Software Composition Analysis Guide

Software has become the life-blood of modern businesses. It runs everything from manufacturing to finance to e-commerce websites. And as organizations embrace it even more, as they transform to digital-first businesses, they are forever looking at software to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and, of course, bottom-line revenue.

In that way, open-source software has grown in popularity, especially for non-commercial use cases (i.e., back-end systems). These license-free alternatives to vendor solutions enable businesses to become more digital without the overhead of costly software licenses.

The increased adoption of open-source, though, has also been a harbinger of other changes within the business world: a drive towards innovation through software. Open source technologies often represent the bleeding edge, the industry’s attempt to solve a problem without the encumbrance of corporate sales models. It’s almost the best of both worlds: innovation for little-to-no cost.

Source: The New Stack

Yet, there is risk involved in relying so heavily on community-supported software components. The benefits of open-source are tempered by a fundamental risk: how do you manage all the open-source components embedded within larger software projects? How do you know when there’s a security issue with an open-source library? How do you know when a new version is out?

COVID-19 put a glaring spotlight on this as businesses shaved budgets in light of the global pandemic. Development teams turned more towards open-source as a way to continue innovating within a financially constrained environment. The question that results, though, is this: “How does a business mitigate the risk of using open source without giving up the obvious benefits of lower cost and increased innovation within their software development projects?”

With Software Composition Analysis (SCA), Mitigating Open-Source Risk Doesn’t Have To Be Hard

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools are the perfect answer to that question.

These platforms represent an application security methodology for managing open source components. In short, it takes out the guesswork and the manual management of components across development teams (just admit it, you use an Excel Spreadsheet or Google Sheet to keep track of open-source components; it’s okay, we’ve all done that at some point).

Using an SCA tool enables you to ditch the manual processes for open source component and inventory management. Development teams can use SCA tools to analyze their applications and catalog the open-source libraries or dependencies. For many tools, the open source inventory is completed automatically. Better yet, it can capture not only related components, but supporting libraries and indirect dependencies. In short, it will spider through your code to determine the open-source elements you’ve deployed.

A good SCA tool provides a comprehensive analysis of your open source inventory. It will find software licenses, deprecated dependencies, and even vulnerabilities or potential exploits. It’s like having Sherlock Holmes looking over your shoulder when you code, cataloging all the evidence, and patting you on the shoulder with an “elementary, my Dear Watson” when you look amazed at the results of the analysis. With SCA tools, you can have a completed “Bill of Materials” (BOM) for your application: a detailed inventory of the project’s software assets.

Breaking Down the Value of SCA Tools

We get it. SCA is, ultimately, another tool on top of all the other tools you use to successfully do your job. But there is clear value here above and beyond just an IDE plugin.

An SCA tool can make sure all the open-source components you are using in your development projects are managed. That is major risk mitigation. So if another pandemic, or something similar, comes around, if there’s a time when your budget shrinks but you are asked to continue to innovate, you’ll be able to blissfully sleep knowing that all of those components, across dozens of teams who may or may not talk to each other, are managed.

We’ve broken down the core SCA values into three major functional areas:

  • Security & Remediation
  • Communication & Reuse
  • Visibility & Inventory Management

Security & Remediation

Perhaps the biggest risk of any software project is ensuring vulnerabilities are identified and remediated. Of course, knowing the vulnerability exists is the first step, however being able to communicate to management that it’s been fixed (by showing subsequent scans of a project’s files) is a big second step.

One of the main functions of using a tool to manage your open-source components is automation. You don’t need to cull through community groups or subreddits to find out the component you are using can expose sensitive data or provide bad actors with access to core systems. The SCA tool does that for you automatically so that you can easily implement a later release that addresses the vulnerability.

Communication & Reuse

When an organization has distributed development teams, either across internal business units or even geographically, there can be a lack of communication. One team could employ one open-source component to solve a problem while another team uses an entirely different one. This can add a significant level of complexity to manage software within the organization. But a good SCA tool can solve this problem by generating a BOM for each project that can be shared amongst development teams. Combined with Architecture Decisions Records (ADRs), teams can all be on the same page when employing open-source components.

Visibility & Inventory Management

The old way of managing open-source components across software projects (via those pesky spreadsheets) isn’t tenable anymore. Not only because it doesn’t scale, but because it doesn’t provide much visibility.

SCA tools, by automating the tracking of open-source components through analysis of a software project, provides that visibility to every developer whether they are on the project or not. And, because a good SCA tool also identifies direct and indirect dependencies, it can actually create an open-source usage tree showing a developer how the components work together to achieve the application’s functional objectives.

Private StackShare for Teams: The Complementary SCA Tool

Private StackShare for Teams is the missing piece to the puzzle for SCA and the answer for enterprises needing to document tech stacks across repos.

However, not only does Private StackShare for Teams automatically document and map out tech stacks, it takes it a step further. Developers can browse and search for over 8,000 open source packages from major package managers including npm, NuGet, PyPI, and RubyGems. Packages are automatically detected and you receive Stack Alerts anytime packages are added/removed/updated in any of your connected repos.

Really, what are you waiting for?

Private StackShare for Teams benefits enterprise architects, developers, managers, and CTOs/CIOs. Private StackShare helps you see what you’re using, why you’re using it, and who someone should talk to about it. It helps you access the wealth of technical knowledge across your company and draw technology insights from your GitHub/Azure repos.

Start using Private StackShare for Teams today.