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All that You Must Know about Software Bill of Materials or SBOM

March 20, 2023
Written by
Abhay Bhargav

Table of Contents

1. What is SBOM

2. Benefits of SBOM 

3. What’s in a software bill of materials

4. Software Bill of Materials Executive Order

5. Principles of a Well-Structured SBOM

6. How to Use SBOM

7. Conclusion

Most organizations were unfamiliar with the ingredients or code in the software that accelerated their products and company's software. It's a matter in question because code usage from third parties is escalating, and the implementation of open-source software (OSS) will only continue to grow in the years to come. 

OSS is being leveraged by organizations for cost reduction while boosting the momentum of software development. With the ease of layering in code from third-party companies, developers can reduce the time to market and quicken the feature sets for their business partners' expectations. The downside is that the code in the OSS archives may contain security malware, bugs, or vulnerabilities that the developer didn't know. Without an extensive investigation of the code in the OSS archive, organizations are exposed to cyber threats and data breaches unbeknownst to them.

Historically, software vendors used bills of materials to associate the variety of components that comprise their products is supply chain management. It was recognized in May 2021 when the Office of the President delivered an executive order to increase cybersecurity awareness in the USA. International software suppliers are mandated to also issue an SBOM for their products sold to the US federal government.

What is SBOM?

A software bill of materials or SBOM can be described as a nutritional label on a cereal box. It's machine-readable metadata that distinguishes and recognizes a software package and what it's composed of. The information included with its contents can be copyrights, version numbers, and license data. A formal list of everything in this software minimizes the risk for both the manufacturer and the organization or individuals that will use it by enabling others to identify what's in their software and act accordingly based on it.

Benefits of SBOM Implementations

Organizations that are having a hard time understanding vulnerabilities within their code expose themselves to security and financial threats. Here are the benefits that these organizations can have with SBOM implementation:

Vulnerability Identification and Mitigation

Before even reaching production, organizations can use SBOMs to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities. Once a critical vulnerability is announced, security experts will have an easier time identifying vulnerabilities and working on alleviating the risks as efficiently and quickly as possible.

Improves Licensing Governance

SBOM implementation helps leverage their third-party software and OSS licensing governance. The integral elements of a supply chain that make up an entire application have different licenses, and attached to each software is a license that establishes its usage and legal distribution. Any organization that utilizes these arrangements is required to follow the licensing. Without SBOM, there might be no options to regulate what the licenses require or how to observe them.

Software development life cycle (SDLC) development

Improving organizations' SDLC is easier with the help of initiating an SBOM program at a predetermined time to distinguish issues like vulnerabilities and licensing issues. This helps organizations to become more structured and expedite their production and deployment.

Enhanced Product Components Visibility

Just like any other company, organizations with software as their product needs to establish trust and loyalty with their clients to encourage repeat purchase. With SBOM showing the components of a piece of software, instead of affirmations and promises, you can present the quality of the technologies that were utilized to architect your software.

What’s in a software bill of materials?

Open source component

Open source lessens development time, improves the pace of completion, and productively delivers your products to your clients. Based on the 2022 Open Source Security Risk and Analysis report by OSSA, open source is present in 97% of codebases.

It is known that open source is less precarious than proprietary code, but the negligence of properly securing it can be a catastrophic risk to your organization's general security. An extensive SBOM lists all open source ingredients your application has as well as licenses' versions and patch status.

Open source licenses

An SBOM catalog of all open-source licenses is in charge of the elements that enable determining and evaluating your legal and IP risks. Failure to comply with these open source licenses can put organizations, big or small, at considerable threat of litigation and settlement of differences of intellectual property.  

Open source vulnerabilities

When an open source vulnerability is exploited, the necessity for open source security becomes everyone's business, just like what happened with the Equifax data breach in 2017. One of the most significant aspects of the Equifax breach was their shortage of a thorough and all-inclusive IT asset backlog—in short, an SBOM.

Another incident that emphasizes the significance of SBOMs was Log4Shell. After the vulnerability was found, it was a sprint to utilize patches before cybercriminals could exploit them. Having an SBOM can hasten the identification and evaluation of risks in your codebase.

Software Bill of Materials Executive Order

The Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack and SolarWinds hack were a wake-up call to the US government. The Biden Administration issued an Executive Order on Improving the Nation's Cybersecurity posture, and included in this mandate was SBOM implementation. Explicitly, the Commerce Department was mandated to declare a standard of minimum elements for SBOM.

Although the EO distinctively concerns those organizations and companies with a direct relationship with the Federal Government, the spreading news of the U.S. government and the numerous companies wanting to work with it will have ripple effects. Basically, all the products purchased by the government, to which SBOMs are now being implemented, are predominantly purchased by other corporations and organizations as well.

In this article by we45's CEO, Abhay Bhargav, he mentioned how SBOMs will ultimately bring software security to greater heights. He mentioned, "This requirement has also been mandated for software that is purchased by the federal departments. I am glad to see this, because software vendors have generally gotten away with doing nothing to improve the cause of software security. Because of this requirement, not only the federal departments but their vendors will have to get their houses in order." 

Principles of a Well-Structured SBOM

Data Fields

Data Fields supplies detailed information on SBOM's components. It's to observe their performance with the software supply chain and associate them with supplementary data sources, such as vulnerabilities or license repositories. Data fields can be supplier information, component identification, version number, other distinct identifiers, dependency relationship, SBOM data author, and timestamp.

Automation Support

Based on SBOM's principal requirements section, Automation Support, a homogeneous and convenient structure is an altruistic approach that will help organizations to monitor SBOM component information carefully. There are three benchmarks to select from when dispatching SBOMs over departmental thresholds, namely: Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX), Software Identification (SWID) Tags, and CycloneDX.

Best Practices and Procedures

Here are the benchmarks for updating and supplying SBOMs to organizations:

  • New SBOMs are necessary if the software section is upgraded with a new structure or release.
  • SBOM authors must prepare excellent components that include their direct dependencies.
  • Implementation of SBOM must be on schedule, with appropriate access rights and roles in order.
  • Some organizations that don't want to reveal some components of their SBOMs need to specify access control limitations that include distinct rules and strategy to integrate SBOM-related data into the user's manual and tools.
  • Since the archetype of administering SBOMs is fairly new, users are encouraged to give leeway for unintentional flaws or omissions.
  • Authors must provide valid reasons if an SBOM doesn't include a thorough dependency tree. 

How to Use SBOM


One word: Automation. Solutions like CodeSentry can now execute software composition inspection on binary data even without access to a source code. Generating an SBOM is a requirement of any analysis procedure to procure software for operational use. It's critical for it to be a part of your software development lifecycle (SDLC) if its purpose is for profit-oriented use and for your software outcomes to have the latest vulnerability disclosures and updates.


SBOM disclosures can be a delicate task for exclusive software. For open-source software, these disclosures need to be publicly accessible and streamlined with a new report. Commercialized software providers have the option to disclose their SBOMs through something like customer support channels. Still, software companies can be uncertain about releasing their SBOMs publicly, but the National Telecommunications and Information Administration states: "…the defensive benefits of transparency far outweigh this common concern as SBOMs serve more as a “roadmap for the defender”. All information is dual-edged, but insufficient software transparency affords attackers asymmetrical advantages."


After indicating the disclosure procedure, the information about allocating the artifact must be taken into consideration. Hypothetically, it needs to be bundled with the product, whether it's a source or binary format for download preparation through a trusted download site. Sharing within an organization assumes the requirement of a homogenized structure to make its functionality and tool consistency straightforward.


Applications nowadays are structured on an intricate integration of open-source and third-party software components found in a supply chain – aside from the code produced internally. The growing trend of utilizing software not built internally indicates that device and product suppliers have limited profiles into the code they are testing and working on, aside from what the software provider disclosed. 

The need to obtain visibility and administration over supply chain risk galvanized the need for SBOMs. When used the right way, self-operating SBOMs and constant awareness of risks can purposefully boost development competence and reduce output and product time to market.

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Source for article
Abhay Bhargav

Abhay Bhargav

Abhay is a speaker and trainer at major industry events including DEF CON, BlackHat, OWASP AppSecUSA. He loves golf (don't get him started).

Abhay Bhargav


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