Q: Why is SLSA not transitive?
SLSA is not transitive in order to make the problem tractable. If SLSA 4 required dependencies to be SLSA 4, then reaching SLSA 4 would require starting at the very beginning of the supply chain and working forward. This is backwards, forcing us to work on the least risky component first and blocking any progress further downstream. By making each artifact’s SLSA rating independent from one another, it allows parallel progress and prioritization based on risk. (This is a lesson we learned when deploying other security controls at scale throughout Google.) We expect SLSA ratings to be composed to describe a supply chain’s overall security stance, as described in the case study vision.
Q: What about reproducible builds?
When talking about reproducible builds, there are two related but distinct concepts: “reproducible” and “verified reproducible.”
“Reproducible” means that repeating the build with the same inputs results in bit-for-bit identical output. This property provides many benefits, including easier debugging, more confident cherry-pick releases, better build caching and storage efficiency, and accurate dependency tracking.
For these reasons, SLSA 4 requires reproducible builds unless there is a justification why the build cannot be made reproducible. Example justifications include profile-guided optimizations or code signing that invalidates hashes. Note that there is no actual reproduction, just a claim that reproduction is possible.
“Verified reproducible” means using two or more independent build systems to corroborate the provenance of a build. In this way, one can create an overall system that is more trustworthy than any of the individual components. This is often suggested as a solution to supply chain integrity. Indeed, this is one option to secure build steps of a supply chain. When designed correctly, such a system can satisfy all of the SLSA build requirements.
That said, verified reproducible builds are not a complete solution to supply chain integrity, nor are they practical in all cases:
- Reproducible builds do not address source, dependency, or distribution threats.
- Reproducers must truly be independent, lest they all be susceptible to the same attack. For example, if all rebuilders run the same pipeline software, and that software has a vulnerability that can be triggered by sending a build request, then an attacker can compromise all rebuilders, violating the assumption above.
- Some builds cannot easily be made reproducible, as noted above.
- Closed-source reproducible builds require the code owner to either grant source access to multiple independent rebuilders, which is unacceptable in many cases, or develop multiple, independent in-house rebuilders, which is likely prohibitively expensive.
Therefore, SLSA does not require verified reproducible builds directly. Instead, verified reproducible builds are one option for implementing the requirements.
For more on reproducibility, see Hermetic, Reproducible, or Verifiable?