable for larger operations, particularly organizations that use commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software composed of first-party code, third-party code, and binary artifacts.

When integrated into CI/CD pipelines, automatically-generated SBOMs are vital artifacts within a software development life cycle (SDLC) – particularly for streamlining compliance and security workflows. This approach, especially when using software compositional analysis (SCA) tools, makes SBOM generation seamless, transparent, and user-friendly.

Developers can choose among many services to create SBOMs, like our new SBOM Manager which can automatically generate an SBOM for you in popular standards such as CycloneDX or SPDX.

SBOM inventory analysis

A thorough SBOM contains a full inventory that surpasses just a listing of components to also include the dependencies of those components. This depth is crucial for understanding the full landscape of a software application's dependencies. Generating and analyzing an SBOM enables dependency discovery and cataloging, providing insights into the released version of an application.

Advanced SBOM tools offer powerful search capabilities, allowing users to conduct fast queries based on applications or tags. They also enable the creation of customized reports that can be shared internally or externally, which enhances communication and collaboration.

It's worth noting that SBOM Manager can import historical SBOMs, which can empower risk management and compliance efforts by providing a historical perspective on dependencies and their evolution.

Regulatory policies and reporting

While managing software licensing risk is one thing, companies often serve customers across various industries with different regulations. An effective SBOM strategy includes organizing and categorizing SBOMs to align with relevant regulatory policies, such as the payment card industry (PCI) security standards like PCI DSS as well as medical device regulations like IEC-62304.

The dynamic nature of regulatory policy requirements necessitates an automatic update cadence for SBOMs. This type of "update best practice" supports detailed report generation that prioritizes policy compliance and vulnerability management. This helps users develop precise remediation strategies and informed policy application decisions.

Incident management

Incorporating approved third-party components is a standard practice by release time. Strategic application of SBOMs serves not just as a record but as a tool for streamlining incident management processes. Through its meticulous inventory of software components, an SBOM helps facilitate swift vulnerability identification and remediation within applications or builds.

The proactive use of SBOMs in incident management shortens the gap between vulnerability disclosure and remediation. It not only accelerates response times but also reinforces software security and integrity by enabling organizations to preemptively address potential threats.

Operationalizing SBOMs with a tool like SBOM Manager allows precise navigation through software inventories to quickly identify vulnerable components. By aggregating SBOM data into a single report, SBOM Manager offers unparalleled visibility, aiding vulnerability tracking and compliance audits.

This comprehensive approach enhances both the speed and accuracy of incident response, showcasing SBOM Manager's critical role in maintaining software security and integrity.

SBOMs: More than just a snapshot in time

The move towards automating and maintaining SBOMs is fundamental to advancing software development practices. SBOM generation is not meant to be a "one and done" process where an SBOM is created, stored, and forgotten. Instead, consider an SBOM as a dynamic snapshot in time, continuously updated to reflect new vulnerability information. This approach is especially crucial for addressing zero-day scenarios and maintaining a secure and efficient software supply chain.

Automating SBOM generation not only simplifies the development processes but also provides a holistic view of software supply chain health. Beyond compliance, SBOMs serve as resources for vulnerability management and operational efficiency, while enhancing software security. SBOMs provide a highly detailed view of software components, bridging gaps between development, security, and compliance teams.

Picture of Mahesh Raj Mohan

Written by Mahesh Raj Mohan

Mahesh Raj Mohan writes or edits blog posts, case studies, and white papers about software development, cybersecurity, and related topics for business leaders. He collaborates with thought leaders, subject matter experts, and marketing professionals to make this content remain relevant. In his spare time, he's a creative writer, amateur woodworker, and he loves spending time with his family. You can read more about him at Enlighten Writing and on his personal blog.