Managing cybersecurity risks in software bill of materials

As software-related vulnerabilities rise, businesses must manage their software cyber risks in order to innovate faster and deliver safer, more secure digital products.

Until recently, the “ingredients” or code that make up the software that operates most businesses’ products and corporate software were essentially unknown. This is a concern since the usage of third-party code is increasing, and the adoption of open-source software (OSS) will accelerate in the future years.

A software bill of materials (SBOM) programme may help organisations protect themselves and their customers by building a system that assesses every incoming code before it is approved by developers.

What an SBOM is and why it is useful

An SBOM, like the nutritional information on cereal boxes, summarises the constituents while bringing attention to those that may be harmful to specific persons, such as gluten and peanuts. 

An SBOM is a systematic, machine-readable inventory of software dependencies (made by combining various OSS components, third-party code, and internal code), technical data about those dependencies, and the code’s hierarchical linkages (Exhibit 1).

An SBOM helps programmers understand the “code behind the code” so they can determine if it is secure. It also saves companies time and money by supporting them in analysing and mitigating known code issues. 

Furthermore, sboms help legal and compliance teams determine a piece of third-party code’s licencing history and permissible usage, reducing the possibility of misuse. Sboms also improve enterprises’ ability to respond to and fix newly identified common vulnerabilities and exposures (cves) by supporting security and forensic teams in identifying the impact on software.

Reasons why an SBOM programme is necessary

Over the past five years, OSS development expanded from 35 percent to around 75 percent of organisations’ audited codebase.

According to openuk, nine out of ten UK-based enterprises have expressed their intention to use OSS by 2021. 2 Organizations use OSS because it encourages cost savings, developer flexibility, and rapid development.

Because code libraries provide a limitless amount of prebuilt functionality and tooling resources, OSS adoption promotes greater developer collaboration and allows programmers to work more quickly. Software components on demand allow developers to benefit from the efforts of other developers. Components are desirable to start-ups and emerging technology players basically, anybody who wants to produce software quickly—because they are freely available from anywhere and are independent of individual manufacturers.

Despite the apparent benefits of adopting third-party code, OSS raises business risks. OSS is open to the public and is not subject to centralised control or oversight. It may include potential security flaws, obsolete code, and internet vulnerabilities that expose firms to cyber-attacks. 

The majority of businesses attempt to better understand and manage their technical and cyber dangers, but they also recognise that writing and maintaining secure code is a critical component of any cybersecurity strategy.

Organizations are increasingly more concerned with when, how, and what the ramifications of a cyberattack will be, rather than whether or not they will be harmed by one. In 2014, 62% of firms reported being the victim of a cyberattack. In 2021, that figure will have risen to 86%. Cyberattack expenses are also rapidly growing. 

According to Data Breach Investigations Report, the global cost of cybercrime is expected to surpass $3 trillion in 2015. This figure increased to roughly $6 trillion by 2021 and is expected to reach $10 trillion by 2025. Supply chain vulnerabilities are becoming more prevalent among the hundreds of hacks that occur each day.

Companies are finding it more difficult to control their software supply chains as the benefits of open-source software outweigh the risks. For example, in December 2020, it was determined that the Sunburst virus assaults originated in the supply chain. The incident impacted 33,000 people, with 18,000 of them having their items hacked by harmful spyware.

Companies may keep the benefits of OSS while minimising risks via sbom minimum elements. As in the Sunburst case, when one company with SBOM capabilities was able to determine that it was vulnerable to the infected code within two hours, they help organisations avoid difficulties. 

Others who were harmed were not as fortunate, including an energy company that identified the faulty software two and a half months later. During those 2.5 months, the company was vulnerable to more attacks and corporate breaches.

Cybercriminals and other bad actors routinely undertake attacks on the software supply chain using a number of approaches, typically focused on open-source or widely used third-party code. 

As a result, researchers discovered 12 malicious Python libraries that were uploaded to the official Python Package Index in 2018. 3 When taken together, incidents such as the Python Package Index compromise and the Sunburst malware case have prompted businesses to consider creating sboms immediately.

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