The Difference Between SCA and Supply Chain Security
Right now, the concept of the software supply chain and securing it is quite trendy. After the solar winds breach, the attack on the crypto wallet, at the log4J fiasco, the entire world appears to be focused on securing the software supply chain. I’m not complaining. If anything, as an application security nerd, I am quite pleased that I am finally getting buy-in that these things need to be protected, and that vulnerable dependencies need to be avoided. Folks, this is GREAT.
Software composition analysis, often called SCA, means figuring out which dependencies your software has, and of those, which contain vulnerabilities. When we create software, we include third party components, often called libraries, plugins, packages, etc. All third-party components are made-up of code that you, and your team, did not write. That said, because you have included them inside of your software, you have added (at least some) of their risk into your product.
A ‘supply chain’ means all of the things that you need to create an end product. If you were creating soup, you would need all of the ingredients of the soup, you would need things like pots and pans in order to cook and prepare the ingredients of the soup, you would need a can or a jar to put it in, and likely a label on top to tell everyone what type of soup it is. All of those things would be considered your supply chain.
Imagine inside of your soup one of the ingredients is flour. Chances are that it (wheat) was grown in a field, and then it was harvested, and then it was ground down into flour, and then it might have been processed even further, and only then it was sent to you, so that you could create your soup. All of the steps along the way could have been contaminated, or perhaps the wheat could have rotted, or been otherwise spoiled. You have to protect the wheat all along the way before it gets to you, and once you make the soup, in order to ensure the end product is safe to eat.
Protecting all of the parts along the supply chain, from ensuring that there aren’t terrible chemicals sprayed on the ingredients as they grow, to ensuring that the can or jar that you put the soup into has been properly sterilized, is you securing your supply chain.
When we build software, we need to secure our software supply chain. That means not only ensuring the third-party components that we’re putting into our software are safe to use, but the way we are using them is secure [more on this later]. We also have to ensure how we build the software is safe, and this can mean using version control to store our code, ensuring any CI/CD that we use is protected from people meddling and changing it, and every single other tool we use or process we follow are also safe.
With this in mind, the difference between the two is that SCA only covers third party dependencies, while supply chain security also covers the CI/CD, your IDE (and all your nifty plugins), version control, and everything else you need in order to make your software.
It is my hope that our industry learns to secure every single part of the software supply chain, as opposed to only worrying about the dependencies. I want securing these systems to be a habit; I want it to be the norm. I want the default IAM (identity and access management) settings for every CI/CD to be locked down. I want checking your changes into source control to be as natural as breathing. I want all new code check-ins to be scanned for vulnerabilities, including their components. I want us to make software that is SAFE.
I have worked with more than one company who had programmers who did not check in their code regularly (or at all) to source control. Let me tell you, every single time it was expensive! Losing years of hard work will break your heart, not just your budget. Supply chain security matters.
Join me in this adventure by starting at your own office! Whether you have budget or not, there are paid and free tools that can help you check to see if your supply chain is safe! You can also check some of this stuff manually, easily (the IAM settings on your CI/CD are just a few clicks away). Reviewing the setup for your systems, and ensuring you have everything important backed up, will make your future less stressful, trust me.
You can literally join me on this adventure, by signing up for the Semgrep newsletter! The Semgrep Community is about to launch live free events, including training on topics like this, and we can learn together. First email goes out next week, don’t miss out!
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** I work at Semgrep. This means I am positively biased towards our products and my teammates (I think they are awesome!) That said, with 27+ years’ experience in IT, being a best-selling author and world-renown public speaker, there are a LOT of companies that would be happy to let me work for them. I choose Semgrep for a reason; my choice to work there was intentional. That said, I will try not to be annoying by only talking about work on my blog, promise!