What Is Software Composition Analysis (SCA)?

With software development progressing quickly, many developers turn to third-party and open-source components to speed up the build process and add requested user functionality. That opens the door to risks like additional security vulnerabilities and problems with license compliance. 

The last thing businesses want is an open-source component embedded in their website to lead to a security breach. Software composition analysis (SCA) is a methodology designed to help mitigate the risk of using third-party components and manage them more effectively.  

Why Is SCA Important?

SCA tools conduct automated scans of application code bases to locate open-source components. They perform vulnerability detection and, in some cases, provide automated remediation. SCA platforms also look for software licenses, out-of-date dependencies, and potential avenues for exploitation. Upon completion, SCA scans produce a bill of materials (BOM) inventory listing all project software assets. 

While SCA isn’t new, the expanded use of open-source components has led to more companies adopting the methodology. It has become a fundamental building block in software development and maintenance. The downsides of not maintaining a proactive stance against cybersecurity exploitation can be steep. 

Companies have lost millions because of hackers exploiting security holes in third-party controls. They’re always looking to steal data, hijack systems, and cause other mayhem. Businesses are leaving the door open for just that if they’re not keeping up with the functionality, licensing, and security around third-party components.

These days, it’s common for developers to tap into open-source components when shipping code or adding new features to a software product. These components often rely on other third-party dependencies, expanding the threat surface for cybersecurity thieves to leverage. 

If customer information is stolen because of an open-source element in a website, that could mean hefty fines and penalties for a business. That’s in addition to the reputation hit taken once the incident becomes public. 

How Does SCA Work?

SCA platforms implement a framework that gives teams a complete picture of open-source components. More advanced tools guide the resolution of any issues found within the modules. Below are the key activities involved in SCA.

🗂 Inventory

The inventory process focuses on comprehensively listing all components and libraries used to construct an application or system. It’s the foundation of SCA because it involves documenting how each item works, the potential risks it brings, and its impacts on security. Information captured about open-source components usually includes:

  • Component name
  • Version
  • Source
  • License Info
  • Dependencies
  • Purpose

Tracking and maintaining an open-source component inventory is done continuously throughout CI/CD pipeline integration. It must receive an update every time someone adds a new third-party module, or there are updates to an existing one. 

That’s accomplished by encouraging an open collaboration between developers, architects, and security experts. The last thing organizations need is a lone developer adding something to an essential application that leaves a big security vulnerability. 

🔎 Analyze

The analysis phase involves reviewing and evaluating system or application components. That allows organizations to find security vulnerabilities, license compliance issues, and associated risks. Processes involved in the analysis step include:

  • Vulnerability scanning — The SCA platform scans software components to identify known security issues. It compares an open-source component version against a database containing known vulnerabilities. If the scan detects a problem, it flags the open-source item for additional review and possible remediation. Methods often used include SAST and DAST, or static application security testing and dynamic application security testing.
  • Licensing compliance review — Software components get assessed for how well they comply with licensing agreements. The terms and restrictions of the license undergo a review to determine whether an open-source module aligns with a project’s licensing policies. 
  • Risk assessment — Involves evaluating factors that could increase risk, like the severity level of a vulnerability, how critical a component is to software operation, and how a non-compliant component could impact software.
  • Dependency analysis — The dependency tracking process involves reviewing other components needed to make a third-party element work. It helps developers and software security professionals understand the entire scope of the software ecosystem versus an individual component. 
  • Continuous monitoring — SCA tools continuously monitor software components throughout their lifecycle, allowing organizations to proactively handle compliance issues or flaws that might emerge.
  • Reporting and remediation — Placing analysis results into a compiled format gives developers and stakeholders a clear view of software security and licensing status. That makes it easier to understand the risks associated with open-source components and develop a risk mitigation plan to deal with vulnerabilities and handle compliance management. 

⚙️ Control

At this point, organizations start implementing measures to handle and mitigate any risks identified during the analysis step. That includes addressing security risks, ensuring all licenses fall under compliance policy guidelines, and establishing controls around maintaining a secure software environment. 

  • Vulnerability remediation — Includes updating vulnerable components to the latest secure version or applying patches. 
  • License compliance enforcement — Businesses ensure application software components align with relevant licensing agreements. 
  • Secure software development lifecycle (SDLC) — Organizations should integrate SCA throughout every phase of the SDLC. That includes performing checks and reviews to locate potential risks from the beginning. 
  • Security training — Individuals involved with software development workflows should receive comprehensive training on security guidelines and best practices when using third-party or open-source components. 

What Are SCA Best Practices?

Try to approach SCA implementation with the goal of impacting users as little as possible. It helps to look for places where an organization can get elements in place quickly without a lot of interruptions for software engineers working on current projects. Below are other best practices to follow when working with SCA tools. 

  • Use automated SCA tools like the Kiuwan platform to check for vulnerabilities and license compliance issues.
  • Stay updated when it comes to new releases of open-source components.
  • Make vulnerability remediation a priority, especially issues that could impact software security and functionality.
  • Go over the licensing terms of open-source components.
  • Perform regular assessments of open-source components during every testing phase, code review, and quality assurance checks.

Use Kiuwan for Security Analysis and Remediation

Kiuwan’s comprehensive security platform helps development teams manage the software project throughout the SDLC. Our platform combines the best of SAST, SCA, and quality assurance (QA). Developers gain the ability to rapidly locate and remediate vulnerabilities. Request a free trial and experience the benefits of Kiuwan or click the link below for a free demo. ⬇️

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Identify and remediate vulnerabilities with fast and efficient scanning and reporting. We are compliant with all security standards and offer tailored packages to mitigate your cyber risk within the SDLC.

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