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Top 7 Questions to Ask When Evaluating a Software Composition Analysis Solution

Your open source usage is out of control. Sure, it’s helping you develop your product faster and getting new releases out the door in days instead of months, but now your code base is made up of 60% or more open source components. And that percentage is only growing. The application layer continues to be the most attacked, so you know you need to stay on top of vulnerabilities. Manually tracking open source licenses and vulnerabilities is no longer sustainable, and — let’s be honest — it hasn’t been sustainable in years. You need a solution that brings order to all the chaos. You need software composition analysis (SCA).

What Is Software Composition Analysis?

Software Composition Analysis is software that helps you manage your open source components by giving you visibility into your open source usage. Understanding the full scope of your open source inventory mitigates your risk by ensuring license compliance and by helping resolve any known security vulnerabilities. The best SCA solutions automate the open source selection, approval, tracking, and remediation processes.

7 Questions to Ask When Evaluating SCA

So you’ve decided you need an SCA solution to manage your open source code. Congratulations on taking that first step. But what’s next? What questions should you ask as you evaluate the SCA solutions currently on the market?

Never fear! We’re here to help with the most important questions to get you started on your journey to taming your open source usage.

Question 1: Does the SCA solution scale to meet your enterprise needs by offering both governance and developer tools?

SCA solutions fall into two broad categories:

  • Governance solutions are used by management, security, DevOps, and legal teams. They offer full visibility and control over open source use across an organization’s software portfolio and enforce policies in real time. Governance solutions include automated features like reporting, real-time alerts, and continuous security and compliance policy enforcement.
  • Developer tools promote secure coding best practices. They help developers avoid using vulnerable open source components before a pull is made and the component enters the system as well as fix any vulnerabilities detected in their code. Developer tools support an organization’s DevSecOps pipeline by integrating with native development environments and DevOps tools, providing alerts during the early stages of selecting open source components.

The best SCA solutions offer both governance and developer tools. This guarantees security, DevOps, and legal teams get the visibility and control they need, while developers get the tools they need to prevent, detect, and fix open source security and compliance issues.

In addition to governance and developer tools, look for an SCA solution that offers enterprise-ready management systems such as SAML, SSO, and extensive role-based and alerting controls.

Question 2: Does the SCA solution offer vulnerability prioritization advice and zero false positives to reduce the number of alerts? 

One of the major complaints we hear about scanning open source components is that the high number of security alerts makes it difficult to determine which vulnerabilities actually matter. It’s estimated that 70%-85% of vulnerabilities discovered are not critical because the vulnerable open source code is not called by the organization’s proprietary software.

An effective SCA solution automatically prioritizes vulnerabilities by identifying only those vulnerabilities actually called by the proprietary software. This makes remediation easier and faster by helping teams identify and fix critical vulnerabilities first. 

Reducing or eliminating false positives further minimizes the number of daily alerts. When evaluating solutions, test them on the same open source libraries to identify the solution with the least false positives. Alert fatigue is real, and a good SCA solution cuts down the noise. 

Question 3: Does the SCA solution automatically remediate vulnerabilities?

Accurate alerts are great, but what about fixes? An effective SCA solution automates the remediation of vulnerabilities and outdated open source components. 

When choosing an SCA solution, ask whether it offers real-time monitoring to detect security vulnerabilities and outdated libraries. You also want to check whether the solution automatically generates pull requests with links to suggested fixes, optimizes remediation with full trace analysis, and initiates automated workflows including issue tracker integration.

Question 4: Does the SCA solution support all the programming languages you currently use or plan to use?

Different SCA solutions support different programming languages. When evaluating SCA solutions, you want to ensure not only that the languages you currently use are supported, but also languages you might be considering using within the next year or two. You wouldn’t want to purchase, implement, and learn one SCA solution only to find it doesn’t support the language of your newest project a year from now. Plan ahead and choose a solution with broad language support that scales with your organization.

Question 5: Does the SCA solution integrate into your DevOps pipeline? 

DevOps and the shift left movement, which addresses security issues early when remediation is faster and easier, promise many benefits. However, they also add security to developers’ already long to-do lists. Developers are more likely to adopt another tool to handle security if it is integrated into their native development environments. 

When evaluating an SCA solution, ask whether it integrates into your existing systems, including repositories, integrated development environments (IDEs), browsers, package managers, build tools, and CI servers. An ideal SCA solution should be able to scan open source components, automatically enforce policies, and provide real-time information about vulnerabilities from within the DevOps environment without slowing down development. Choosing the right open source component the first time prevents headaches later in the software development life cycle.

Question 6: Does the SCA solution allow you to define and automate policies that are both robust and easy to manage?

Most companies have open source policies that define the acceptable parameters for open source use in their organization. Policies might exclude certain non-permissive open source licenses or mandate that no outdated or vulnerable components be used. Manually enforcing policy compliance is a long and people-intensive task. To speed development time, SCA solutions automate this process, triggering different responses depending on the policy, from initiating an automated approval workflow to failing the build.

Automating the process of open source selection, approval, tracking, and remediation saves developers precious time and greatly increases their accuracy, yet each organization has different policy requirements. When evaluating an SCA solution, choose one with automated policies that are robust yet highly flexible and customizable so you can define your own unique needs.

Question 7: Does the SCA solution cover open source software in containers?

Containers in the enterprise are becoming mainstream, yet container security remains a challenge. When selecting an SCA solution, make sure it is able to scan open source components from inside your containerized environments, identifying vulnerabilities or compliance issues and automatically enforcing policies. You’ll also want to check that the SCA solution has native support for your specific container registry, such as Docker or GitHub Packages.

Feel Secure Using Open Source

DevOps promises more automation and less manual intervention to speed the software development process. Software composition analysis solutions use automation to help you mitigate the risk associated with using open source software. SCA allows you to develop securely without compromising agility.

When evaluating SCA solutions, you want one that:

  • Offers both governance and developer tools
  • Automates as much of the compliance and security process as possible
  • Provides strong yet customizable policies
  • Supports a wide range of languages and development environments, including containers

Performing your due diligence by asking these questions before you sign on the dotted line ensures you select the SCA solution that is right for you.

Meet The Author

Adam Murray

Adam Murray is a content writer at Mend. He began his career in corporate communications and PR, in London and New York, before moving to Tel Aviv. He’s spent the last ten years working with tech companies like Amdocs, Gilat Satellite Systems, Allot Communications, and Sisense. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature. When he’s not spending time with his wife and son, he’s preoccupied with his beloved football team, Tottenham Hotspur.

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