Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) Use Cases

The best way to describe what an SBOM is through the use of a literary device, the simile — SBOMs are like those huge ingredient lists at the back of a bag of sour cream and onion chips. Chock-full of spices, chemicals, acronyms, and mind-boggling nutrients that seem to have been imported from Mars. They give out valuable information that people with some context and study on the subject can easily discern. They make that bag of chips something quantifiable, allowing a person to decide whether it fits their dietary regime. Whether they are willing to take the sodium punch. Whether they want to strike swords against those nasty calories. It makes them more trustworthy, while also passing on the responsibility, of whether or not to indulge in them, to the consumer.

What does SBOM stand for?

A Software Bill of Materials – SBOM – is a list of all the software components and the version of those very same components that are used in a product or service. The SBOMs provide an overview of what software is used to create the product, how it is configured, and who made it. It also provides a roadmap about where to find more information about each component. Today, they are incredibly important because most modern softwares is really nothing more than chimeric constructions — puzzles built out of other puzzles. Currently, software isn’t constructed entirely in-house – by the software developer – but instead by coders — some of them under the pay and supervision of the developer, others sub-contracted, and others who long ago created an algorithm and now sell it online.

Your software has the following three pillars to it:

  • In-house codes.
  • Third-party paid premium codes.
  • Free open-source codes.

For example, let’s imagine that you want your software to connect with one of the many, many, many social networks available today. Or that you want your software to accept secure credit card payments. Or that you want your software to sync up with Google Drive. In such a case, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Mastercard, Visas, or one of those companies will provide you with a code or a plugin. A string of programming code that your development team will have to adapt to your product. That software code was created by them, not you, and it needs to be updated – constantly – as well as supervised. Not only that, your consumers need to know that you’re employing it.

And it’s not just for features like social media or payment or backups — outsourced coding is now used for almost everything. Why build from scratch and pay a development team for a code, when it’s already readily available? Why invest in coding a feature for your software when someone else has done it for another software and all you need to do is modify it? That is why SBOMs are so important in today’s world and why the NIST – the National Institute of Standards and Technology – has developed standards and guidelines for most businesses across the United States on how to properly do an SBOM.

The SBOM can be created by anyone who has access to the source code for the product.

Use Cases of SBOM

SBOMs are complex because software is complex, they are extremely detailed and extremely boorish to build. Imagine them as being the detective’s paperwork, no one wants to do them. Most people want to indulge in the creative parts of app development, not in the red tape. So why exactly should you and your employees take time out of their day to dot all those i’s, and cross all those t’s?

Let’s look at some of the cases uses of SBOMs

Legacy system security

Legacy systems are outdated — legacy systems are often the cause of data breaches and cyberattacks.

Legacy system security is a problem that has been around for many years. The problem is that these legacy systems are not equipped to handle the threats of today’s digital world.

Legacy system security is a critical issue because it exposes your company to risks such as data breaches, cyber attacks, and compliance violations. These risks can lead to significant financial losses, brand damage, and even litigation.

SBOMs can rapidly, in the blink of an eye, pinpoint if you have one of these systems in place.

Backward compatibility

Backward compatibility is a term used in the video game industry to describe the ability of a newer console to play games from an older console. This allows gamers to still enjoy their favorite games with the new console — and it’s not just for games but apps.

For most companies to adopt this feature into their new gadgets or updates of said gadgets, they’ll need plugins or old versions of software — that’s where SBOMs come in.

Organization’s regulatory compliance

Regulatory compliance is a set of laws, rules, and regulations that govern the way an organization does business. There are laws and regulations governing everything from environmental protection to human rights. Organizations need to comply with these regulations to stay compliant with the law and avoid legal penalties.

Today, Big Brother is taking a close, very close eye, when it comes to apps. Why? Because of the amount of data they can steal. Apps collect data at such a rapid speed that it makes the CIA envious. Think Mark Zuckerberg in Congress. Think of the TikTok China scandal. Think Huawei almost getting banned. Think 5G compatibility — and that’s only what hits the newsstands. Governments around the world are buckling down on most software developers, requiring them to stay up-to-date with ever-changing compliance issues. One of the biggest ones is the need to file an SBOM with certain officials.

Fundraising, M&A, IPO, startups

Investors in the tech world are savvy — they want to know what’s in your duck soup before paying for it. They need to have a clear understanding of what materials or components your software will have before they are willing to bankroll you.

SBOMs give you transparency — transparency that will be incredibly beneficial when you go knocking on someone’s door asking for spare cash.

Why use an SBOM?

This type of document is typically created by the project manager or team lead to track components and costs for an upcoming project. It also helps in estimating how much it will cost to manufacture the product.

The benefits of using this type of document are that it provides transparency on how much things cost, what ingredients have a “tech debt” and will need to be updated, what redundancies can be edited out in the next iteration, and where everything comes from. It also helps with estimating budgets for future projects, since you can see how much each component costs.