2023, April 29
7 min read
Matt S.

Supply Chain Attack: Everything You Need To Know

A supply chain attack is a cyber threat targeting organizations by exploiting weaker links, specifically within their supply chain.

In our fast-paced, interconnected world, supply chain attacks have emerged as a primary cybersecurity concern. These insidious attacks exploit an organization's dependence on third-party suppliers or vendors to gain unauthorized access to networks and sensitive data. Supply chain attacks are hard to detect and counteract, mainly because compromised components may have already spread throughout the supply chain before the attack is identified.
Supply chain attacks pose a significant threat to companies in the manufacturing, retail, and financial sectors and government agencies, mainly if they rely on third-party vendors with weak cybersecurity measures. High-profile examples of supply chain attacks include the SolarWinds attack and the Codecov breach, which affected numerous organizations.

Understanding Different Types of Supply Chain Attacks

First, understanding the basics of how a supply chain attack works is required for everyone. Whether you're buying a computer for yourself or buying it at a large scale for your company - you should be aware that these things happen frequently—the most popular how the answer can be explained with the image below.
The hacker enters a third-party vendor's equipment by writing a custom code, and your organization buys the equipment. For example, imagine buying 100 laptops for your new company from a seller with the best prices on the market. You decide not to pick the original reseller to save some extra money. In this case, the "cheaper" reseller will not have as big a secure foundation to secure its equipment, and it will end up having the hacker target his supply chain. But there are solutions to avoid these kinds of situations that you will learn in the article.
However, a deeper understanding of the various types of supply chain attacks can help organizations better recognize and defend against them. Here are four common types of supply chain attacks and examples of each:

Compromising Third-Party Software or Services

  • Attackers may compromise a third-party software or service used by multiple organizations, allowing them to infiltrate the networks of all users.
  • The SolarWinds attack is a prime example, where hackers compromised the company's software update system, enabling them to distribute malware to thousands of customers.

Exploiting Vulnerabilities in Hardware Components

  • Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in hardware components, such as chips or firmware, to gain unauthorized access to a target system.
  • For instance, in 2018, Bloomberg reported (although the report was later disputed) that Chinese spies had allegedly implanted tiny microchips in server motherboards used by major tech companies and government agencies, potentially compromising their data.

Targeting Third-Party Vendors or Suppliers

  • In some cases, attackers may target a third-party vendor or supplier directly, exploiting their weaker security measures to gain access to a larger organization's network.
  • The Target breach in 2013 is an example of this attack, where hackers accessed Target's payment systems through a third-party HVAC contractor.

Manipulating Open Source Libraries or Repositories

  • Attackers can manipulate open-source libraries and repositories to introduce malicious code into software projects that rely on them. In 2021, the Codecov breach involved hackers exploiting a vulnerability in the company's Bash Uploader script, potentially affecting thousands of clients who used the tool for code coverage analysis.
However, to fortify your organization against supply chain attacks, adopting a thorough and proactive security strategy is essential. Below are ten crucial tips and techniques to help you achieve this objective.

How to Secure Your Company Against Supply Chain Attacks?

Adopt Robust Cybersecurity Measures, Practices, and Protocols

  • Equip your organization with firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems to prevent and identify attacks.
  • Follow best practices for password management, software updates, and network security to enhance your defenses further.

Utilize Dedicated Security Teams or Engage Reputable Security Firms

  • In-house security teams or collaborations with trusted security firms can help proactively monitor your network for anomalous activity or security events, allowing for a rapid response that can significantly lessen the impact of an attack.

Keep an Eye on Your Supply Chain for Unusual Activity or Security Events

  • Use tools like intrusion detection systems, log management, and automated threat forensics to oversee your supply chain. Additionally, ensure your employees are well-trained to recognize and report suspicious behavior or phishing attempts.

Confirm the Integrity of Software Updates and Security Patches

  • Before implementing software updates and security patches, verify their integrity to avoid introducing malicious code into your supply chain.

Implement Secure Coding Practices and Regular Vulnerability Scans

  • Adopt safe coding practices such as input validation, output encoding, and least privilege principles.
  • Additionally, use tools like static application security testing (SAST), dynamic application security testing (DAST), and interactive application security testing (IAST) to scan your organization's codebase for vulnerabilities regularly. These proactive measures can help identify and remediate security flaws before attackers exploit them.

Conduct Risk Assessments and Regular Audits of Third-Party Vendors

  • Perform ongoing risk assessments and audits on third-party vendors to ensure they maintain strong cybersecurity measures, helping to identify potential vulnerabilities and areas for improvement within your supply chain.
  • Risk assessments should include evaluating the vendor's security policies, incident response plans, staff training, and compliance with relevant regulations and industry standards. Regular audits should verify the implementation and effectiveness of the vendor's security controls and their ability to identify and remediate security issues. Establishing a vendor risk management program can streamline this process and help maintain a consistent approach to evaluating and managing third-party risks.

Foster Clear Communication Channels with Vendors and Partners

  • Cultivate open, transparent communication with vendors and partners to share information about potential threats and collaborate on security best practices, ultimately strengthening your overall supply chain security.

Embrace a Zero-Trust Approach to Network Security

  • Implement a zero-trust strategy for network security, assuming all users, devices, and applications on your network may be compromised. This approach involves ongoing validation of access permissions and requires all users to authenticate themselves before accessing sensitive data or resources.

Create and Execute Incident Response and Business Continuity Plans

  • Prepare for potential supply chain attacks by developing and implementing comprehensive incident response and business continuity plans, outlining your organization's steps to address an attack, minimize disruptions, and rapidly restore normal operations.

Train Your Workforce on Supply Chain Security Best Practices

  • Invest in employee training and education on supply chain security best practices to create awareness and vigilance, ensuring all staff members can recognize potential threats, report suspicious activity, and adhere to your organization's security protocols.
  • Employee training should cover topics such as recognizing phishing emails, avoiding social engineering attacks, securing personal devices, and identifying signs of a compromised system. Regular security awareness training and simulated phishing campaigns can reinforce these concepts and keep security top-of-mind for employees. Additionally, specialized training should be provided for staff members with specific roles in supply chain management, IT security, or procurement, as they may be more likely to encounter supply chain-related threats.
Safeguarding your organization against supply chain attacks necessitates a multi-faceted approach that addresses potential vulnerabilities within and throughout your supply chain. By implementing these comprehensive tips and strategies, your organization can significantly reduce the likelihood and impact of supply chain attacks, thereby protecting your valuable assets, reputation, and overall business operations.
Moreover, staying up-to-date with the latest trends in cybersecurity and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with industry experts can help your organization stay ahead of emerging threats. By fostering a culture of continuous improvement, you can ensure that your organization remains resilient and adaptive in the face of an ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape.
Finally, collaborate with other organizations, industry groups, and regulatory bodies to share threat intelligence, best practices, and technological innovations. This collective approach will strengthen the overall cybersecurity ecosystem and help create a safer digital environment for all stakeholders.
By taking these steps and staying vigilant, your organization can effectively combat supply chain attacks, ensuring the security and integrity of your operations and safeguarding your most critical assets. Remember, a strong cybersecurity posture is not a one-time effort but an ongoing commitment to adapt and evolve in response to the constantly changing threat landscape.
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