Oct 20, 2022

SBOMs: An Overhyped Concept That Won’t Secure Your Software Supply Chain

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, computing, security

With Executive Order 14028, a large regulatory push toward mandating the production of a software bill of materials (SBOM) began. As this new buzzword spreads, you’d think it was a miracle cure for securing the software supply chain. Conceptually, it makes sense — knowing what is in a product is a reasonable expectation. However, it is important to understand what exactly an SBOM is and whether or not it can objectively be useful as a security tool.

SBOMs are meant to be something like a nutrition label on the back of a grocery store item listing all of the ingredients that went into making the product. While there currently is no official SBOM standard, a few guideline formats have emerged as top candidates. By far, the most popular is the Software Data Package Exchange (SPDX), sponsored by the Linux Foundation.

SPDX, as with most other formats, attempts to provide a common way to represent basic information about the ingredients that go into the production of software: names, versions, hashes, ecosystems, ancillary data like known flaws and license information, and relevant external assets. However, software is not as simple as a box of cereal, and there is no equivalent to the Food and Drug Administration enforcing compliance to any recommended guidelines.

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