Why do organizations need a software Bill of Materials?

A Software Bill of Materials (SBoM) is a document that lists all of the software components and their versions that are used in the organization’s revenue generating product. The SBoM is used to track and manage software licenses, as well as to ensure that the organization is using the correct software versions.

There are many reasons why an organization would need a software bill of materials. One of the main reasons is to combat supply chain attacks. Supply chain attacks are when someone compromises parts or suppliers in the production process with the goal of compromising the final product. By using a software bill of materials, organizations can ensure that all the parts in their codebase come from trusted sources.

Another reason why organizations need a software bill of materials is so they can create software that meets government requirements. The Executive Order signed by President Biden in May directs all federal agencies to use an SBOM as the baseline for how they build, test, secure, and operate their software applications. This order applies to any organization who wants to do business with the federal government.

Maintaining an SBOM can also help organizations track all the components in their codebases. This can be accomplished through a software bill of materials which have been created to track all the components in a codebase or through an inventory list, which must be updated manually by someone who is familiar with each component.

What’s in a software bill of materials?

When you’re putting together a product, it’s important to have a complete inventory of all the parts that go into it. The same is true for software-producing companies, who need to have an accurate, up-to-date software Bill of Materials (SBOM).

An SBOM is a complete inventory of all the open source components in an application. It includes the open source licenses and version information, as well as known vulnerabilities in the codebase. Open sourced software is no more risky than proprietary code, but failing to secure or utilize it introduces greater risk to one’s organization’s security.

Few companies know exactly what open source components they are using and how to produce an accurate, up-to-date software Bill of Materials. That’s why it’s important for your company to have one! Without an SBOM, it can be difficult to track down which components are outdated and risk-prone. An SBOM will list the versions of open source components in your software so you can assess whether you’re using any outdated and potentially insecure code.

Open source components

Lots of software these days relies on open source components. This is nothing new, but it’s something that we’re increasingly paying attention to. Open source components can be a great way to get things done quickly and efficiently, but they do come with some risks.

Open source components are those that are made available for anyone to use and modify. They’re often used in commercial products because they’re free and easy to use. However, because anyone can access them and make changes, there’s a risk that they might contain security vulnerabilities.

That’s why it’s important for companies to use tools like Software Composition Analysis, which can help them identify any open source components in their software and assess the associated risks.

Open source versions

When it comes to open source, there are two types of components: those that are published and those that are not. The first type is pretty easy to manage – you just need to keep track of the published versions and make sure they’re compatible with your software. However, the second type can be a lot more difficult because, even if the component has been heavily modified, it still counts as an open source component. This means you need to have a policy in place for how you handle these components, and you need to be able to react quickly to published vulnerabilities.

Open source licenses

When it comes to open source licenses, organizations have a lot of questions.

  • What type of license should be used for a particular project?
  • Do all developers need to be familiar with the license?
  • Can the organization change the terms of an open source license?

Answering these questions is critical for developing and releasing software products that comply with licensing requirements.

Revenera’s recently released report, “Open Source License Compliance in the Federal Government,” provides insights into how agencies are complying with open source licenses.

The report includes information about hidden dependencies and components that were under the radar.

A precise definition of what is in a code tree is necessary to prevent security breaches and increased costs due to licensing issues.

The Federal Government’s Cybersecurity Executive Order calls for stronger cybersecurity posture and improved risk management practices across the federal government. This order requires all agencies to inventory their software and develop plans for mitigating risks associated with unlicensed software.

One way agencies can mitigate these risks is by using a comprehensive software bill of materials.

A comprehensive software bill of materials is important for development teams, as it can help you modify open source policies and quickly react to published vulnerabilities.

FlexNet Code Insight automates the discovery of open source software components, making it easier for agencies to comply with the Cybersecurity Executive Order.

Open source vulnerabilities

Open source vulnerabilities can have a big impact on businesses when they’re exploited. For example, the Equifax breach in 2017 was caused by a vulnerability in the open source Apache Struts software that the company was using.

According to the 2021 “Open Source Security Risk and Analysis (OSSRA) report , 98% of the codebases scanned contained open source components

The OSSRA report found that 65% of codebases audited had open source licensing conflicts.

When such an exploit occurs, the need for open source security becomes front-page news.

A comprehensive SBOM will list all components in your app and their licenses, versions, and patch status. This will help you quickly determine whether you’re using any outdated or insecure code.

You can’t fix what you don’t know about, so make sure to include an inventory of your open source components in your software bill of materials.

Data Fields

The SBOM data field is a list of components that comprise software. The purpose of the data fields is to enable tracking and mapping across the supply chain. Per the NTIA, these fields are intended to be used for identifying components in software so they can be tracked and mapped with other helpful information sources like vulnerability databases or license databases.

The bill of materials is a list of unique identifiers for components which might be used in software. Software components may depend on one another and their relationships with one another can be represented in the bill of materials.

“Author” refers to the person who created the data and “Timestamp” denotes when they are dated

Automation Support

In order to easily access component data across platforms and tools, the SBOM basic requirements section addresses the need for automation support. The three standards to choose from are SPDX, CycloneDX, and SWID Tags.

Practices and Processes

The SBOM author must provide access permissions and roles in place for distribution. This allows the consumers of the SBOM to understand who has access to which parts of the document. Without this level of detail, it would be difficult to ascertain what is being shared with whom.

Access Control: Organizations seeking to keep certain elements of a software bill of materials private have to specify the terms of access control in their SBOMs. By protecting certain parts of the BOM, companies can ensure that they are not giving away too much information about their internal workings.

Software Bill of Materials Delivery Formats and Specifications

There are much different software bill of materials (SBOM) delivery formats and specifications. In order to ensure that all federal government agencies are able to receive and process SBOMs, specific requirements have been put in place for the formats and specifications that can be used. The most common formats include SPDX (Software Package Data Exchange) and SWID Tags, but there are many others as well.

HTML is a popular format for publishing SBOMs on websites, and it is also included in source code when using the Markdown or plain text formats. PDF is a good choice for delivering SBOMs in documentation, while CSV is commonly used for exchanging data between systems.


Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX) is a primary open standard for software bill of materials developed by the Linux Foundation in 2010. SPDX files include all the relevant information about software components, copyrights, licenses, and security references.

The SPDX specification is compatible with NTIA’s proposed SBOM framework. In August 2021, the SPDX got an official standard as ISO/IEC 5962.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has a report on a software bill of materials formats, which you can reference for a comprehensive list. The NTIA also has an annual survey that provides specific information about existing SBOM formats, including their strengths and weaknesses.


Software Bill of Materials Delivery (SBOMD) formats and specifications enable the secure delivery of software post-installation. SBOMDs can take various forms, but all specify the primary information necessary to identify and contextualize software products post-installation. The most common format for SBOMDs is the Software Identification (SWID) tag, a standardized XML format that has four types of tags: corpus, primary, distribution, and configuration.

Corpus tags identify software components in pre-installation state; primary tags define the product post-installation; distribution tags identify the service or product that provides an application’s runtime environment (for example Windows OS); and specification data describes how to incorporate a given component into another software product of different components. For example, a product might have a corpus tag for its installer, primary tag for its installed files, distribution tag for the server on which it will run, and configuration tags to indicate that it should be registered with an activation server.

The SWID format is vendor neutral and defines the patch, not the core product. This means that a software management tool can use supplemental tags to add contextual information of local utility, such as the name of the organization that created the product or specific installation instructions for a given environment. For example, an installer might add a tag specifying that a product should be registered with an activation server.

SBOMDs also allow organizations some flexibility when it comes to deciding which tags and specific data elements should be included with their products. The SWID specification requires a minimal number of elements and attributes for tag conformance, making it easy to create and use.

Cyclone DX

Cyclone DX is an SBOM specification designed for application security. It’s similar to SPDX, SWID, and other SBOM delivery formats in providing key information about the software components that comprise an application. Cyclone DX supports four categories of data:

  • Components – describes the software component and its version
  • Services – describes how the component can be used
  • Metadata – provides additional information about the component or service
  • License – identifies the license under which the component or service is provided.

Cyclone DX is open source, which means it’s free to use for anyone who wants to create their own software bill of materials format. If you want to learn more about software bill of materials delivery formats, the NTIA Survey of Existing SBOM Formats and Standards report is a good place to start. It identifies five main types of software bill of materials delivery formats:

  • Catalog files – provide an inventory of all the components and services in an application
  • Component files – describe a single software component
  • Service files – describe how a component can be used
  • Master files – contain the specifications for all of the components and services in an application.

There are actually many different software bill of materials delivery formats that exist today, but not as many as there should be according to the NTIA Survey of Existing SBOM Formats and Standards report.

Other SBOM Formats

There are several other software bill of materials formats that organizations might choose to use. These include:

  • HTML: This is a common format for publishing SBOMs and can be easily read by humans and machines.
  • Plain Text: This format might be better if the software bill of materials will be included in documentation or source code. It is easy to read and write, but does not include all the information that an HTML file would.
  • XML: XML is a machine-readable format that can include a lot of information. It is not as easily read by humans as HTML or plain text, but it is still a common choice for SBOMs.
  • SPDX: Software Package Data Exchange (SPDX) is a standard format for exchanging software bill of materials data between organizations.
  • SWID Tags: Software Identification (SWID) tags are used to identify and track software components.
  • Cyclone DX: Cyclone DX is a format designed specifically for delivering software bill of materials.

SBOM Benefits

SBOMs provide a number of benefits for attendees, from learning about use cases to gaining insight into their company’s value proposition. In addition, the SBOM helps to protect the product by encouraging visibility of all components and aiding in threat prevention. It also provides an easier way for vulnerability scans and license governance keeps licensing in check and ensures clarity as parts of a product are developed or changed.

The principles of a well-formed SBOM include data fields, automation support, practices and processes, different formats, SPDX software package data exchange format, SWID software identification tagging format, Cyclone DX software packaging application toolkit. All these features work together to provide a more secure supply chain as well as enhanced cybersecurity. The benefits of SBOMs extend far beyond just these two areas into agriculture, manufacturing and mining industries.

1. Deeper Transparency

One of the benefits of using a SBOM is that it provides deeper transparency into software systems. For example, a SBOM can help identify and detail all the components in a system. This information can be used to protect the supply chain by ensuring that only authorized parts are used in systems. Additionally, SBOMs can help identify copyright violations throughout software systems.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is currently working on a new project that could help identify software “SBOMs,” or standards-based interoperable identifiers. The NTIA is also encouraging the widespread use of SWID tags, which are stable software identification tags used by many industries.

The NTIA has issued guidelines for creating INTEROPERABLE SBOMS and there are specific requirements about how to create these IDs in the future. For example, a SBOM should be a measure of effect size. In other words, it should be able to quantify the impact that a particular software system has on an organization.

A citation is a reference to an article or other written work that has been used in the study making up the SBOM. This information can help researchers and developers better understand how software systems are put together.

2. Tighter Security

SBOM Benefits are a list of topics pertaining to the CFR Indexing Terms. The site has 416 documents open for comment and 1128 total documents indexed on SBOM to date. SBOM was created by the Presidential Records Act of 1978 as a way to make Federal government records more accessible.

3. Greater Supply Chain Resiliency

The use of SBOM benefits can help improve the security and resiliency of the software supply chain. The goal of these benefits is to increase trust in the systems we rely on and reduce the chance that vulnerabilities will be discovered.

SBOMs are also designed to reduce the impact of disruptions, including cyber incidents, on the supply chain. They help identify issues earlier in the process, so they can be resolved before they cause any harm.

SBOMs are benefits that can be sought by government agencies. There is legislation to require SBOMs for software, firmware, and products in use by the US Government. The US Executive Order on Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity of May 12, 2021 ordered the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to issue guidance within 90 days regarding standards, procedures, or criteria that would enhance software supply chain security. Within 60 days, NTIA is required to publish minimum elements for an SBOM. The NTIA minimum elements were published on July 12, 2021.

“SBOM use cases for greater transparency in the software supply chain” and future evolution are outlined in this document. The minimum requirements that would be used to define SBOM have already been set to meet the needs of software developers and businesses over the next decade.

4. Lower Costs

One of the benefits of using SBOMs is that they help software engineers save time and money. The list of components and versions is consolidated into one place, which helps keep costs low and increases productivity. In addition, companies can stay profitable by using SBOMs to deliver software securely. SBOM is a new type of software security that can help prevent breaches, malware and data loss. By reducing vulnerabilities in product delivery across the software supply chain, SBOM can increase overall reliability of software products. This, in turn, protects customer data or systems from damage.

5. Less Code Bloat

One of the benefits of using open source software is that it can help to reduce code bloat. When developers have a large number of components from which they can choose, they are more likely to find the right component for the task at hand. This can lead to a more streamlined and efficient codebase.

In addition, when developers are familiar with a library or framework, they are more likely to use it in their code. This leads to less duplication of effort and results in faster development times.

6. Easier End-of-Life Management

SBOMs are used to identify software components when they reach their End-of-Life stage. This enables developers to avoid outdated and unsecured components from remaining in operation, and also helps them identify a replacement component. In this way, SBOMs make End-of-Life management much easier for developers.

7. Improved License Compliance

Organizations involved with the product (manufacturers, operators, buyers) may not have full visibility into the software supply chain or any license compliance, security, or quality risks that exist. The SBOM helps to provide insights in these areas which are otherwise difficult for organizations to do on their own.

A bill of materials is a list of the components in an application that are typically required or used when building software. A bill of materials can help the process become more efficient and will save time and money by eliminating errors before they happen.

The Biden Administration’s recent Cybersecurity Executive Order mandates SBOM creation for organizations who sell into the federal government, which will elevate their importance.

Using FOSSA, you can create a Service-Based Organization (SBOM) without having to manually enter each service. Automating your SBOM creation process with FOSSA helps reduce errors and improve efficiency

Software Bill of Materials Use Cases

SBOMs are used in a variety of different ways, but the most common use case is during a company’s merger, acquisition, IPO or fundraising. SBOMs can be used in the “technical diligence process” to help with due diligence investigations and assessments.

Another common use case for SBOMs is when companies need to publish them as part of a public website or include them with each product they sell. This is often required by the Biden Administration’s new cybersecurity executive order. The order requires software manufacturers to publish a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) with each product or as part of a public website.

In addition, the SBOM should include any license compliance, security, or code quality risks associated with the software components included in your products. The demand for SBOMs is expected to increase as preventing software supply chain attacks becomes an increasingly high priority.

Finally, organizations that maintain a large volume of old software often require OSS package updates and upgrades. These updates and upgrades can be time-consuming and difficult if you don’t have an up-to-date SBOM. That’s why it’s important for companies to use SBOMs in order to make purchasing/renewal processes easier and less time-consuming.

How do I get a software bill of materials?

There are a few ways to get a software bill of materials. One way is to contact the manufacturer of the software and ask for a bill of materials. Another way is to use a software inventory management tool to track the software on your network and generate a bill of materials from that data.

There are a few ways to get a software bill of materials. One way is to use a software composition analysis tool. These tools can help you inventory your open source and third-party components across your code, with continuous updates to the most up-to-date picture of your risks. You can also generate a software bill of materials manually by parsing through your codebase and keeping track of the libraries and frameworks you’re using. However, this process can be time consuming and difficult.

Another way to get a software bill of materials is to subscribe to Sonatype’s Nexus Repository Manager OSS. This will give you access to our comprehensive library of more than 2 million components, as well as regular updates on new vulnerabilities discovered in those components. We also offer a Software Bill of Materials Generator that makes it easy for you to create a bill of materials for any open source project.

Tools to Help Generate a Software Bill of Materials


Riscosity is a company that provides a SaaS (Software as a Service) product that enables development and operations teams to quickly and easily build, share, and manage their software bill of materials (SBOM).

This allows for faster identification of changes in the bill of materials due to updates to source code or dependencies on other components. It also makes it easier for teams to collaborate on developing new applications or updating existing ones.

Software Composition Analysis

Synopsys’ blog discusses how their software composition analysis can help generate a software bill of materials for you. The OSSRA report is an informative resource that provides software composition analysis, agile software development techniques, CI/CD and DevOps. API security testing is used to assess the security of APIs. Software composition analysis can be done with tools such as the OSSRA report in order to reduce risk and improve performance of applications.