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The Importance of a Bill of Materials for Software Product Management

A bill of materials is an important tool to help ensure manufacturing accuracy and consistency. It helps companies maintain cost control, improve production planning and scheduling, and ensure quality standards are met.

Recently, several high-profile security breaches prompted the Biden Administration to issue an executive order mandating SBOM creation for organizations doing business with the federal government. This has elevated the importance of software BOMs as a tool to protect against vulnerabilities, fulfill licensing requirements, and ensure version control best practices.

What is a bill of materials?

A software bill of materials is a comprehensive list of the components that comprise a given software application. Just as a chef lists the ingredients that go into crafting a dish, software engineers catalog each component that goes into building an application with a software bill of materials (SBOM).

Aside from providing visibility into the software components used in an application, a SBOM can also help organizations identify vulnerabilities in third-party components that might affect the overall security posture of their application. The use of SBOMs is revolutionizing the cybersecurity approach to software development.

There are a number of standards for SBOM formats that enable a wide variety of applications to collect, report and consume SBOM data. The most widely adopted standard is the SPDX, which provides a consistent way to describe software component dependencies and includes information on version numbers, known vulnerabilities, licensing, and more.

Creating a software bill of materials requires the right tools to be effective. A tool like GuardRails combines a SBOM inventory with a nested dependency analysis to continuously assess, prioritize and dispatch vulnerable software components for mitigation. This capability is available via the GuardRails RVBM solution and can be exported into popular configuration management database (CMDB) tools using industry-standard JSON formats. Learn how GuardRails can help you build your own software bill of materials for your application today by Getting Started for Free.

What is a software bill of materials?

Just like a blueprint or list of materials and parts needed to build something, software engineers use a similar tool called a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) to keep track of the components in a software application. It includes details such as component hash, version information, and the relationship between different components (e.g., a dependency). It also contains additional metadata such as license and security attributes, known vulnerabilities and CVEs, or vendor details.

Today’s modern software applications often rely on a wide range of third-party libraries and tools to build and deliver their services. This is called the software supply chain, and an effective SBOM helps to reduce risks by providing visibility over the components used to build and run software applications. An SBOM can help to identify potential security issues, fulfill licensing requirements, and apply version control best practices. It can even demonstrate compliance with major cybersecurity regulations.

With open source a key component of every application, it is essential to have an effective solution to manage the security, license and operational risks that can accompany its use. Fortunately, a powerful software composition analysis (SCA) tool can provide an accurate and comprehensive open source SBOM that can be updated on a continuous basis, helping to detect new vulnerabilities and other changes in the open source components of your codebase.

What is a software bill of materials template?

A software bill of materials (SBOM) is a comprehensive, formally structured list of the components and libraries used to build a given piece of software. It includes a full inventory of third-party software and their dependencies, including version information and licensing details, as well as the commit or version control history of any custom code deployed through code management tools. It also includes a full inventory of the code itself, including identifiers, versions, and source locations, to enable security teams to quickly identify and remediate vulnerabilities, fulfill license obligations, and comply with version control best practices.

Just like the BOM on a car or airplane, SBOMs allow engineers to track all the parts that go into a product, and their relationships with each other. While this has been common practice in manufacturing, it’s only recently become popular in the IT world. It’s even more critical now that the Biden Administration’s 2021 cybersecurity executive order requires organizations to create SBOMs if they want to sell into the U.S. federal government.

An effective software composition analysis (SCA) tool automatically generates and updates a complete SBOM for your application on a continuous basis. It allows you to identify and inventory the open source components, libraries, and dependencies in your codebase and understand the risks they pose. In addition, it will help you fulfill license obligations and stay in compliance with the latest vulnerability and licensing databases.

What is a software bill of materials example?

A software bill of materials (SBOM) is a standardized list of components, dependencies, and metadata that make up a piece of software. It is similar to a BOM in manufacturing, but with added complexity since software applications often rely on proprietary and open source code. This approach helps ensure legal compliance, security, and streamlined management of the application.

Unlike the traditional manufacturing BOM that is inherently a proprietary document, SBOMs are designed to be widely accessible and are not necessarily confidential. The standards for SBOM include a common data format and specific attributes that can be used to identify individual components in the list. These include a unique identifier, version information, and the relationship between the component and the package.

The emergence of SBOMs is largely due to the increasing use of open source and third-party components in software development. This has helped shorten development times, increase speed of execution, and provide cost savings to businesses. However, it also has increased the vulnerability risk associated with these applications. Combined with the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity, which has called for SBOMs for federal agencies, it is critical that organizations maintain accurate and up-to-date software BOMs.

SBOMs can be manually created by software developers or automated using SCA tools, such as Guardrails. Automating the process makes it easier to create and consume SBOMs in a timely manner, which is necessary to address the vulnerabilities and risks associated with software supply chain components.