Understanding and Managing the SBOM Lifecycle: An Essential Guide for Organizations

With the explosion of software building blocks including code generated by LLMs like ChatGPT, it is increasingly important for companies to understand the supply chain for software that they build, buy or use.  This is because any modern software product is composed of hundreds of components, some of which may have questionable origins and add significant risk to the company’s operations. Central to this effort is the effective management of the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM).

According to the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CSIA), an SBOM is a “formal record containing the details and supply chain relationships of various components used in building software.” Essentially, it’s a comprehensive list of every ingredient that makes up a piece of software, and just like a recipe, it provides essential insights into what’s inside the software package.

The SBOM allows organizations to track and monitor each component of their software, providing vital information needed to identify potential vulnerabilities, fulfill licensing requirements, and enhance visibility into the software supply chain.

Challenges in SBOM Lifecycle Management

Despite its importance, the process of managing the SBOM lifecycle is fraught with challenges. Some of these are outlined below: 

1.    Generating and managing SBOMs can be a time-consuming and intricate process.

2.    Applications evolve constantly, therefore  SBOMs need to be re-generated every time an application is updated

3.    There needs to be a co-relation between an application version and the associated SBOM which needs to be stored in a central, easily accessible location

4.    SBOMs need to be made available to customers and internal stakeholders for a given version of the application in an easy way.

What’s an SBOM Lifecycle?

An SBOM lifecycle consists of the steps shown below:

1.    Generate an SBOM for every version of the software being built.

2.    Store the SBOM in an immutable way, ideally using blockchain.

3.    Make SBOM automatically available to interested parties in a secure way.

4.    Be able to track and analyze vulnerabilities for every component in the SBOM based on corporate risk policy.

5.    Repeat the steps above for every new version of the software.

Selecting the Right SBOM Management Platform

Choosing the right platform depends on several factors:

·       Features: Your chosen platform should have the necessary features to manage your SBOMs effectively, including vulnerability scanning, SBOM generation, and centralized management.

·       Capabilities: The platform should align with your specific requirements, considering your organization’s size, the types of software you use, and your compliance requirements.

·       Ease of Use: The platform should be user-friendly to enable efficient SBOM management, even for those without extensive security expertise.

·       Cost: The platform should be cost-effective, enabling you to reap the benefits of SBOM lifecycle management without straining your budget.

·       Integration into your DevOps Lifecycle: SBOM generation should be a normal part of the build process and can be triggered via GitHub actions or something similar

By selecting an SBOM management platform that aligns with these considerations, you can strengthen your software supply chain’s security, improving compliance, and mitigating the risk of vulnerabilities.

An excellent, open choice trusted by over 10,000 companies to address SBOM management, lifecycle considerations and best practices for a platform is  OWASP Dependency-Track: It is an open-source SBOM management platform that aids organizations in identifying and tracking security vulnerabilities within their software supply chain. The tool supports scanning vulnerabilities in both open-source and commercial components and facilitates SBOM generation in multiple formats.

The Future of SBOM Lifecycle Management with Generative AI

Emerging technologies like generative AI promise exciting new avenues for SBOM lifecycle management. They can automate the creation and management of SBOMs, predict potential vulnerabilities based on past data, and even recommend the most suitable management platform based on an organization’s unique needs. Although the use of generative AI in SBOM management is still in its early stages, its potential to enhance security, efficiency, and effectiveness in the software supply chain is undeniable.

In conclusion, while SBOM lifecycle management can be complex and challenging, it’s an integral part of software supply chain security. With the right tools, strategies, and technological advancements like generative AI, organizations can streamline this process, bolstering their software security and compliance measures.