Software Composition Analysis (SCA): How Does It Help Keep Cloud Applications Secure?

In this cloud-native world, applications are more assembled than built. Instead of starting from scratch, developers leverage ready-made code components that were previously built and open sourced by others. By stitching together these open-source components with custom code, developers can build applications more quickly and efficiently.

Given the efficiency benefits of leveraging open-source software (OSS), it’s no surprise that OSS now makes up an average of 70 to 90% of modern applications. But open-source software has one major downside: it introduces additional security and legal risks.

Open-source software frequently contains vulnerabilities, and research from Forrester indicates that the number of vulnerabilities reported has gone up at a rate of 10% year over year. And because open source licenses may conflict with an organization’s license usage requirements, leveraging OSS can introduce compliance risks. If a developer uses an open-source package with an overly restrictive license, their organization may be forced to make the proprietary code that leverages the OSS royalty-free, or go back and remove the open-source package from their codebase.

But these risks aren’t always apparent. The sheer volume of open-source code in modern codebases, coupled with the dependency-driven nature of OSS, make it challenging to get complete visibility into open source risk.

Organizations need a comprehensive way to proactively identify vulnerabilities and license compliance issues in their applications. This is where Software Composition Analysis (SCA) comes in. SCA enables organizations to get visibility into their open source risk, and helps developers proactively address vulnerabilities and license compliance issues that stem from their use of open-source code components. But how does SCA work in the real world?

Comprehensive Software Composition Analysis Identifies and Addresses Open-Source Vulnerabilities

When developers or threat researchers, such as Palo Alto Networks Unit 42, discover an open-source vulnerability, they submit it to the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database that catalog and score known vulnerabilities. SCA solutions check the open-source code in an application against CVE databases, identify any issues, and then alert developers so they can fix those issues. Developer-friendly SCA solutions embed that feedback into existing developer tools, and provide fix suggestions to make the remediation process faster and more seamless.

Crucially, though, not all SCA solutions are developer-friendly, and many don’t offer the depth or breadth of coverage that cloud-native organizations require. Aside from differences in how feedback is surfaced — and whether fix suggestions in code are provided — SCA solutions differ in the depth of dependency scanning they provide. But the dependency-driven nature of open-source software introduces risk — after all, a vulnerability in a direct dependency is as risky as one in an indirect dependency five layers deep. It’s critical, therefore, that SCA solutions provide complete dependency scanning all the way to the leaf node to ensure that organizations are getting visibility into every potential source of vulnerabilities.

And regardless of the depth of dependency scanning, the quality of an SCA solution is only as good as the databases it leverages. Any complete SCA solution will be built on reputable vulnerability databases.

Learn more about the ins and outs of SCA in Part 1 of this episode of What’s That? with Prisma Cloud.

How Software Composition Analysis Fits Into Code to Cloud Security

SCA plays a vital role in an effective, holistic cloud-native application protection program (CNAPP). CNAPPs empower enterprises with full application lifecycle security and improve visibility into every phase of the development lifecycle. Organizations can maintain productivity and release velocity while avoiding noisy alerts and coverage gaps commonly experienced when using multiple point tools.

Learn more about how SCA is used and how it fits into the cloud-native security puzzle in Part 2 of this episode of What’s That? with Prisma Cloud.