What is Software Composition Analysis?

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Open-source software has become a vital part of development in the last decade. However, utilising these components often comes with several caveats, such as potential security risks or legal issues with licences. Software Composition Analysis (SCA) is an automated process that scans codebases for open-source software. This scan looks for a few different things, such as:

  • Security vulnerabilities to protect your codebase from known exploits. Typically, a good SCA solution will not only show you possible vulnerabilities but also suggest common solutions.
  • Code Dependencies will note what all your included open-source software depends on. This can aid in application security, as well as potential license issues.
  • Software License Compliance can indicate which open source components fall under what license. This is important for attribution requirements and making sure those licenses fall in line with your organization’s policies.
  • Code Quality including version control and contributors is also checked, to make sure the code hasn’t been tampered with.

SCA software has become a must-have for security, as it allows your team to create a safe environment to check for vulnerabilities and compatibility. This is important when using open source software, as proven by the recent Log4J exploit, now known as the “most severe vulnerability ever” by Ars Technica.

How Does Software Composition Analysis Work?

SCA tools will inspect all aspects of a codebase, looking for open-source software. It scans package managers, binary files, container images, and other parts of a codebase before compiling a bill of materials. This will list all of the open-source components present in a codebase, as well as any third-party ones. It also includes the software license they fall under, and which version is used.

These manifests will be compared against common security exploit databases, as well as other sources to check what license the code was released under. Once it finishes, most SCA tools will also check for version control and contribution history.

After a SCA tool has finished, it reports any findings it came across, as well as potential fixes for vulnerabilities. This can be used to check for any outstanding vulnerabilities as well as possible legal issues with software licenses.

Software Composition Analysis & ‘Shift Left’

As we see DevOps grow to enforce application security at the early points of a software development lifecycle, we’ve seen the “shift left” mentality emerge alongside other methods and tools. “Shift Left” refers to moving testing to earlier points in the software development lifecycle (aka shifting it left on a timeline), to better fit with Agile development methods.

SCA fits well into this driving trend, as it can be performed early and often on a given project, alongside tools such as DAST and SAST. These tools all fit into modern DevOps solutions perfectly and are quickly becoming essential tools.

Read our guide on how to implement a Shift Left security culture

What are the benefits of Software Composition Analysis?

Development speed is increasing constantly due to Agile and DevOps methodologies, meaning that security risks can become much more common. Organizations need security solutions to keep up with the increasing speed of development.

As the Log4J exploit showed, not all open-source software is safe all of the time. It’s imperative to make sure that your application is secure, and tools like SCA can help.

SCA tools also help with legal issues that can arise from open source software licenses. The Open Source Initiative lists over a hundred different licenses that they’ve approved, but the actual number runs into the thousands. Each of these licenses come with terms of use that your organization must follow, or you’ll need to use different software.

When and why is Software Composition Analysis Required?

SCA should be implemented as early as possible in a software’s development life cycle. Added in with other testing methods, this reinforces application security and reduces the risk for exploits.

Open-source software is used almost everywhere, making up about 90% of the code composition of modern applications. Just four years ago, the average number of open source components in a codebase was almost 300.

Not only is the use of open-source software incredibly widespread, but the odds of having vulnerabilities in these components has also increased exponentially. Between 2018 and 2019 the number of recorded vulnerabilities almost doubled, from 421 to 968. Using SCA tools can dramatically reduce this number, increasing overall application security in the long run.

Top SCA Tools

There are several different SCA tools out there, each with similar services and benefits. Picking a tool that works best for your organization doesn’t have to be difficult, so here are some of the most popular options available:


Veracode’s SCA tool offers exactly what you need from a security product. It scans dependencies for known vulnerabilities, offers recommendations for fixes, and fits into any CI/CD pipeline. The application security company also offers other security tools such as static and dynamic application testing within the same ecosystem, allowing you to streamline all of your testing.

Black Duck

Synopsys’ Black Duck SCA offers the full spectrum of features you would expect in a good SCA tool. One of the leaders in software integrity, the company’s comprehensive tool checks code against their private database of exploits, as well as public databases. The company’s full scan also covers over 2600 different open source software licenses and almost 4 million open source projects.


A relative newcomer to the scene, Snyk’s focus is on cybersecurity and more specifically, vulnerabilities within open-source code. The company marketed their product as being developer first, making it easy to integrate into existing CI/CD pipelines.

WhiteSource Software

Advertising their tool with “Effective Usage Analysis”, not only does WhiteSource’s SCA tools tell you exactly what open source components are in your codebase, but also how they’re used. They also offer audits for companies to get a personalized report from one of their experts. This covers critical issues with suggestions and helps form actionable results.

As the speed of development increases from DevOps methods, application security has become progressively more important. This has become more apparent with the wide adoption of open-source software, which is not always expertly maintained. Adopting security tools such as SCA can help with potential security and legal issues that may arise when using open-source components.


Uleska helps security and development teams manage application security at scale by automating and orchestrating their preferred security tools within CI/CD.

With Uleska, teams can confidently start an AppSec program using open-source, commercial, and custom tools and then quickly change, add or scale tools as the technology and business needs evolve. Uleska also brings speed and scale when integrating into development tools, and reporting of metrics and risk.

By bringing security, DevOps and development teams together, we help reduce manual tasks so application security takes less time, cost and can scale, allowing teams to focus resources on the issues and metrics that matter.

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