What Is an SBOM and Why Is It Critical for Application Security?

An SBOM, or software bill of materials, is a list of all the components that make up a piece of software, including all the libraries and other dependencies used to build the program. An SBOM has similar characteristics to the bill of materials (BOM) in manufacturing, which lists all the parts and components used to build a physical product. The list can help understand the makeup of a piece of software and identify any potential security vulnerabilities or other issues that may be present. Also, an SBOM helps ensure that software is licensed correctly and that all components are up-to-date and compatible.

An SBOM is critical for application security because the bill provides a comprehensive list of all the components and dependencies used to build software. By providing a detailed overview of the makeup of a piece of software, an SBOM can help organizations take steps to address any security vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of security breaches. Ensuring that software is licensed correctly is essential for meeting regulatory requirements and maintaining compliance with industry standards.

What is an SBOM

What Is an SBOM?

An SBOM is an official, structured document that lists the software components system and explains the supply chain connections. An SBOM describes the libraries and packages that go into an application as well as the connections between those libraries and packages and other upstream projects, information that is especially important regarding open source and reused code.

The idea of an SBOM has been around for several years. Still, the program has become increasingly important in recent years due to the growing complexity of software and the need to understand better and manage the various components that make up modern software systems. As open-source software and other third-party components have increased, the need for an SBOM has grown to track and manage these dependencies and ensure proper licensing and security. In the past, SBOM was common for organizations to track and manage the components that made up software manually, but as software systems have become more complex, this has become increasingly difficult and time-consuming. An SBOM provides a more automated and comprehensive way of tracking and managing these components, which can be more efficient and effective.

How Does an SBOM Work?

An SBOM works as an inventory or catalog of the software components that make up the application or system. The SBOM is typically generated automatically by tools that scan the software and the software’s dependencies and create a detailed list of all the components used in the software. This information can be helpful for various purposes, including compliance, security, and management of the application or system.

An SBOM can be created in several different ways. Some organizations may manually create and maintain these SBOMs by entering the necessary information about each software component. This can be time-consuming and error-prone; however, many organizations opt to use tools that can automatically generate an SBOM based on the codebase of the application or system.

These tools typically scan the codebase and identify the software components used. The tools can then extract information about each component, such as the name and version, and use this information to populate the SBOM. Some tools may also provide additional features, such as tracking changes to the SBOM over time or comparing the SBOM to a known list of approved components.

What Are the Benefits of Having an SBOM?

There are several benefits associated with SBOM. First, SBOMs can help to improve the security of a software system. By providing a detailed and accurate inventory of the components that make up the software, an SBOM can help organizations identify and mitigate potential security vulnerabilities. For example, suppose a vulnerability is discovered in a specific library. In that case, an SBOM can quickly identify all the software systems that use that library, allowing the organization to enhance cybersecurity by addressing the vulnerability.

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Additionally, SBOMs can help organizations to ensure compliance with relevant laws and regulations. Many laws and regulations, such as those governing the use of open-source software, require organizations to maintain detailed records of the components used in the software systems. An SBOM can provide this information in a clear and comprehensive format, easing the burden for organizations to meet compliance obligations.

Furthermore, SBOMs can increase transparency and trust in the software. An SBOM can help organizations demonstrate the software’s quality and reliability to customers, regulators, and other stakeholders by providing a clear and comprehensive view of the components that make up a software system. This act can build trust in the software and increase its user value.

Finally, SBOMs can enhance collaboration between different teams and organizations. An SBOM can help different teams and organizations to collaborate on software development projects by providing a common reference point for the components used in a software system. This collaboration can reduce duplication of effort and improve the overall efficiency of the development process.

What Are the Risks With SBOMs?

Like any tool or system, SBOMs have potential risks and drawbacks. Some potential risks associated with SBOMs include inaccuracy, where if an SBOM is not maintained or updated correctly, the list may become inaccurate over time. An outdated SBOM can lead to incorrect or outdated information being used, which can negatively affect compliance, security, and other purposes.

Lack of adoption is another risk associated with an SBOM. For an SBOM to be effective, the entire organization must adopt and use the list. If some teams or individuals are not using the SBOM, there might be challenges in maintaining a complete and accurate inventory of the software components being used.

Creating and maintaining an SBOM can be a complex and time-consuming task depending on the complexity and size of the application or system. Complexity can be a barrier to adoption and may challenge organizations to keep SBOMs up to date. Using SBOMs can add a layer of complexity to the software development process, which is more difficult to manage and maintain.

Incomplete or inaccurate information may also be a potential risk for an SBOM. An SBOM needs to be adequately maintained to contain complete or accurate information about the software components. Otherwise, there could be security vulnerabilities and other issues. Lack of standardization is also an issue, as different software systems may use different formats for SBOMs, which may challenge software integration.


Organizations should carefully consider the potential risks and drawbacks of using SBOMs, and develop strategies to mitigate these risks. This can help ensure that SBOMs are practical and valuable for the organization.

What Does a SBOM Consist Of?

The specific components of an SBOM will vary depending on the needs and requirements of the organization creating the list. Some organizations may choose to include more or less information in the SBOMs, depending on the intended plans and goals. Some common constituents of SBOM may include:

  • A list of the software components and versions: This is the core component of an SBOM and typically includes the name and version of each software component used in the application or system.
  • The name and version number of each component: The information can include the main application or program and any third-party libraries or frameworks the software uses.
  • The license: This information is essential for ensuring that the software is used following the terms of the licenses for the various components contained.
  • The source of each component: The details here can include the URL of the website where the component can be downloaded or the name of the package manager used to install the component.
  • The component’s description and purpose: This information can help provide context and understanding of each component’s role in the overall software.
  • Dependencies: This includes all the external libraries, frameworks, and other dependencies the software relies on.
  • Vulnerabilities: The section lists any known vulnerabilities in the software and any available patches or fixes. The information is important for identifying potential security risks and taking appropriate action to address these risks.
  • Build information: The element details how the software was built, including the tools and techniques used.

Why Is an SBOM Critical for Application Security?

Since an SBOM is a detailed list of the software components and versions used in a particular application or system, this information can be critical for application security in providing a comprehensive inventory of the software components that make up the application.

One key reason is that the program provides a complete and accurate inventory of all the components that make up a piece of software. The security experts can identify any third-party libraries or frameworks that the software depends on and check for known vulnerabilities in those components. With an SBOM, the security teams can know what components are included in a piece of software, ensuring secure software use.

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Another reason an SBOM is important for application security is that the SBOM experts track changes to the software over time. As new versions of the software are released, the SBOM can be updated to reflect any changes to the components that make up the software. The update enables security teams to quickly and easily identify any new vulnerabilities that may have been introduced and take steps to address them.

Also, an SBOM can facilitate better communication between development and cybersecurity professionals. This can lead to more collaboration between these teams and help ensure that security concerns are addressed early in the development process.

What Is Application Security?

Application security is designing, developing, and maintaining secure applications and systems. The process involves various activities and measures designed to protect applications and systems from threats, such as cyber-attacks, data breaches, and unauthorized access.

Application security also entails a combination of technical measures, such as encryption and authentication, and processes and policies that help ensure the security of applications and systems. For example, an organization may have policies to ensure that all applications and systems are regularly updated and patched to address known vulnerabilities.

The application security procedures aim to protect applications and systems from threats and ensure they remain available and secure for authorized users. This is an important consideration for organizations of all sizes, as applications and systems are often critical for conducting business and serving customers.

Where Are SBOMs Used?

Organizations use SBOMs to create and maintain a detailed inventory of the software components and versions used in a particular application or system. This information can be helpful for various purposes, including compliance, security, and management of the application or system.

SBOMs assist in developing and maintaining applications and systems or use any third-party software components in applications and systems. This can include businesses of all sizes, government agencies, educational institutions, and other organizations.

In some cases, SBOMs may also be used by other parties, such as software vendors or security researchers. For example, a software vendor may use an SBOM to verify that an organization is using a licensed version of the software, or a security researcher may use an SBOM to identify vulnerabilities in the software components.

This is important:

An accurate and up-to-date SBOM can help organizations identify and address potential security risks. For example, suppose a software component has a known vulnerability. In that case, the SBOM can help organizations quickly identify which applications or systems are using that component, and take steps to address the vulnerability.

Also, an SBOM provides a detailed and comprehensive view of the software dependencies. This information can be used to identify outdated or insecure components that may be vulnerable to attacks. By regularly scanning the software and updating the SBOM, organizations can ensure that all applications are secure.

An SBOM can also be used to track and monitor changes to the software over time. By regularly updating the SBOM with new components and information about known vulnerabilities, security analysts can ensure that the software remains secure even through evolution and changes.

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Furthermore, an SBOM can facilitate collaboration and share among different teams working on the software. An SBOM can help teams understand the software’s overall architecture and how the various components fit together by providing a detailed and comprehensive view of the software or dependencies. This can help teams to collaborate and share knowledge, leading to more efficient development processes.

Is Having an SBOM Mandatory?

Having an SBOM is optional for all organizations. In some cases, however, legal or regulatory requirements may mandate using SBOMs in certain situations.

For example, some government agencies may be required to use SBOMs to comply with certain regulations or standards. In addition, some industries, such as healthcare or finance, may have specific requirements for using SBOMs.

Furthermore, even in cases where there are no legal or regulatory requirements, there may be other reasons why an organization would want to use an SBOM. For example, an SBOM can be a valuable tool for managing the security of an application or system and can help organizations’ software be licensed appropriately.


Whether or not an organization is required to use an SBOM will depend on various factors, including the organization’s industry, location, and specific circumstances. Organizations should consider needs and requirements carefully when deciding whether to use an SBOM.

What Are the Best SBOM Tools?

The following is a list of the best SBOM tools.

  • Anchore: Anchore provides a comprehensive list of all the components and dependencies included in a container image, along with versions and any associated vulnerabilities or license information. This helps organizations track and manage the components used in containerized applications and ensure that all are secure and compliant with relevant licenses and regulations. Additionally, Anchore can alert on any potential security vulnerabilities or policy violations that may be present in the container image, helping organizations identify and address potential risks before causing any issues.
  • FOSSA: FOSSA is an SBOM tool that helps organizations track and manage open source licenses and vulnerabilities in applications and automate the process of identifying and disclosing open source components to customers and stakeholders. FOSSA provides a range of features for analyzing, tracking, and managing open-source components. A FOSSA is designed to be easy to use and integrate with existing development processes and tools, such as GitHub, BitBucket, and GitLab, and offers a range of APIs for custom integrations.
  • Mend: Mend SCA enables users to create SBOMs that identify open source libraries quickly, keep track of and record each component, including transitive and direct dependencies, automatically update changes to components, and specify a course of action for correction that will guarantee that updates are completely compatible and will not break the build.
  • Rezillion: Rezillion is a DevSecOps company that uses SBOM as a component of all-encompassing software security and vulnerability systems. Rezilion’s Dynamic SBOM tracks the user’s software surface using dynamic runtime analysis as the code changes. Therefore, Rezilion continually researches known vulnerabilities for the parts of a code. Rezillion updates the user’s SBOM constantly and offers a live inventory of all the software parts in the user’s staging, CI/CD, and production environments. The user’s SBOM is exportable to Excel spreadsheets and CycloneDX.
  • SPDX SBOM Generator: The SPDX (Software Package Data Exchange) SBOM Generator is designed to help software developers and project managers create and maintain an accurate and up-to-date SBOM for projects. The SPDX standard includes a set of specification documents that define the format and content of SPDX documents. An SPDX document is a machine-readable file containing information about a software package’s components and licenses and metadata about the package, such as the package’s name, version, and description.
Damien Mather Damien is a cybersecurity professional and online privacy advocate with a bachelor of Computer Science. He has been in the industry for 20+ years and has seen the space evolve far bigger than he ever thought. When he is not buried in his research or going through code, he is probably out Surfing or Camping and enjoying the great outdoors. 
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