What is Software Composition Analysis and Why Does it Matter?

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) has become a critical aspect of managing modern software applications in a world where over 90% of the code is made up of open-source components or third-party libraries. In fact, according to the Synopsys 2020 Open Source Security and Risk Analysis report, over 99% of the audited codebases had open-source components. This high dependence on external sources creates unprecedented security and compliance risks, making Software Composition Analysis a must-have tool for the IT industry and software development community.

“Programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute.” – Harold Abelson

What is Software Composition Analysis? Definition of Composition Analysis

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) is a process that involves identifying, tracking, and analyzing the open-source components and third-party libraries in a software application. SCA tools generate a bill of materials (BOM) that lists all the components, their specific versions, and their known vulnerabilities, if any. This helps organizations manage security risks, ensure compliance with licensing requirements, and improve their software’s overall quality by identifying and mitigating potential vulnerabilities in the codebase.

ℹ️ Synonyms: Application composition analysis, Component analysis, Code composition analysis, Binary analysis, Dependency analysis.

How it Works

Software Composition Analysis tools typically employ the following steps to analyze a software application:

1. Scanning and identification

SCA tools scan the codebase, looking for open-source components, third-party libraries, and any corresponding license files. They identify the components by matching them against a comprehensive database of known open-source projects and libraries.

2. Creating a Bill of Materials (BOM)

Once the components are identified, the SCA tools generate a BOM that lists all the open-source components and third-party libraries in the codebase. The BOM includes information such as the version of the component, the license type, and known vulnerabilities.

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3. Analyzing vulnerabilities and risks

SCA tools analyze the identified components for known vulnerabilities using databases like the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), and assess the risk associated with each vulnerability based on industry-standard scoring systems such as the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS).

4. Reporting and remediation guidance

The SCA tools generate reports highlighting the identified components, their respective licenses, vulnerabilities, and associated risks. They also provide guidance for remediation—suggesting patches, updates, or other actions to mitigate the identified risks.

Benefits of using Software Composition Analysis

  • Improve application security: SCA helps to identify and fix known vulnerabilities in open-source components, reducing the risk of security breaches and data loss.
  • Ensure license compliance: By identifying and tracking the licenses of open-source components, organizations can avoid legal pitfalls associated with non-compliant usage.
  • Optimize software quality: Understanding the composition of a software application allows developers to choose more mature and stable libraries, resulting in better overall software quality.
  • Streamline development processes: Using SCA tools to automate the identification and analysis of open-source components in the codebase reduces manual effort and speeds up development cycles.
  • Support continuous integration and delivery: Integrating SCA into continuous integration and delivery pipelines helps to ensure that software is continuously scanned and analyzed for potential risks throughout its development life cycle.

Software Composition Analysis use cases

  • Security auditing: Companies can use SCA tools to conduct security evaluations and implement risk mitigation strategies for their software applications.
  • License compliance tracking: SCA helps organizations track and ensure compliance with open-source licensing requirements, protecting them from legal and financial exposure.
  • Mergers and acquisitions: SCA can aid in the due diligence process by providing insight into a target company’s software portfolio, open-source usage patterns, and potential security or compliance issues.
  • Vendor risk management: SCA can help assess the risk associated with third-party suppliers by analyzing their software components for vulnerabilities and licensing issues.
  • Open-source policy enforcement: Organizations can use SCA to enforce open-source usage policies and guidelines, ensuring safe and responsible usage of open-source components.
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Code Examples

const express = require("express");
const request = require("request-promise");
const cheerio = require("cheerio");

const app = express();

app.get("/scrape", async (req, res) => {
  try {
    const html = await request("https://example.com");
    const $ = cheerio.load(html);

    const data = [];
    $(".item").each((index, element) => {
      const title = $(element).find("h2").text();
      const description = $(element).find(".description").text();
      data.push({ title, description });
    });

    res.json(data);
  } catch (error) {
    res.status(500).send("Error occurred while scraping.");
  }
});

app.listen(3000, () => console.log("Server running on port 3000"));

Best Practices

When implementing Software Composition Analysis in your organization, it’s essential to adopt best practices that maximize its effectiveness. First, integrate SCA tools into your development pipeline, ensuring continuous analysis throughout the application lifecycle. Train your development team on secure coding practices and open-source license compliance. Establish clear policies on open-source component usage and create an inventory of approved libraries, ensuring developers use secure and compliant components. Leverage the information provided by your SCA tools to prioritize risk remediation based on the severity and exploitability of vulnerabilities. Lastly, maintain regular updates to your SCA tool’s database to ensure accurate and up-to-date vulnerability information.

Most recommended books about Software Composition Analysis

  • Open Source Compliance in the Enterprise, by Ibrahim Haddad
  • The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications, by Michal Zalewski
  • Black Duck: Software Composition Analysis, by Peter Vescuso
  • Secure Coding: Principles & Practices, by Mark G. Graff and Kenneth R. van Wyk

Conclusion

As reliance on open-source components and third-party libraries continues to grow, the need for Software Composition Analysis becomes increasingly important. By implementing SCA tools and following best practices in your organization, you can ensure the security, compliance, and quality of your software applications. Understanding and managing your software composition is crucial in today’s interconnected and fast-paced development environment.

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Tagged as

analysis, compliance, composition, cybersecurity, dependencies

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Back in 2013, I founded Echo with the simple business idea: "Connect great tech companies around the globe with the brightest software engineers in Eastern Europe." We've employed hundreds of talents so far and keep going.
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li-url Lou Reverchuk

IT Entrepreneur

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