Mitigating the Top Threat to Supply Chain Visibility, Supply Chain Attacks

Supply Chain Attack Strategies

What can enterprises do to reduce the chance of supply chain attacks?

As a business grows, monitoring and evaluating inventory and suppliers from various sources can become complex and overwhelming. Thankfully, IoT, blockchain, AI, and robotics deliver insights that promote efficiency and maximize visibility into what’s happening in the supply chain.

Supply chain visibility allows businesses and their external stakeholders to understand various activities and operations, from raw material extraction to the point of consumption. This improves their ability to manage costs and inventory, limit disruptions, and mitigate the top business risks. It also limits fluctuations in the flow of goods and information across the chain. 

However, supply chains are susceptible to security risks like ransomware attacks and data breaches. It isn’t surprising that supply chain attacks are one of the biggest challenges businesses face globally. 

In fact, the growing third-party access to systems and widespread compromise incidents are the top reasons businesses struggle to achieve supply chain visibility. 

The impact of supply chain attacks is real, and in this post, we will share how they can lead to a business outage. Further, we will share exciting strategies to mitigate the impact of these attacks. 

What Are Supply Chain Attacks?

Remember the SolarWinds hack in 2020? This supply chain attack had a devastating ripple effect on large corporations and government organizations. In this global hack, the attackers turned the Orion software of SolarWinds into a weapon to access sensitive data. 

In another recent supply chain attack, the Kaseya attack of last summer shook the infosec industry, sending tremors through enterprise and government security. The sophisticated ransomware attack on the software provider Kaseya targeted a vulnerability in the firm’s remote computer management tool. The fallout lasted for weeks, with malicious actors continuing to distribute malicious software to Kaseya’s customers and the systems they have access to. 

Attacks of this magnitude have raised the need for further and dedicated attention to supply chain security. Supply chain attacks have been a huge concern, causing system downtime and severe reputational damage. 

So, what are supply chain attacks? 

To begin with, it’s critical to understand that the supply chain process has four key elements, namely the supplier, supplier assets, customer, and customer assets. These assets could be software, documents, finances, or people suppliers and customers use or own. 

Supply chain attacks target both the supplier and customer. The first attack is on the supplier connected to the actual target. Hackers use a weak link in the supply chain to gain access to the supplier’s assets, which then gives them access to customers or another supplier and their assets. 

These attacks take advantage of the trust that organizations have in their third-party vendors. 

Here’s a graphic from TechTarget that explains supply chain attacks. 

supply chain attack

Source

Cybercriminals often install malware at various supply chain stages, causing outages or disruption in an organization’s operations. 

Here are a few attack techniques cybercriminals use to compromise the supply chain.

TechniqueExample
Malware infection Spyware inserted to steal user credentials
Social engineeringPhishing, fake applications, or Wi-Fi impersonation
Brute force attackCracking SSH password or guessing login credentials
Taking advantage of software or configuration vulnerabilitySQL injection or exploiting configuration issues
Open-SourceIntelligence (OSINT)Search and exploit credentials and API keys online
CounterfeitingImitating USB with malicious intent

Simply put, supply chain attacks piggyback authorized processes to gain access to an organization’s ecosystem. 

How Supply Chain Attacks Affect Supply Chain Management

Regardless of the business size, the impact of supply chain attacks is phenomenal. IBM and the Ponemon Institute confirm that the cost of such data breaches was $4.24 million in 2021. In fact, 2021 saw the highest average cost in 17 years. 

These attacks offer attackers a method to compromise an organization’s defenses, aiding them in performing attacks like data breaches and malware infections. 

For instance, in the SolarWinds hack, attackers delivered a malicious backdoor, causing sensitive data of public and private sector organizations to be exposed. 

Similarly, in the CodeCov breach, attackers compromised an uploader script, enabling them to gain access to credentials stored within client code. 

Such attacks not only cause financial losses and reputational damage but also disrupt the supply chain, leading to poor supply chain visibility. Supply chain attacks also cause businesses to unwittingly violate regulations and industry standards, thus resulting in fines and repeated audits. All of this involves additional costs and further loss of reputation. 

How to Mitigate The Risk of Supply Chain Attacks

  1. Implement the ‘Always Verify, Never Trust’ Policy

Besides implementing the security best practices for the software and systems created and used by your team, it’s important to investigate the practices of your software vendors and third-party contributors. Eliminate trust and avoid granting network access to any supplier whose security practices haven’t been vetted. 

Before granting access, it’s advisable to check their security posture, compliance and governance policies, and technical security controls, whether you’re using an API or direct cloud app logins to share supply chain data. Doing so will allow you to gain better control and visibility into the top security risks. 

Further, implement the policy of the least privilege. Most organizations tend to give excessive access and permissions to their employees, partners, and vendors. This makes it easier for cybercriminals to spot a vulnerability. Implementing the least privilege assigns permissions only for specific jobs. 

Finally, control access using fine-grained controls. Implement multifactor authentication, time-based controls, or other methods to restrict access to areas that safeguard key assets. 

  1. Perform Routine Security Audits 

Security audits allow businesses to have complete visibility of the people or software accessing sensitive data or cloud resources. This is especially important when data and systems are being shared by multiple users. 

Performing such audits of your network will not only inform forensic investigations in case of an attack but also help keep an eye on the activity of your third-party supply chain vendors and customers. Thus, you can ensure that all the parties involved are following appropriate security practices and controls. This will significantly reduce the system’s exposure to security inadequacies. 

Secondly, when performing the audit, it’s essential to properly identify the access points and spot the ones representing high risk. This will also help you determine whether a breach could have expansive repercussions. So, if you’ve identified an access point where a breach could lead to an inability of the business to fulfill its core mission, you can then take extra precautionary measures to protect it. 

Finally, regularly monitor third-party suppliers and take note of all the activities between your business and them. Use log activities on network devices and endpoints to suspicious activity that could be a sign of a supply chain attack. 

  1. Invest in Security Awareness 

Data from the 2020 Phishing Benchmark Global report reveals that employees in the logistics and supply chain realm feel ill-equipped to recognize threats or handle a cyberattack. This points to the significance of having a stronger security awareness training program in place. 

Businesses should make sure that all the prime stakeholders in their organizations understand how supply chain attacks work. Hence, it is important to train them on all aspects of supply chain security, including passwords, social engineering attacks, secure coding, testing practices, and critical company policies.

Here are a few ways you can boost security awareness internally. 

  • Identify high-risk employees who access or routinely need to share sensitive information. Offer them relevant training, educational materials, and phishing simulations to increase awareness of new threats. 
  • For remote employees, define BYOD security and policies that help them implement the security measures they need to follow to protect their devices. 
  • Create a repository of online training resources, such as courses, tutorials, and virtual instructor-led training to update employees on cyber threats and security best practices. 
  1. Create an Incident Response Plan 

As a proactive measure, it’s wise to establish an incident response plan for efficient response to future supply chain attacks. The plan should be formally documented with roles and responsibilities mentioned clearly. 

It also includes letting the major stakeholders and customers know when an attack has occurred, communicating the causes, and steps to be taken to mitigate the risks. The third-party vendors should also have this plan, allowing them to respond to attacks quickly. 

Creating an incident response plan will ensure that the entire team has the necessary tools and resources to act in case of an attack. 

Conclusion

Being increasingly interconnected, today’s global supply chains are heavily dependent on third-party technology partnerships, so it’s tough for businesses to manage the increasing vulnerabilities and threats. 

In this landscape, even the most security-conscious businesses are at risk of sophisticated supply chain attacks, the implications of which are wide-ranging and serious. Hopefully, the information shared in this post will help you manage this alarming business risk. 

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Lucy Manole

Lucy Manole

Lucy is a creative content writer and strategist at Marketing Digest. She specializes in writing about digital marketing, technology, entrepreneurship, and education. When she is not writing or editing, she spends time reading books, cooking, and traveling.