Software Supply Chain Security vs. SCA: What's the Difference?
As reliance on software increases in both personal and professional contexts, security of the software supply chain has become a critical concern. Ensuring the security and quality of software is essential for protecting against digital attacks, data breaches, and other cyber threats. Two practices that play a key role in ensuring software security are software supply chain security and software composition analysis (SCA).
While these two practices are related, they are not the same, and understanding the differences between them is important for effectively protecting the software supply chain. In this article, we will explore the key differences between software supply chain security and SCA and discuss the importance of both practices in ensuring the security and quality of software.
What is Software Supply Chain Security?
Software supply chain security refers to measures taken to ensure the security and integrity of the software development and distribution process. This includes all the steps involved in creating, distributing, and updating software, from the initial design and development to the final deployment and maintenance phase.
The software supply chain includes all the people, processes, and technologies involved in creating, distributing, and maintaining software. This includes developers, testers, quality assurance professionals, project managers, and other team members who would work on the software. It also includes the tools, technologies, and platforms used to create and distribute the software such as integrated development environments (IDEs), version control systems, and build servers.
In addition to these internal stakeholders, the software supply chain also includes external partners and suppliers who provide resources and services to support the software development and distribution process. This may include third-party libraries, frameworks, or other components that are integrated into the software as well as cloud hosting providers, managed service providers, and other external partners.
Ensuring the security and integrity of the software supply chain is critical to the overall security and reliability of the software itself. By implementing robust security controls and practices throughout the software development and distribution process, organizations can reduce the risk of vulnerabilities being introduced into the software and increase the confidence of users and customers in the security and reliability of the software.
What Are Common Software Supply Chain Risks?
Software supply chain risk refers to the potential vulnerabilities or security risks that exist within the process of creating, distributing, and maintaining software. This includes risks related to the development and production of software as well as risks related to the distribution and deployment of software to end users.
Some common risks in the software supply chain include:
- Unsecured code: Code that is not properly secured or that contains vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers.
- Unsecured third-party components: Many software applications use third-party libraries or frameworks which can introduce vulnerabilities if they are not properly secured.
- Unsecured supply chain: If a company works with untrusted vendors or partners, there is a risk that those vendors or partners could introduce vulnerabilities into the software supply chain.
- Unsecured distribution channels: If the software is distributed through unsecured channels, there is a risk that it could be intercepted or tampered with by attackers.
- Unsecured deployment: If the software is not properly deployed and configured, it could be vulnerable to attacks.
- Unsecured tool chain: Misconfigurations within the development tools.
- Unsecured pipelines: Lack of validation of security checks within build pipelines and build runner configuration.
It’s important to protect against supply chain risks because they can have significant consequences for an organization. Some of the potential impacts of supply chain risks include:
- Financial loss: If a supply chain risk leads to a data breach or other security incident, an organization could suffer financial losses due to the cost of responding to the incident and potentially paying fines or compensation.
- Reputational damage: Supply chain risks can also damage an organization's reputation if customers or clients lose trust in the organization's ability to protect their data or if the organization is seen as irresponsible or negligent in its handling of security issues.
- Legal consequences: Depending on the nature of the supply chain risk, an organization could face legal consequences if it is found to be negligent or in violation of regulations or laws related to data protection.
- Business disruption: Supply chain risks can also disrupt an organization's operations leading to lost productivity and revenue.
What is Software Composition Analysis?
Software Composition Analysis (SCA) technology is a tool that helps organizations identify and track the different components that make up their software applications. It uses a variety of techniques, including automated scanners and manual reviews, to identify all open-source and third-party libraries, frameworks, and other components that are used in the development of a software application.
SCA technology is important because it helps organizations understand the bill of materials (BOM) for their software applications. This includes identifying all the different components that make up the software as well as any potential vulnerabilities or security risks associated with those components.
One key aspect of SCA technology is the creation of a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM), which is a comprehensive list of all the components that make up a software application.
The SBOM includes details about each component such as its name, version, and licensing information. By creating an SBOM, organizations can better understand the complexity of their software applications and identify any potential security risks or vulnerabilities.
SCA technology is an important tool for organizations that want to ensure the security and integrity of their software applications. It helps organizations identify and address potential security risks in their software supply chain and protect against threats that could compromise the security of their applications.
How SCA Protects the Software Supply Chain
SCA offers several features that help protect the software supply chain, including:
SCA technology uses automated scanners to identify and track the different components that make up a software application. This allows organizations to quickly and accurately identify all the components that are used in their software including open-source libraries and frameworks.
SCA technology can help organizations identify any vulnerabilities or security risks associated with the components used in their software applications. This includes identifying any known vulnerabilities in open-source components and alerting organizations to the need to update or patch those components.
Discovering Compromised Open-Source Components
SCA technology can help organizations identify any compromised open-source components that have been introduced into their software supply chain. This is important because open-source components are often used by multiple organizations, and if a vulnerability is discovered in one organization, it could potentially impact the security of other organizations that use the same component.
Repository Integration and Component Controls
SCA technology can be integrated with a company's repository system which allows it to automatically scan code as it is added to the repository and identify any potential vulnerabilities or security risks. SCA technology can also be used to enforce controls on the use of certain components, helping to prevent the use of potentially vulnerable or untrusted components.
SCA technology can also help organizations ensure that they are using software components in compliance with the relevant licenses. This includes identifying any components that are used in violation of the terms of their license and alerting organizations to the need to obtain a proper license or remove the component from their software.
In conclusion, software supply chain security and software composition analysis are two important practices that are used to ensure the security and quality of software.
While software supply chain security focuses on protecting the various processes and tools that are used to develop, test, release, and distribute software, software composition analysis is specifically focused on analyzing the dependencies that are used in a software project to identify vulnerabilities and ensure compliance. And although software composition analysis is critical to supply chain security, it is only one element. Other security scanners such as SAST (Static Application Security Testing), Secrets, and IaC (Infrastructure as Code) are essential as well as technologies specific to the risks mentioned above including pipeline profiling, integrity scanning, and tool chain security.
Both practices are essential for ensuring that software is secure and free from vulnerabilities and other risks, and organizations should adopt a combination of both in order to effectively protect their software supply chain.
Learn more about how SCA and purpose-built software supply chain security work together to secure the entire development pipeline and the compliance requirements of the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF)