What is an SBOM in Kubernetes?

In today’s era, every time any software is released, the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) is one of the most sought-after aspects of the release. In fact, it is considered pretty important for any developer to ensure that the software consists of all the necessary components, the dependencies are healthy, and it there is overall security. If you’ve worked with software development and cloud-native applications on Kubernetes, you have probably come across the term SBOM. In this article, we will gain a better understanding of what an SBOM is, its benefits, the stages of development where it is used, and more.

What is SBOM?

The Software Bill of Materials is a detailed description of all the components, modules, and their dependencies. When you take Kubernetes and its cloud-native applications as the context, an SBOM is a description of all the packages and dependencies that form a container image.

In simple terms, it is an inventory that gives us a complete idea of what makes up an application, and how it functions. There are two main formats of SBOM used widely across the globe: SPDX and CycloneDX, but the latter is more popular considering it is by Linux Foundation.

While an SBOM was used for the traditional software release, why and how does it impact the Kubernetes’ cloud-native apps. Let us find out.

Why is SBOM Important for Kubernetes?

With Kubernetes the microservice and container-based architecture became prominent. It is currently deemed as one of the most efficient ways of managing and scaling cloud-native applications. In fact, even giants such as Google and Spotify use the system.

Although it is known for its efficiency and how it provides the infrastructure for organizations to improve application performance, there are challenges when it comes to its security - especially within the software supply chain. 

The increase in software supply chain attacks has made securing the build and delivery of software a top priority. That’s one reason why SBOM is now being used to check for security vulnerabilities. If a flaw is discovered, the SBOM can be queried to determine which components, if any, have been affected. In addition, an SBOM can be leveraged to find out if there is a problem with the base images that are being used for container creation. 

Information found in an SBOM for Kubernetes helps monitor the following:

● Source Code

● Container Images

● Binaries

● Packages

● Dependencies and transient dependencies

Usually, all this information and more is described and structured in such a way, that the person understands the purpose of each of the items, and even checks if that goal is met or not. If it isn’t one identifies where the gap is.

The structure consists of container images and different packages such that it is consumable and easily understandable to a developer. Furthermore, it also allows the SBOM to be in a format that could potentially be used by tools in the future to further automate the analysis process.

In previous versions, SBOM was static which didn’t help Kubernetes applications because the vast majority of information needed to be collected during runtime. Now that runtime SBOM has gained more prominence, dependencies can be monitored in real-time, as well as the ports being used and other relevant parameters.

 This also helps with security as addressed below.

Software Development Areas where SBOM is Used

There are two main stages at which the SBOM is most widely used in the complete software development cycle. They include:

Software Release

When the software is released or delivered to the customer an SBOM is used to verify and validate that the product is complete and aligns with all the requirements. In fact, companies even hire special developers who have a thorough understanding of this to do the job.

Open-source software is becoming increasingly popular. So, the SBOM specifies all the open-source platforms used, the purpose they serve, and their dependencies within the product. This would then be checked by the developers on the customer end, to see if it is all intact, in the right way and if it only has minimal vulnerabilities, once the product goes on floors.

Kubernetes Supply Chain Security

Kubernetes supply chain security is massive challenge organizations face while managing their applications. This is usually solved by a technique called A-MAP (Artifacts Metadata Attestations and Policies).

An SBOM is a critical part of the metadata. After all, it gives all information about the software system and helps understand security loopholes. The SBOM can identify issues such as;

●     Insecure third-party components

●     Container misconfigurations

●     Gaps in the delivery pipeline

●     Lack of visibility into the system

All of these are a threat to security and once an organization becomes aware of any of these, it can solve to create a better product.

These are the two main stages where an SBOM can be used, but with the rapid increase in the number of K8 applications, even runtime will eventually require SBOMs as mentioned earlier.

Benefits of SBOM

A few of the most critical advantages of using SBOMs are as follows:

●     Organizations can reduce costs considering the SBOMs act as a single framework for managing complexities within a system.

●     The security of the system is much higher, as depicted in the above section.

●     SBOMs also help an organization comply with regulations and the security standards of any product and the field in which it is being used.

●     The efficiency of management is also much higher because components can be used optimally and loopholes can be fixed much sooner.

While SBOMs have been part of software development for a long time, understanding the latest developments in the implementation of SBOM in Kubernetes, particularly the run-time version, can help organizations better manage and secure their Kubernetes infrastructure.

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