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What is Software Composition Analysis (SCA)?

Open-source software, or components, pose a high level of risk to projects due to the exploitable source code they contain. Cyber attackers often choose to shoot malicious code into Open-source components or even create third-party libraries that can manipulate the original application. 

Unchecked use of third-party resources for your company can inadvertently keep you at risk of being attacked. These problems in the software development process call for security solutions such as Software Composition Analysis (SCA).

SCA has loads of features that we will explore in this guide, required for you to enhance visibility in all your third-party software resources.

Let’s dive right in! 

What Is Software Composition Analysis (SCA)?

Software Composition Analysis is a security solution that lines up with DevSecOps approaches. It is used to scan external resources used for developing software in an organization. 

SCA is completely automated and helps legitimize third-party software components, licenses, and code that often contain vulnerabilities that can affect the application inheriting them. 

SCA was initially developed to manage licenses that come with Open Source software. In the past, manual management was a tedious task and often resulted in key points being overlooked. 

With time, software composition analysis evolved into providing security from any malicious resources as well as checking for the quality of the code used to develop them. 

An automated SCA process is credited to revolutionizing “Shift Left Security” as developers can work more productively in a secured environment. 

What Are the Risks of Using Open Source Components?

Developers tend to use Open-source components without determining the underlying vulnerabilities that they contain. It brings forth major threats to the application being developed as well as the system. Software use licenses are overlooked as well, which can result in anomalies in compliance requirements. 

It is very common for vulnerabilities to get detected in open-source resources, which are then patched by community developers. These patches are not updated automatically and developers using these resources need to manually change their codes. 

In between, there is a high risk of threat actors misusing this public information to launch a cyber attack on companies using these components. 

Lastly, open-source components have varying user rules. Some ask for the users to mention references, while others require the source code using the resources to be made public. These different requirements laid down by the software use licenses can be really hard to manage. 

How Does Software Composition Analysis Work?

SCA is your one-stop solution for identifying all known vulnerabilities in an open-source component so that you can use them for your software development process without the risk of getting attacked. 

A top-class SCA software security tool is capable of not just scanning open source packages but also Kubernetes and IaC templates. You can check the example below:

How Does Software Composition Analysis Work?

By being connected to IaC templates, the SCA scanning tools ensure all vulnerabilities are detected no matter how many dependencies you have. 

SCA works by scanning all third-party resources that may include container images, package managers, source codes, binary files, etc. Once the scans are completed, all open-source components are included in an SBOM. 

These data are further compared with several vulnerability databases, the most popular one being the US Government’s National Vulnerability Database

Government and International vulnerability databases work as a library of all known vulnerabilities in the IT environment. SCA uses the SBOM to match with all governmental and commercial databases that help in analyzing the quality of the code as well as all the involved legal licenses. 

CloudDefense.AI has built its comprehensive vulnerability database that is used to single out all vulnerabilities in licenses, open-source projects, and other aspects of the company’s framework. 

Benefits Of Software Composition Analysis(SCA)

SCA is trusted by organizations to safeguard their infrastructure from threats that come from open-source components. Below, we have listed some of the top benefits that you can reap from SCA.

Tracking Resources:

Development companies rely on open-source components for building their applications. It is quite troublesome to keep track of all these components and monitor how they are being used. SCA helps in solving that by detecting all components being used and categorizing them. 

Automatic Vulnerability Detection And Mitigation:

SCA takes a DevSecOps approach by completely automating the vulnerability detection and mitigation process. The complete process is handled through a severity chart that helps mark the vulnerabilities by the urgency of mitigating them. 

Mitigating Risks To Business:

Open-source resources come with many flaws that can directly affect a company. Over their benefits, a lot of these components are either vulnerable or outdated. SCA ensures the detection of all these risks by vetting the source code and doing a comprehensive security scan.

Promoting Innovation:

A risk-free environment where the development team can use all available open-source resources without the fear of getting attacked helps boost innovation in the team. Diminishing manual methods of verifying each open-source component ensures that there is more time to concentrate on building a better product. 

License Management:

OS components use a range of licenses that determine whether they are compliant with industry standards. It is often very difficult to manage these licenses individually. SCA tools help ease the hard work for developers by automatically managing all open-source licenses. 

How SCA Helps to Prevent Supply Chain Attacks

Open-source projects that are being used in supply chains are vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Threat actors use supply chain attacks to inject malicious code into the open source components. 

When supply chain software runs these malicious components, exploits open up, resulting in cyber attackers getting access to the system. 

SCA scans all resources the application is dependent on to detect any potential vulnerabilities that can be judged as risky for the whole supply chain. Helping to identify bad libraries created or manipulated by threat actors. 

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) Challenges

Just like any other security components in the industry, there are some challenges that enterprises using SCA face. 

Open-Source Components Using Other Third-Party Resources: A lot of third-party resources have dependencies of their own, which go much deeper into the source code. These indirect dependencies can be harder to identify. 

Managing Vulnerabilities: It is important to make sure that the vulnerability databases are constantly updated with each new vulnerability being discovered. An outdated database still keeps the application at risk even after using SCA security tools

Different Languages, Different Dependency Handling: All applications are not developed using the same language, and therefore they also differ in how they handle their dependencies. An effective SCA tool should have a good understanding of different languages and how dependencies are deployed to identify any vulnerabilities.

Best Practices of Software Composition Analysis(SCA)

Some best practices that you can follow to overcome the challenges of using SCA. 

Automating SCA Scans:

Automating your SCA scans is important to ensure an efficient workflow for your developers. It provides your developers with real-time updates on any existing vulnerabilities as well as tips on how you can fix them. 

Using an Updated Vulnerability Database:

You already know the cons of using a vulnerability database that is not constantly updated with new emerging vulnerabilities. Consider choosing a database that is always updated to empower your SCA tool. These leave little chance of any vulnerability slipping past the security scans. 

Choosing a SCA Tool That Is Compatible With Your Developers:

Some Software composition analysis tools can be hard to operate which makes it difficult for developers to use. Consider choosing a tool that is user-friendly and compatible with other security assets that you have in your company. 

Making SCA a Part Of The CI/CD Pipeline:

To ensure overall security during your software development lifecycle, it is important to integrate SCA into your CI/CD pipeline. This makes SCA scans a necessity as you constantly detect and patch vulnerabilities creating a seamless software building process. 

The Importance Of SBOM:

SBOMs are the cornerstone of documenting applications and the components they use. A lot of people might undermine them, but we believe documents like these help in identifying flaws in the development process and any probable vulnerabilities. 

FAQ

These are some of the queries that people have regarding SCA:

Who uses Software Composition Analysis solutions?

Normally, developers and larger development companies use software composition analysis solutions to help them detect any underlying vulnerabilities in open-source components. It is also used to manage software licenses that are required for compliance checks. 

What are the future trends of Software Composition Analysis?

SCA is currently growing in use, as it sees a steady growth in people using them. With more developers and security professionals becoming aware of the benefits, the software composition analysis market size is projected to double by 2027.

How to Choose a Software Composition Analysis Tool?

There are four major factors that you should consider when deciding on an effective software composition analysis tool. These include “Continuos monitoring”, “Language support”, “Integration”, and “Quality of Support”.

Conclusion

Open-source software components are pretty useful for any developer out there. However, the underlying vulnerabilities that they might have can open up doors to cyber attackers. These vulnerabilities can not only wreak havoc on your application but can also jeopardize your company and users. 

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) comes as a blessing for development companies, allowing them to seamlessly integrate open-source components scanning into the development cycle. Allowing you to manage all vulnerabilities that third-party resources may contain together with handling the hordes of user licenses they bring to you. 

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Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal
Anshu Bansal, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist, currently co-founds CloudDefense.AI, a cybersecurity solution with a mission to secure your business by rapidly identifying and removing critical risks in Applications and Infrastructure as Code. With a background in Amazon, Microsoft, and VMWare, they contributed to various software and security roles.
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