What is software composition analysis (SCA) and does my company need it?
Open source is an incredible concept. It provides immediate access to tools without needing to reinvent the wheel every time a new project gets started. Thanks to open source, companies enjoy high-quality software with simpler license management, abundant support, and fewer development costs. These advantages mean that open source components have become almost standard in development – but tracking and securing them is critical. A software composition analysis (SCA) tool provides developers a chance to easily accomplish this.
In 2018, 41 percent of external attacks were carried out through the exploitation of software vulnerabilities. Companies need a software composition analysis tool to identify these vulnerabilities before hackers do.
What Is a software composition analysis?
A software composition analysis (SCA) is an open source component management tool. It generates a report listing all open source components in a given product – including direct and indirect dependencies. Using an SCA, a development team can quickly track and analyze any open source component brought into a project.
The amount of open source components used in proprietary projects has been steadily growing. Research in 2018 showed that most projects contained an average of 57 percent of open source code in its codebase. Some of these components are so common that they’re almost taken for granted. For example, Bootstrap was found in at least 40 percent of all applications surveyed in the 2018 study.
Although convenient, open source components have been traditionally incredibly difficult to track. Developers have often relied on manual processes such as emails and spreadsheets, but these processes threaten to undo the convenience provided by open source and provide an incomplete picture. In contrast, an SCA tool provides ready insight into each component.
Why use an SCA tool?
Keeping track of open source components is critical both from productivity and security standpoints. Open source components are becoming major building blocks in software across practically every vertical. With an SCA tool, developers can:
Understand what’s being used
Although open source code scanning has been around for almost 20 years, SCA tools take things several steps beyond this basic measure. In addition to known security issues or vulnerabilities, an SCA tool can provide insight into versions, licenses, and any potential compliance issues that may arise for the company due to the use of a particular component.
With dozens of components often used on a single project, there’s always the chance that one or more pieces won’t work together. Some tools can cross-reference every open source component found in a project to ensure compatibility with the underlying framework used by the software.
Enforce security & compliance policies
The more components that are added over time, the more chances there are for unnoticed or undocumented compliance violations to occur. Additionally, some 78 percent of vulnerabilities and issues are found in indirect dependencies, making them even harder to spot.
An SCA tool helps prevent the introduction of non-compliant or unsafe components. Unlike a code scanning tool, an SCA tool can automate approval processes and policy enforcement. It can provide immediate alerts or even block developers from implementing the code altogether.
Accelerate product development
The leading SCA tools harness automation across several processes, particularly approval processes. This saves time and energy by eliminating many of the manual processes that developers had turned to in order to safely use open source components.
An ideal SCA Tool
An increased emphasis on security has led to the widespread adoption of SCA tools. Between 2017 and 2020, the market for these tools has been expected to grow by 20.9 percent. This shows that SCA tools are rapidly being adopted across all company sizes, in every vertical. The leading SCA solutions augment security and risk management when using open source code. A good tool includes:
- Process automation: SCA tools are valuable because they provide automation for several critical processes, including approval and auditing functions. Developers can find out in real-time whether they can – or should – use a component.
- Vulnerability alerts: Leading tools continuously monitor repositories for newly discovered security or vulnerability issues.
- Navigation for vulnerability remediation: Fix vulnerabilities quickly and easily with a tool that tells developers exactly where to find the vulnerability.
- Language support: Different tools will support different languages. Ensure that the one chosen covers the ones that the organization uses.
- Seamless integration: The ideal SCA tool integrates OS security and license scans within the DevOps environment. It should be able to scan code and identify dependencies without disrupting workflow.
SCA: make open source an asset, not a risk
Open source security is becoming a bigger deal as component usage becomes widespread. Vulnerabilities can be difficult to spot but wreak havoc on an application all the same. It’s not uncommon for projects to consist of 20 or more direct dependencies, making application composition incredibly complex. A software composition analysis tool is what application developers need to inspect components they plan to use. Open source components should constitute an asset, not an unknown business risk.
Snyk is an SCA Tool!
Guess what? Snyk is an SCA tool!
It’s easy to get started by connecting your source code repository to Snyk and immediately a Snyk will begin scanning your third-party dependencies, licenses and keeps monitoring it daily to let you know of any issues, and even fix them for you!