With the growing interconnectedness of operational technology (OT) equipment and the adoption of digital transformation in electric utilities, the need has never been more pressing for the nation's utilities to establish robust security measures for software supply chains.

Today more than ever, software supply chain security is crucial to maintain the stability and dependability of the power grid.

After all, the cyber threatscape for electric utilities harbors many scenarios that keep industrial cyber security experts up at night:

Embedded devices that form the backbone of the software supply chains that build our nation's power grid require a comprehensive security approach that acknowledges their software components. The Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) can help.

Understanding SBOMs in OT Equipment Security

An SBOM is a comprehensive document listing all the components within a software product, such as open-source libraries, proprietary code, and third-party dependencies.

Critically, SBOMs provide clear and continuous visibility into the software composition of critical embedded devices within the OT equipment that power grids rely upon. This clarity allows utilities to identify potential vulnerabilities, manage updates, and ensure licensing compliance.

That's important, considering the prevalence of open-source code found in today's OT devices. SBOMs have emerged as critical tools in managing and mitigating software supply chain risks.

The Role of SBOMs in Software Supply Chain Security

Incorporating SBOMs into a complete software supply chain security program for electric utilities offers several benefits. SBOMs improve vulnerability management by quickly identifying known vulnerabilities in third-party dependencies and prioritizing remediation, based on their respective impact and risk level to the grid. 

SBOMs also enhance risk assessment by providing insights into the origin of each component in embedded devices, helping utilities assess the security posture of suppliers and prioritize their own security efforts.

SBOMs also facilitate license compliance by tracking open-source components in embedded devices. They streamline incident response by helping security teams identify affected components promptly and formulating a targeted remediation plan. Lastly, they facilitate software patching by identifying outdated components and reducing the window of opportunity for potential attackers.

Recognizing SBOM Limitations in Software Supply Chain Security

Despite their usefulness, SBOMs do have limitations. They cannot detect previously unknown or undisclosed vulnerabilities, address risks associated with malicious insiders or compromised developers, guarantee the integrity of enumerated software components, provide real-time monitoring of software components in embedded devices, or ensure the security posture of suppliers.

To offset these limitations, additional security measures like static and dynamic code analysis, secure development practices, continuous monitoring, and supplier risk management should be implemented.

Trust, But Verify: The SBOM Approach

When receiving an SBOM from a supplier, utilities should trust, but verify. This balance is especially crucial in critical industries like electric utilities. Utilities should be prepared to conduct their own testing and generation of SBOMs, and question suppliers about their trusted SBOM generation tools.

Watch the video below to hear from our CEO Matt Wyckhouse on:

  • How you vet an SBOM that you receive from a vendor or manufacturer?
  • What questions do you ask?
  • How do you know the SBOM is accurate and complete and that you’ve got the best one possible?


Secure Your Software Supply Chain with Finite State

Finite State's Next Generation Platform, the winner of several industry awards, has emerged as the leading software supply chain solution, offering a comprehensive SBOM that helps security teams identify, prioritize, and address vulnerabilities and threats. 

The Finite State Next Generation Platform brings visibility and control to the software supply chains of the connected devices and embedded systems that form the foundations of today's electric utilities. The Finite State NGP unpacks and analyzes every file, configuration, and setting in a firmware build to create a comprehensive SBOM. The platform identifies vulnerabilities and provides actionable insights for securing your software.

While SBOMs play a crucial role in enhancing software supply chain security for OT equipment in electric utilities, they cannot tackle all security challenges alone.

Utilities must understand SBOM limitations and incorporate additional security measures to ensure a robust software supply chain security program. This comprehensive approach will help protect critical infrastructure and mitigate risks associated with software vulnerabilities and supply chain attacks.

With trusted solutions like Finite State, utilities can embark on this journey, securing their critical infrastructure faster and mitigating threats to the power grid.

Ready to learn more? Check out our new guide, Strengthening OT Security in Electric Utilities! 

WP Cover - Strengthening Operational Technology