Software composition analysis (SCA): what is it and does your 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 2019 we saw an 88% increase in application library vulnerabilities over two years, while more attacks are carried out through the exploitation of those vulnerabilities. Companies need a software composition analysis tool to identify these vulnerabilities before hackers do.

What Is a software composition analysis (SCA)?

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.

Using SCA, development teams can quickly track and analyze any open-source component brought into a project. The tool discovers all related components, their supporting libraries, and their direct and indirect dependencies. The tool can also detect software licenses, deprecated dependencies, as well as vulnerabilities and potential exploits.

The scanning process generates a bill of materials (BOM), providing a complete inventory of a project’s software assets.

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 a software composition analysis tool?

Open source components are becoming major building blocks in software across practically every vertical. SCA helps keeping track of open source components which is critical both from productivity and security standpoints.

SCA can reveal the third-party and open-source tools your project uses. This helps you manage project-related risks and future technical debt by showing what components are current, exposing licensing requirements, and discovering hidden security issues. As a result, your project will be easier to manage, more secure, and improve its return on investment (ROI) due to reduced maintenance costs.

 Composition analysis tools enable developers to:

1. 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, software licenses, and any potential compliance issues that may arise for the company due to the use of a particular component.

2. Ensure compatibility

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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5 requirements for a software composition analysis (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 there has been a rapid adoption of SCA tools across companies of all sizes and in every vertical. The leading software composition analysis solutions augment security and risk management when using open-source code.

A good software composition analysis tool should include:

  1. Process automation: Software composition analysis 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.
  2. Vulnerability alerts: Leading tools continuously monitor repositories for newly discovered security or vulnerability issues.
  3. Navigation for vulnerability remediation: Fix vulnerabilities quickly and easily with a tool that tells developers exactly where to find the vulnerability.
  4. Language support: Different tools will support different languages. Ensure that the one chosen covers the ones that the organization uses.
  5. Seamless integration: The ideal software composition analysis tool integrates OS security and license scans within the DevOps environment. It should be able to scan code and identify dependencies without disrupting workflow.

Software composition analysis: 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 a software composition analysis (SCA) Tool!

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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!