Organizations can use proprietary software, or open-source software for developing applications. Open source code is stored in a repository shared publicly. The benefits of using open source software are many but so are the risks. Many organizations use open-source software due to faster time to market, lower development costs, and other benefits. But the number of open source vulnerabilities is growing and poses a risk to organizations reliant on open source software. Though open-source code can be monitored by everyone, security bugs do exist and go unnoticed which later pose a significant risk to developers using it.
Software applications are prone to cyber-attacks that can steal personal or financial information. Malware, phishing, man-in-the-middle, and injection attacks frequently target software applications. Enterprises face a significant threat from sophisticated cyberattacks that can put revenue, customer trust, and reputation at stake. Using testing tools is a security best practice that can address security risks arising from open-source vulnerabilities. Software Composition Analysis (SCA) is a security testing tool that detects open-source code vulnerabilities. This article will elaborate on the significance of SCA for developers.
What is SCA Security?
SCA refers to the analysis of software and all its components. SCA provides visibility into open-source components and libraries used in the software. SCA tools enable developers to leverage open-source codes without exposing the organization to vulnerabilities or compliance problems. Developers can manage security and license risks by employing SCA tools. SCA tools can determine whether vulnerabilities in the open-source components can be exploited by potential attackers.
SCA ensures open source components used in the application meet certain standards and don’t contain vulnerabilities that may lead to a breach or legal complications. SCA tools also produce software bill of materials (SBOMs) which refers to detailed lists of the various dependencies as well as where they are placed in the code. These reports provide insights into future security risks and help developers enable standardization processes across the organization to minimize security threats.
SAST vs SCA
SAST is a security tool that analyzes the source code for security vulnerabilities. SAST can detect vulnerabilities without the code being executed. It helps developers fix issues in the initial stages of development. SCA on the other hand detects open-source components brought into the project for security vulnerabilities. Let’s find out the key differences between SAST and SCA below.
SAST uses a static approach and can perform testing without executing the code. SAST does not need a working application and can resolve issues in the early stages of development.
- SAST is useful to conduct analysis from the inside out
- Developers can use SAST during all phases of the SDLC
- SAST needs a build model to run the analysis
- There are five types of analysis called configuration, semantic, dataflow, control flow, and structural analysis which are conducted based on a set of rules.
- SCA scans vulnerabilities by analyzing the app’s reliance on open-source components either through transitive or direct dependencies.
- SCA ensures license compliance management by identifying open-source licenses and mitigating legal risks. SCA tools can help set up license policies to avoid compliance issues.
- SCA tools can detect vulnerabilities in open-source dependencies by comparing and evaluating them against other vulnerability databases.
- SCA tools support the integration of open-source security testing in CI/CD processes.
- They ensure governance and control by automatically enforcing license policies through the different stages of SDLC.
How Does SCA Work?
Here is a brief overview of how the SCA works:
- SCA examines a given codebase to create a list of existing open-source components that also include dependencies.
- SCA documents its observations about the detected components that include license information, component version, and area of detection among others. The findings are compiled into a Bill of Materials. It uses information databases such as the National Vulnerability Database as a basis to compare the scan results obtained from analyzing source code.
- SCA tools are capable of pinpointing related open-source security vulnerabilities such as CVEs.
- SCA sends alerts so security professionals are warned against vulnerabilities or license issues.
- Few advanced SCA tools are equipped with the ability to compare each open-source component with a set of policies and take appropriate remedial action by blocking the components or alerting stakeholders to take action.
- SCA tools can also facilitate integration into CI/CD pipelines to scan projects automatically.
Why is SCA Security Important?
Software applications developed using open-source components contain libraries that enable various functionalities for users. An undetected vulnerability in any of the components puts the entire application’s security in jeopardy. Hackers can exploit these open-source vulnerabilities and steal sensitive information. Developers and security professionals need to upgrade their software with patches from time to time. Organizations must have appropriate security tools and processes in place to address vulnerabilities in third-party libraries and open-source components in the application. This is where SCA comes into the picture.
SCA tools alert organizations when they detect vulnerabilities so remedial actions can be taken before hackers exploit the vulnerabilities. There have been several instances of security breaches where cybercriminals exploited open-source vulnerabilities in the past. SCA tools help analyze the components for reliability, security, and compatibility with other components which help organizations make informed decisions about the components ideal for use in applications. SCA is beneficial to update and manage applications as it can identify open-source components and helps developers fix issues, if any, in these components.
How to Use SCA in the Development Process?
Checking the code for vulnerabilities when writing the code is a best practice recommended by security experts. SCA enables developers to check the code right from the early stages. Developers should take advantage of integrated development environments plugins to get notifications from SCA tools about vulnerabilities when packages are added to the application. With the help of SCA tools, developers should block code that does not comply with the required standards with checks and automated pull request comments before the code is saved to the repository.
The SCA processes should be implemented in the deployment stages too. SCA can be used to block the deployment of software with known vulnerabilities. SCA should be used such that it informs developers about the risks and threats posed by the packages used in the applications. Vulnerabilities should be ranked and prioritized depending on the magnitude and impact of the security risks. Thinking about security right from the beginning helps developers write secure codes and avoid wasting time rewriting and fixing security issues in the code.
Organizations are adopting open source at an accelerated pace due to its varied benefits that give them an edge over rivals. This trend of increasing reliance on open-source software is not going away anytime soon. However, the risks associated with open source have compelled organizations to implement stronger security measures. Developers are often unaware of the vulnerabilities present in third-party libraries or dependencies. SCA tools facilitate automated scans of the code to identify vulnerabilities and actionable remedies to fix them. By using SCA tools throughout the software development lifecycle, developers can ensure code security is an integral part of their daily workflow.
SCA tools are useful for strengthening security policies and improving compliance policies. It is important to look out for open-source licenses when using packages for application development. SCA tools give insights into licenses for open-source components which helps developers tackle compliance issues right from the start. Robust SCA tools are the need of the hour given the increasing complexity of applications. Automated SCA tools are increasingly becoming popular as speed, reliability, and security become critical to developers.