What is software composition analysis?

The growing popularity of open source software presents new risks associated with vulnerable libraries. In response, organizations have adopted additional security tools, such as software composition analysis, that scan code libraries for vulnerabilities. These tools enable organizations to mitigate risk earlier in the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Traditionally, companies tracked these vulnerabilities manually or sifted through volumes of code. Both approaches resulted in lost time and resources. To handle the increasing complexity of open source software, software composition analysis (SCA) has become an important tool. SCA scans software dependencies for security vulnerabilities with speed and reliability.

What is software composition analysis?

Software composition analysis is an application security methodology that tracks and analyzes open source software components. Fundamentally, SCA tools provide insight into open source license limitations and possible vulnerabilities in your projects. These tools help organizations stay abreast of critical tasks including security, license compliance, and code quality to minimize overall risk.

Software composition analysis provides three core capabilities:

  1. Build a software bill of materials (SBOM) to establish a detailed inventory of your open source software packages.
  2. Verify license compliance requirements by determining what open source software you’re using and where it originated.
  3. Discover detailed information about key vulnerabilities in your source code and provide applicable remediation suggestions.

How does software composition analysis work and why is it important?

SCA tools work by running scans on a code base and creating a vulnerability analysis. The analysis outputs an SBOM that lists software components and their respective licenses. In addition, the scan inspects files to find vulnerable third-party libraries and provides insight into open source dependencies. The technology then compares the SBOM with other vulnerability databases to pinpoint critical vulnerabilities. Finally, an SCA tool offers remediation suggestions to resolve harmful vulnerabilities. As part of the process, SCA provides a full analysis of open source project health metrics.

For example, an organization that needs to establish a comprehensive security and compliance baseline can use software composition analysis to attain baseline license compliance and reveal security vulnerabilities. As teams further develop their code, they can use SCA to maintain license compliances and ensure consistent security.

How security can “shift left” in a DevSecOps lifecycle

One of SCA’s major benefits is that security pros can implement it into the initial stages of the SDLC. Teams can test projects for vulnerabilities in the early stages of development before those issues reach the build stage. This saves overall production costs and valuable resources.

Moreover, IT pros can use SCA to gain a better understanding of the open source software the organization uses and to track licenses. Accordingly, SCA tools can streamline the license management process and enforce security and license policies across the different stages of the SDLC.

Finally, SCA tools bridge the gap between detection and remediation by showing the location of vulnerabilities, assessing their impact, and suggesting remediation actions.


software composition analysis DevSecOps infinity loop
SCA tools can shift security left in the DevSecOps lifecycle.

But software composition analysis tools alone are not enough

Despite their benefits, SCA tools don’t cover the entire security surface area. For one, SCA tools primarily focus on pre-production environments. This means you’re unable to scan for vulnerabilities exposed in production.

Additionally, although software composition analysis provides remediation suggestions for critical vulnerabilities, it does not prioritize them. As a result, IT pros are left to determine which issue to address first based on the current vulnerabilities and risk priority order. With limited time and resources, it can be difficult for security teams to prioritize vulnerabilities without deeper analysis.

Lastly, SCA tools don’t provide information about which pending issues are the most critical to your business assets. They also provide no context surrounding a vulnerability’s point of origin.

How to pair SCA with runtime application security

Although software composition analysis tools are limited, you can enhance their value by pairing them with another layer of security at runtime.

The Dynatrace Software Intelligence Platform analyzes the full impact and risks of vulnerabilities, in context, at runtime. The Dynatrace Application Security module not only delivers remediation suggestions but also eliminates false positives, prioritizing which critical issues to address first. Dynatrace OneAgent automatically discovers vulnerabilities in both production and pre-production environments, capturing the entire range of possible issues.

By incorporating key contextual information surrounding software vulnerabilities into the Davis Security Score, Dynatrace allows you to filter and prioritize issues to determine which ones your team must remediate immediately. Dynatrace Application Security eliminates blind spots and proactively identifies critical production risks earlier in the process, all to ensure your organization’s SDLC runs seamlessly.

To learn more about how Dynatrace helps to eliminate runtime vulnerabilities at all points in production, join us for the on-demand webinar, Intelligent Automation for DevSecOps.

This seems like prioritization as well. Why is it different? One may be to prioritize which threats are most critical but doesn’t that also require understanding the landscape of business assets?

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