Exploring SBOM (Software Bill of Materials)?

This document delves into the significance and intricacies of a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM). It explains the SBOM's role as a digital ledger that lists all software components, stressing its importance in managing software dependencies, especially from a cybersecurity perspective. The article further categorizes the essential data fields within an SBOM, emphasizes the need for automation, and explains the differences between popular SBOM formats like CycloneDX and SPDX. It rounds up with insights on the strategic benefits of SBOMs for both developers and consumers, and offers guidelines on public disclosure of SBOMs.

What is an SBOM?

A Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) is a detailed list that showcases all the packages and libraries contained in a software application. Think of it as the tech-centric counterpart to a traditional manufacturing bill of materials. An important feature of an SBOM is its documentation of transitive dependencies, essentially the dependencies of your primary components. This makes it straightforward to identify any potentially hazardous packages within an application.

Utilizing an SBOM is the foundational step in gaining mastery over your dependencies, particularly for managing risks stemming from open source components. Given the spike in cyberattacks targeting these components recently, SBOMs serve as a valuable tool to delve deeper into dependencies, potentially spotting vulnerabilities, licensing hiccups, or other danger zones.

Why is an SBOM Essential?

  • Many sellers mandate an SBOM when acquiring software to bolster their security measures.
  • Presently, SBOMs aren't universally mandatory. However, the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is setting the stage for future compulsory demands for SBOMs from suppliers.

SBOM Minimal Elements

Data Fields

A standard SBOM should offer basic details to pinpoint a component, including:

  • Supplier's name
  • Component's name
  • Version
  • Dependency ties
  • SBOM's creator
  • Timestamp of data entry into the SBOM

Automation Capabilities

SBOMs should have built-in functionalities for automatic creation and parsing to foster interoperability between different entities. SBOMs should be user-friendly and shouldn't demand new tool adoption. Recognized formats that align with these automation specifications encompass:

  • SPDX
  • CycloneDX
  • Software Identification Tags

SBOM Formats: Are They Identical?

Various tech collectives have introduced multiple SBOM formats over time, each with its unique strengths.

The two predominant SBOM formats are:


  • An initiative by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP).
  • Prioritizes cybersecurity.
  • Incorporates vulnerability data.
  • Integrates links to an auxiliary Vulnerability Exploitability Exchange (VEX) to highlight false positives and vulnerability details of components.

SPDX (Software Package Data Exchange)

  • A brainchild of the Linux Foundation.
  • Focuses on license adherence.
  • Streamlines the process of amassing and disseminating package details.

Both CycloneDX and SPDX are in line with the stipulations of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for an SBOM.

The Rationale Behind SBOMs


  • Renders a uniform and intelligible overview of software dependencies.
  • Adopts a universal format for easier comprehension by clients.
  • Can be auto-generated during a project's compilation, ensuring current dependency insights.
  • Normalizes the depiction of dependencies.
  • Simplifies dependency scrutiny across varied platforms.
  • Enhances automation via standardization.

Why Developers Should Adopt SBOMs

Having an SBOM:

  • Simplifies dependency monitoring for a project.
  • Assists in pinpointing vulnerable components by keeping tabs on package iterations.
  • Propagates a unified standard for housing dependency data, elevating team consistency.
  • Diminishes the complexities of maneuvering through diverse platforms.

The Benefits of SBOMs for End-Users


  • Ushers in operational transparency.
  • Empowers users to ascertain if a product complies with their internal security and structural prerequisites.
  • Indicates reduced risk if third-party software features an SBOM, compared to those that don't.
  • Facilitates security supervision via the SBOM.
  • Can be scanned with numerous tools to identify potential vulnerabilities.

Public Availability of SBOMs: When is the Right Time?

It's pivotal to approach SBOM sharing with caution. For software where the source code is proprietary, it's advisable to share the SBOM with current clientele and prospective genuine leads.

For open-source initiatives, the risks linked with a publicly accessible SBOM are minimal since dependency insights are already out in the open. A recommended strategy is to roll out a public advisories web page to highlight false positives. This not only enhances transparency but also offers users an added layer to oversee their security.