How to Ensure Cyber Resilience Across the Supply Chain

Written by

In the modern age of digitization, the specter of supply chain cyber-attacks looms large, posing an imminent and insidious threat to organizations of every size and industry. Last year, supply chain attacks were responsible for 19% of all infractions, demonstrating their alarming potency. Coming to 2023, major attacks such as the infamous 3CX hack in March further cement the necessity of fortifying supply chain cybersecurity. 

So, what makes the supply chain an enticing target for attackers? The growth of cloud technologies and the adoption of digital-first strategies have made supply chains increasingly complicated and interconnected. These external entities often have varying levels of cybersecurity practices, offering cyber-criminals multiple entry points to exploit and launch their attacks.  

More recently, open-source code and third-party APIs have given attackers a new back door for software supply chain attacks. In fact, the threat is so widespread that, according to Gartner, 45% of organizations will be victims of software supply chain attacks by 2025. 

The Gravity of Supply Chain Attacks 

The intricate nature of today’s supply chain sets itself up for a domino effect, cascading through multiple organizations and industries. A successful disruption in any part of the chain can ripple throughout and impact production, delivery schedules and overall business continuity, leading to significant financial losses.  

Unfortunately, the consequences of such attacks extend far beyond financial losses. Customers, partners and shareholders place great faith in a company’s capacity to protect their data. A successful attack can shatter this trust, tarnishing the firm’s reputation and even lead to legal repercussions. The loss of intellectual property can stifle innovation and jeopardize an organization’s competitive advantage.  

Furthermore, a cyber-attack on a supply chain that includes critical infrastructure or government agencies could have national security implications. The potential disruption of vital services creates risks to public safety and the overall stability of the nation. 

Understanding the Anatomy of an Attack 

To counter and mitigate these attacks, it’s important to understand how they start. Unlike typical breaches, a supply chain hack tends to be much more sophisticated. 

Finding and concentrating on the supply chain’s weakest ties is usually how attackers start. Often, these are smaller vendors or less cybersecurity-focused partners who lack robust security measures, offering an entry point with less resistance. 

There are multiple approaches by which this first inception takes place. The most common method includes launching phishing schemes or social engineering attacks to compromise credentials. However, other cases of denial-of-service attacks and even utilizing cloud vulnerabilities are not unheard of. Once the attackers gain a foothold within a supplier’s system, they explore and exploit vulnerabilities to move laterally across the network. They may exploit unpatched software vulnerabilities, weak access controls, or misconfigured systems to escalate their privileges and further deepen their penetration. 

With access to critical data and systems, attackers have two primary objectives: exfiltrating data for theft or extortion or holding important data hostage and demanding payments in exchange for its release. 

To avoid detection, attackers carefully erase logs and mask their activities. Organizations may not be able to determine the origin or extent of an attack until it is too late. An average supply chain attack takes around 235 days (almost eight months) just to be discovered. 

Ensuring Cyber Resilience Across the Supply Chain 

Business leaders must take a proactive and multi-layered approach to cybersecurity to avoid and defend against the risks of supply chain cyber-attacks.  

The first course of action is conducting a vendor risk assessment. Prioritize cybersecurity during vendor selection processes. Conduct thorough due diligence to assess potential partners’ security practices, incident response capabilities and adherence to industry standards and regulations. A resilient supply chain emerges only when every link stands fortified in its own right. 

Given the 742% increase in software supply chain attacks between 2019 and 2022, collaborating with software vendors to enhance the security of the software supply chain is also imperative. Implement strong code signing practices, conduct secure software development lifecycle (SDLC) practices, and regularly verify the integrity of software updates. 

Knowing the most probable origin of attacks helps mitigate them effectively. Employing next-gen firewalls significantly reduces the chance of denial-of-service attacks and vulnerability scanning is the best retort to cloud or database vulnerabilities. However, most of these attacks start through phishing or social engineering hacks and security awareness is the strongest deterrent against it. 

The implementation of endpoint security and management solutions needs no advocate. Endpoint devices serve as crucial gateways to an organization’s network, making it imperative to have robust protection and real-time visibility into their activities. An ideal combination of solutions would include a unified endpoint management (UEM) solution for management and an endpoint protection platform (EPP) for security. 

Embrace the Zero Trust model. In a zero-trust architecture, all network activity is automatically regarded as a threat. Access to sensitive data and resources is only granted after every connection request meets a set of criteria. Permission is also not perpetually granted; it is constantly evaluated. Furthermore, organizations can enforce strict access controls, least privilege principles and multi-factor authentication to limit attackers’ lateral movement and restrict access to critical systems. 

Lastly, enforce continuous monitoring and proactive threat-hunting practices to detect anomalies and potential threats within the supply chain. Timely detection and response can significantly minimize the impact of an attack. Tools such as extended detection and response (EDR) solutions, security incident and event management (SIEM) solutions, and vulnerability scanning are a tremendous help in this scenario. 

Cyber-attacks on the supply chain pose a serious risk to businesses worldwide. Business leaders must understand that sustainable growth and competitive advantage depend on a robust and secure supply chain. By implementing a proactive strategy, encouraging transparent partnerships, and embracing innovative security measures, organizations can successfully defend against supply chain cyber-attacks, preserving their reputation and molding their future in an increasingly interconnected realm.

What’s hot on Infosecurity Magazine?