With the increasing use of open source components in software development, it is paramount to regulate these. Software composition analysis is the process of analyzing all the different components of a code to make sure that they all comply with the security requirements.
There are two ways of performing Software Composition Analysis. You can either do it manually or you can use a tool for it. The manual method of software composition analysis is too inefficient and unreliable to be practical.
The only viable way for dependable software composition analysis is by using tools made for this purpose. But with all the Software composition analysis tools out there, where do I even start?
Here are some things that can help you select the right tool for this job.
Technical Aspects of SCA Tools That You Need to Consider
1. Language Compatibility
The first step towards software composition analysis is understanding what open source resources are being used by your code. Obviously, you cannot fix something you don’t know exists in your code.
The first thing you need to look for in an SCA tool is its language ability. It needs to cover all the languages you are working on today and plan on working with in the future. An SCA tool is often a substantial investment and you don’t want it outdone by your language settings in the near future.
2. Discovery Method
The next thing you need to know about an SCA tool is the discovery technique it used for finding vulnerabilities in the code.
The most common type of SCA tools uses something called scanning package managers. These are quick and efficient but have a tendency to miss open source components that have been copied in pieces or modified in any way.
Having something that has a more sophisticated approach to this problem is a better option.
You also need to keep in mind that the source code is not always available. This means that having a code that can scan binaries is the best thing.
3. Vulnerability Databank
SCA tools work in two steps. They first make a list of all the open-source components used in the code, called the bill of materials.
The next step is mapping the bill of materials to a dataset of known vulnerabilities.
The best SCA tools are the ones with diverse datasets and research teams that keep updating the data. Such tools are very hard to miss any vulnerability in your code.
Moreover, it is not the correct approach to have a tool that relies on a single database. National Vulnerability Database is an extensive dataset but it is still a single source of data. Use a tool that has multiple data streams.
4. License Data
License risk is one of the most vulnerable aspects of open source. In order to make software reliable and secure, all the open-source components must comply with the industry standards of licensing.
This calls for an SCA tool that has an extensive licensing database to verify that all the components used in your code are license compliant.
To make sure that the software development lifecycle goes smooth, it is important for the SCA tool to integrate with all the other tools you are using.
It is also important to integrate SCA into SDLC from the very beginning. In order to make sure that the software is developed securely. Developing software and then working on the security aspects once the whole thing has been made is the most inefficient approach ever.
Choose a tool that integrates well with your IDE and use it from the very start for the best results.
Other Aspects of SCA Tools to Consider
The ability and diversity of an SCA tool are not the only decisive factor in selecting it. SCA tools need to be financially viable too. Here are some more things that you need to consider when choosing an SCA tool.
1. Cost and Billing Method
Most of the SCA tools work on a monthly license basis. Some even want you to commit for a year. You need to consider the following things when selecting a tool for yourself:
- If you are not a full-time developer and are making just one software, you need a tool that offers monthly billing.
- The competitive price of the tool must be at par with the abilities. Compare it with other tools to get an idea.
- If you are getting the tool for a team, make sure that it allows discounted rates for multiple users.
- If it is a new tool make sure that it offers a refund if it does not work the way it claims to or it is supposed to work.
2. Rating and Reviews
Actions speak louder than words and that is very true in the case of SCA tools. Before you make the decision of getting such a tool, have a look at what people have to say about it. The things you need to consider include:
- The testimonials of previous users.
- Any notable users of the tool.
- The reviews of the tool on the seller’s website.
- The views of people about the tool on various developers’ forums.
Even if a tool offers a refund and has a ton of positive reviews, it might not suit the nature of use you are going to put it to.
The best way for making sure whether or not a tool is actually capable of doing what it claims is by trying it for yourself. Try the tool if it offers a free trial or borrows it from a friend and make sure that it is suitable for the job you are putting it to.
To make sure that all the open-source components of your code are working the way they are supposed to, it is of paramount importance to run software composition analysis.
More SCA tools are available on the market than you can count, making selecting one very difficult. The things you need to look for in a code include:
- The compatibility of the tool with your programming language.
- The ability of the tool to detect vulnerabilities.
- The vulnerability and license dataset the tool has.
- The economic viability and market reputation of the tool.