Software Composition Analysis (SCA) is a technique that modern IT teams can use to find all the open-source components and manage them.

Businesses need to know all about an application they are using and how it’s composed in order to decide whether it’s secure and compliant with the regulations.

If you use an application with a compromised or vulnerable opens-source component, it is always at a risk of getting exploited by attackers.

And when this happens, you may lose all the sensitive data of your business and customers stored in the application. This could lead to lost customer trust, leaked business information, financial risks, and compliance-related penalties.

Therefore, you must know what you are using and all the open-source license obligations and limitations of an application.

However, doing all of this manually is quite a difficult task. In most cases, the code and its vulnerabilities could be overlooked if you go this way.

SCA tools simplify and ease the process by automatically analyzing open-source components.

In this article, I’ll talk everything about SCA and why it matters in application security.

Stay tuned!

What Is Software Composition Analysis (SCA)?

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) is a process that detects open-source components used in an application’s codebase. This automated process is a part of application security testing, which evaluates an application’s security, code quality, and compliance.

You can find many SCA tools available in the market that can perform this process. These tools will help you detect and manage open-source components, their indirect and direct dependencies, supporting libraries, deprecated dependencies, potential exploits, and vulnerabilities.

software composition analysis

Scanning an application using an SCA tool will generate a comprehensive bill of materials revealing an application’s complete inventory of its assets. This helps you understand the application more as to what has gone into creating it and whether it’s safe to use or not.

Nevertheless, the concept of SCA is not entirely new. With the growing popularity of open-source tools over the years, primarily due to accessibility and cost-effectiveness, SCA has become a necessary process for app security programs.

An SCA solution empowers your developers with better development tooling and guides developers to embrace security in the application development lifecycle.  

How Does SCA Work?

To perform SCA using an SCA solution, you must point it toward your app’s build files. You can find those files on a staging server, a developer’s desktop, or a build directory from a CI/CD pipeline.

SCA tools will scan the application’s codebase to recognize those files that may come from a third-party product. The tools can use different identification tactics, like a unique pre-computed list of hashes from files in a known application.

So, when the SCA tool runs, it will calculate file hashes in your app and match all of them against the list. If the hashes match, the SCA tool will find the product and its version that you are using and parse the source code to discover proprietary code snippets used in your code.  

SCA tools also maintain and update their vulnerability list so that you can use it to find issues in your application years after the release. They can inspect the open-source code, package managers, binary files, manifest files, container images, etc.

After identifying the open-source components, the tool will compile them into a bill of materials (BOM) and compare it against various databases that can be commercial or government-led, like the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), containing data on common and known vulnerabilities in software.

Moreover, the SCA tool can bring different outputs, such as:

  • License list: It is an inventory of application licenses related to third-party components used in your app. They can be high-restrictive and could pose a business risk, which you can avoid to stay secure.
  • Bill of Materials (BOM): It is an inventory of software packages by third parties to serve security and compliance needs.
  • Known vulnerabilities: They are critical security flaws in third-party application components to detect the severity and type of vulnerability in what files.  

This way, SCA tools can discover licenses, analyze code quality with version control, contribution history, etc. This information will help developers identify potential security and compliance vulnerabilities and quickly remediate the issues.

Key Features of SCA

Some of the key features of SCA are:

Accurate BOM

accurate BOM

An SCA tool will accurately create a bill of materials (BOM) for your applications. It will describe app components, versions used, and license type. The aim of BOM is to help developers and security teams understand app components better and assess their licensing and security issues.

Hence, if the tool outputs any vulnerabilities, they can fix them quickly and protect their application and data from attackers.  

Finding and Tracking Components

Tracking components manually is a huge challenge and sometimes impossible since businesses deal with various supply chains, including third-party vendors, partners, open-source projects, etc.

An SCA tool will find all the open-source components from an app’s source code, build dependencies, containers, subcomponents, binaries, and OS components. 

Enforcing Policies

License compliance and security assessment are useful everywhere in an organization, taking into account all, from developers to senior managers. SCA shows the need to create security policies, provide OS knowledge and training to your team members, and respond quickly to security events and license compliance. Furthermore, you can use SCA tools to automate your approval processes, configure usage, and issue remediation norms.  

Continuous Monitoring

If you can manage workloads effectively, it would help increase the productivity of your entire team. Using an SCA tool, you can achieve both as it offers continuous monitoring of your application to detect security issues and vulnerabilities. These tools enable you to set up actionable alerts so that you can get immediate information on newly detected vulnerabilities in your shipped products and current ones.  

Comprehensive Database

Every SCA solution has a database that needs to be enriched with data aggregated from several sources. The more comprehensive this database is, the better will be the SCA tool at detecting open-source components and risks associated with them.

But if you don’t maintain a detailed database updated continuously, detecting the components and their right versions accurately becomes challenging. As a result, you find it tough to update licenses, apply patches and updates, and remediate security issues on time.  

Inventory

maintaining inventory

The process of SCA starts with performing a scan to create an inventory containing all the open-source application components, including transitive and direct dependencies.

A detailed inventory of your application’s components lets you manage your application with ease, and perform every process without confusion, whether it’s version control or making some patches. It is also needed to ensure compliance with each component you are using, which would not be possible if you don’t know a component you have been using in the first place.

Extensive Reporting

A good SCA tool comes with wide-ranging reporting for multiple use cases, from inventory and licensing attribution to bug and vulnerability tracking and due diligence.

This makes it easy for you to gain insights at each stage so that you can make informed decisions. They are useful for managing your application components, version control, compliance requirements, and security. In addition, they are useful for DevSecOps and DevOps.

License Compliance

After identifying all the open-source components in your application using the SCA tool, it will provide you with complete information on every component. It may include data on each component’s open-source license, the license’s compatibility with your business policies, and attribution requirements.

This is necessary to maintain license compliance and ensure you don’t use any component that does not conform to your policies or pose compliant risks.

Multiple Language Support

SCA solutions can support many languages and are compatible with a wide range of applications and projects.  

Integration

integration

SCA tools are easy to integrate with various build environments at different stages of your application development lifecycle. It can integrate seamlessly with your repositories, CI servers, package managers, IDEs, and build tools.

As a result, it gives developers the option to choose the most suitable build environment for your project and eases their process.

Benefits of SCA

Organizations from small to enterprises are developing applications to serve various use cases. But everyone can’t invest so much in developing them, especially individual developers and small businesses.

Thus, they can use open-source components that are free to use and modify as per requirements. Developers and teams are using more and more open-source components to create their applications. But not all of them are secure.

This is where SCA tools help them by finding all the open-source components in your application and how secure and compliant they are to use. This helps find licensing issues and vulnerabilities faster, lower remediation costs, and perform automated scanning to detect and fix security issues with less human effort.

Here are the benefits in detail:

Eliminating Business Risks

Most businesses don’t know everything about all the components used in their applications. Maybe a component is from a third-party vendor or any other reason. But if you don’t know what goes into your application, there is always an inherent risk associated with the number of cyberattacks happening every day.

By performing Software Composition Analysis (SCA), they can understand all the open-source components used. Hence, if any issue occurs, you can quickly remediate it by employing the right automation and processes and be safe from security and license compliance risks.

Innovation

innovation

Using open-source components offers you greater flexibility and freedom and saves money and time. Hence, you can contribute your time toward innovations to sustain market demands. SCA enables product innovation to be safer and compliant while ensuring effective license management.

Vulnerability Prioritization

Modern SCA solutions are closing the gap between issue discovery and remediation. A good SCA tool offers capabilities to prioritize open-source vulnerabilities. This is possible with proactive and automatic identification of security vulnerabilities. Once they have this data, they can prioritize which issue to address first based on the severity report.  

This saves developers and other security professionals from wasting time going through pages of alerts and trying to answer which vulnerabilities are more severe and exploitable in an application.

Quick Vulnerability Remediation

Apart from prioritization, SCA tools help businesses and individuals quickly remediate vulnerabilities underlying an application. It can automatically detect the location of the vulnerability and suggest how to fix it. It will also provide you with information on how implementing the fix can impact your build. 

SCA tools can start the automated remediation process based on vulnerability severity, vulnerability detection, severity score, new version release, and vulnerability policies created based on these factors. The tool will also help you keep your open-source app components patched, which is an excellent strategy for risk mitigation.

Faster Time-to-Market

Most applications now use open-source components because they are cost-efficient and readily available. This enables you to develop code faster and deploy your application to the market to meet your customer demands.

And to ensure you are using the secure open-source component, using SCA tools is beneficial. It helps ensure your applications meet legal obligations and you have remediated all the vulnerabilities.

Who Uses SCA Tools and Why?

Businesses from different sectors use some form of software to accelerate their workforce, communicate smoothly, and improve productivity.

Therefore, there is an increasing demand for applications everywhere, which developers and businesses strive to deliver. To meet this huge demand, they require solutions that can expedite their work and enable faster deployment of services and products. At the same time, they must ensure their deployments are safe from cyber attackers prevalent these days.

Hence, SCA tools help businesses, and individual developers find open-source components used in their applications and ensure their security.

SCA tools are utilized by development teams catering to multiple industries and domains, from IT, marketing, and eCommerce to healthcare, finance, EduTech, and many more. In addition, complex and cloud-native apps are in demand, which increases the need for robust SCA tools. It also helps DevOps teams to accelerate the development processes with a focus on security.

What to Look for While Selecting an SCA Tool?

Choosing the best SCA tool can be challenging as plenty of options are available in the market.

Therefore, you must take into account your specific requirements. Let’s look at some of the key factors you must consider for choosing an SCA tool.

Is It Developer-Friendly?

Your developers would be busy creating code based on the end goal, design requirements, and user needs. They are required to iterate quickly when required and produce better quality code. If the SCA tool is not developer-friendly, they will find it harder to embrace the tool and take a longer time to understand and use it, which will reduce their productivity.

However, if you give them an SCA tool that’s developer-friendly, meaning easy to configure and use, it will increase their productivity and save time and effort.

Component detection

How is its Component Detection?

A good SCA tool must have a comprehensive database to identify open-source components used in an application. The more it can detect, the more your chances of discovering vulnerabilities and fixing them will be greater.

Hence, before choosing an SCA tool, check how comprehensive it is to detect the components by comparing it against other tools.

How about Vulnerability Identification and Remediation?

The SCA tool you choose must also provide a comprehensive vulnerability detection of all the identified open-source components. The more, the better. This will expose a higher number of issues in the components that you can address immediately and safeguard your application from exploits. 

It would also help if the tool could provide recommendations on how to remediate those security vulnerabilities.

What’s the Reporting Quality?

Since reporting is a must-have feature of an SCA tool, you must compare the reporting capabilities of different SCA tools you have shortlisted. The reporting capabilities may vary from one tool to another.

For this, check the quality of reports you get, how detailed it is, and how easy it is to understand. You can do this by trying the FREE trial option provided by most SCA solutions.

How Many False Positives?

False positives

SCA tools, in general, don’t output more false positives than DAST tools. However, there is still a chance that they can. For this, performing a proof-of-concept can help evaluate a tool’s signal-to-noise ratio. Therefore, you must compare SCA tools based on the number of false positives they result in on average.

How about Integrations?

Choose an SCA tool that can seamlessly integrate with your current build environment to eliminate hassles. In addition, it must also connect to other tools and services like containers, security systems, CI/CD tools, IDEs, SCMs, etc., to extend your app’s functionality.

Some Good SCA Tools

Here are some of the good SCA tools you can consider for your applications:

Veracode: Veracode makes it easy for you to perform SCA. You can get started in your development environment by launching scans from the command line. It will offer faster feedback in your IDE and pipeline. 

This tool will reduce the time taken to test your application for open-source components. It has auto-remediation capabilities to create automatic pull requests, minimize disruption, and recommend intelligent fixes for faster fix rates and accuracy. 

Revenera: From full software packages to code snippets, Revenera’s software composition analysis products scan your source code, binaries, and dependencies for software vulnerabilities and license compliance issues. 

Additionally, it integrates with common build tools and provides one of the largest open-source knowledge bases in the industry, with more than 14 million components. Their audit teams also support baseline audits and due diligence events like mergers and acquisitions.

Other notable SCA tools are Black Duck, Snyk, Checkmarx, and more.

Some SCA Best Practices

Even if you use a top-class SCA tool, you might not achieve a great level of security and satisfaction. The reason lies in “how” you are using it.

Here are some of the best practices you can follow to succeed with an SCA tool:

  • Quick implementation: Incorporate an SCA tool at an early stage of your software development lifecycle. Also, get your team familiar with security risks and their impacts to motivate them to make responsible and calculated decisions.
  • Legal guidance: Consult your legal team to evaluate which open-source licenses in your app are weaker or not acceptable as per your business policies. Be quick at enforcing these decisions.
  • Automate scanning: You must automate scanning using the SCA tool in the CI/CD pipeline. Address vulnerabilities based on their severity, starting with the highest-risk vulnerabilities. Once you have fixed them, you might want to block the builds with mid-severe vulnerabilities.
  • Continuous updates: Ensure the SCA tool you use updates its vulnerability data and component detection capabilities regularly. This way, it can detect more components and their underlying issues that you can fix and make the app more secure.
  • Choose third-part components wisely: You must choose open-source components from a third party wisely before adding them to your app. Screen them based on the maker’s reliability, update frequency, patching efforts, and vulnerability history.
  • Don’t use deprecated components: You must replace components that their maker no longer supports. If you run components that are never updated, it poses a security risk.

Conclusion

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) helps improve your application’s security and compliance by detecting open-source components that might be vulnerable and enabling you to fix them on time.

This safeguards your application and data from cyberattacks. It also helps reduce costs, enhances business agility, and enables developers to learn how to incorporate app security during the planning and designing stages. 

Achieving all this is possible by implementing the best SCA tool based on your business needs. You can also follow some of the best practices to succeed more in your SCA efforts.