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What Is An SBOM Standard?

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The way software applications are developed today has undergone drastic changes. Developers are now using third-party containers and resources to ensure the best end product. As a result, only a part of the entire codebase of an application is owned and managed by any organization. 

Today, the majority of software applications come with a mix of both commercial and open-source modules. And it can be extremely difficult to ascertain the absolute security of applications when open-source components are involved. 

Interestingly, reports on open-source security and risk indicate that 75 percent of codebases of applications are open-source, which demands that organizations gain full transparency of code modules in a streamlined structured manner. And that is why a software bill of materials (SBOM) exists. 

A software bill of materials (SBOM) is basically an organized list of application modules, components, and libraries that make up a module of an application codebase. It resembles the specification sheet for hardware. SBOM can also be better described as a comprehensive register of an application codebase that includes all open-source modules, licenses, and version data of those open-source elements. SBOM is helpful in identifying outdated and vulnerable code.

It provides a way for developers to track the dependency relationships between coding. SBOMs are an essential tool in risk assessment and mitigation, as they help you identify outdated and vulnerable code which could lead to security issues. SBOM standard formats are particularly helpful in projecting how new vulnerabilities might impact an application after it is deployed in a particular environment (mainly the production environment).

In this article, let us explore more about SBOM standards.

What are SBOM standards?

SBOM has emerged as the core building block in the realm of application security and risk assessment in software supply chains. There are multiple SBOM standards created primarily to simplify the implementation of SBOMs by offering a cohesive structure for SBOMs that are internally generated, and their sharing upstream. 

An SBOM standard details how a software application should be built in a way that it can be used in conjunction with other tools, like vulnerability scanners. Software Product Data Exchange (SPDX) and CycloneDX are standards used in most cases.

  • CycloneDX – SBOM standards such as CycloneDX can be extremely valuable for both application security as well as risk analysis in supply chain components. A core team of OWASP developers is in charge of maintaining the CycloneDX standard, which is again, an open-source project.
  • SPDX – SPDX (Software Product Data Exchange) is an open standard that is used to describe different components of software packages, the licenses, and copyrights (ISO/IEC 5962:2021). SPDX is the product of a grassroots open-source project supported by the Linux Foundation.  

SBOM Standard Formats, Features, and Use Cases

SPDX CycloneDX
Organization A Linux Foundation workgroup with 20 organizations “Community project based on meritocracy and consensus” with Industry Working Group
Initial Draft 2010 2017

BS ISO/IEC 5962 – 2020
Unique Features Detailed license information is supported pURLs, integrated license IDs of SPDX, and additional external identifiers in an extendable format.
Original use cases Licensing management Useful for OWASP Dependency Trackers
Use cases of the latest format versions
  • Tracking multiple software aspects (e.g. vendors, licenses, versions, etc.)
  • A general term for operating systems, containers, packages, and archives.
  • Verification of the integrity of components and subcomponents

What is the purpose of SBOMs?

Historically, SBOMs have been mainly used by compliance teams to carry out thorough audits, track and ensure compliance, and ascertain agreement with protocols specific to an industry. An alarming rise in attacks on software supply chains, including high-profile security breaches like the SolarWinds hacking and the very recent Log4Shell vulnerability in Log4j, has generated greater levels of awareness among both application development security teams and expedited the use of SBOMs.

  • Application security teams

SBOMs play a vital part for application security teams when it comes to scanning network vulnerabilities. The libraries that exist in SBOM can be scanned much faster and more efficiently than a complete infrastructure developed from scratch. And on the alarming incident of a zero-day attack, as experienced and recorded with the recent Log4Shell incident (and will continue to experience), every second is crucial. Moreover, security teams can implement SBOMs in prioritizing issues as per their prevalence and location, and also develop newer policies that concern specific components such as packages, vendors, and versions.

  • Application development teams

SBOMs help application development teams manage all kinds of software applications, whether open-source, commercial, or custom-developed application components employed in building, maintaining, and operating these applications. 

The prime objective is to minimize the level of rework developers need to carry out, by efficiently managing code dependencies, identifying underlying security issues early on, and ensuring that they employ code only from approved sources. The SBOM provision, which plays a vital part in the Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity, is an integral aspect of making software supply chains more secure and robust. With an SBOM, teams can quickly respond to risks concerning aspects like licenses, security, and operations that are common with the use of open-source applications.


Over the past several years, SBOMs has evolved from a “good to have” element to a “must-have” feature for both IT security and application development teams. The SBOM projects have significantly progressed since 2018 more as a combined community effort, under the supervision of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) multi-stakeholder practice. 

Very soon, with the growing cases of security breaches, SBOM will become a core element of software supply chain risk management and security operations. Not only have risk management teams realized that SBOMs are indispensable for ensuring security; they help in identifying all those code components that need to be patched or updated. In the absence of an updated SBOM, it can be highly challenging to understand which application components are susceptible to security attacks. And SBOM offers software customers a clear picture of what is present within the purchased application.