A couple of decades ago, an attack on a supply chain only included physical threats like theft or sabotage. In fact, in those days, mentioning cybersecurity and supply chains together was unheard of. However, in today’s interconnected world, while conventional supply chain threats are still a concern, an increasing number of digital threats intimidate the supply chain on the software front.
The threat landscape today is vast, unpredictable and ever-changing. And adding an increased usage of third-party vendors, open-source codes, and susceptible interns broadens it more so. Just one successful cyberattack on a supply chain could severely affect an organization’s operations, disrupt relationships with business partners, and cause considerable financial losses. Businesses may also have to face the ramifications of losing clients and partners due to a tarnished image.
Ergo, the consequences of such attacks are dire indeed, and organizations are aware of it. They’re pouring more resources into their cybersecurity architectures and putting resources into employee cyber training. So, in the aftermath of such attacks – who is to blame?
The vulnerable links in an expanding threat landscape
Humans are unpredictable and inconsistent, which causes problems when security relies on predictions and consistency. Having less training and experience in cybersecurity practices, many company interns are more prone to falling for phishing scams, social engineering schemes, and unintended mistakes. However, it’s important to remember that interns are not solely to blame for supply chain attacks. Blaming them without addressing the broader systemic issues would be an oversimplification of a complex problem.
Another major accomplice of supply chain attacks is the involvement of third parties. Third-party businesses can serve as a conduit for cyberattacks in several ways. For example, third-party providers could have access to private information like client or financial data. This information may be at risk if that third-party provider is breached. Some contractors also lack a comparable level of protection as the companies they do business with. Third-party providers could easily create a backdoor that organizations aren’t expecting.
On the software supply chain front, a staggering 96% of companies leverage third-party codes in some capacity. Although it is the foundation of contemporary software development, open-source software is also the weakest link in the software supply chain. In fact, open-source codes are so intertwined with modern development that many organizations are unaware of the open-source components in their solutions. As such, if you are unaware of the dependencies in your system, a vulnerability in any one of them can have an impact on your software, leaving you open to a possible security breach.
A shared model of responsibility
A more efficient approach here is to create a shared accountability model as opposed to blaming interns or third-party dependencies. Each partner in the software supply chain must understand their role in maintaining the security of the process. Transitioning from a blame-game to a proactive stance allows organizations to implement a well-defined, adaptable, and optimized strategy that helps mitigate risks and protect the supply chain.
Developing this type of strategy is more difficult than it seems. When considering a security strategy, phishing schemes, malware infections, data breaches, and ransomware are just some of the major incidents that can affect the supply chain. By adopting the right set of practices and tools, organizations can safeguard their supply chains and foster a more secure and resilient digital ecosystem.
Essential techniques to enhance supply chain security
1. Implement continuous monitoring
Many businesses aren’t even aware of the full scope of their dependency tree, much less the precise parts they rely on. The software supply chain has a sizable blind area because of this lack of awareness, which also poses risks that are hard to assess and control. It is therefore essential to put in place a thorough monitoring system to find potential dangers inside the software supply chain. Organizations can’t simply implement a system and then forget about it—monitoring is a continuous responsibility. Vulnerabilities can only be patched after they’re found. Intrusion detection systems, network monitoring tools, and threat intelligence platforms are useful tools to quickly identify and mitigate risks and vulnerabilities.
2. Embrace secure development practices
Throughout the whole lifespan of software development, organizations need to be following secure development practices. This means using safe coding frameworks, putting vulnerability assessments into practice, and creating code review procedures.
3. Institute an architecture of zero trust
In a zero-trust architecture, every network activity is automatically assumed to be a threat. Access to sensitive data and resources is only granted once each connection request has met a certain set of requirements. Authorization is continually assessed, and permission is not granted indefinitely. Typically, when an attack occurs and the network is breached, the first action attackers focus on is to move laterally through the network – promoting this style of privileged access can help mitigate this movement and reduce the damage in case of such a breach.
Building this type of architecture would require a collective effort of visibility, identification, authorization, and encryption. Identity and access management (IAM), Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA), and Data Loss Prevention (DLP) solutions along with good endpoint security and management solutions are some of the best tools for promoting such an architecture.
4. Establish robust security and governance protocols
Using open-source code is an integral part of modern software; however, considering the risks brought by such third-party dependencies, organizations must use strong governance policies of their use. The selection, approval, and monitoring procedures for the usage of open-source components in the program should be outlined in this policy. It should also provide instructions for assessing the reliability and security of open-source assets and how to fix risks when they are found.
Furthermore, all third-party providers must also follow strict security measures. This includes rules for safeguarding data, access management, and responding to incidents. When choosing a provider, make sure that they are using strong firewalls, secure passwords, encrypted data, and multi-factor authentication.
5. Manage and secure remote endpoints
As supply chain organizations grow, their need for mobile devices grows. The proliferation of equipment such as smart barcode readers, rugged devices, and so on means that remote endpoints are used at every stop on the chain. Even the software supply chain is on the remote work bandwagon with more people working from home. When it comes to endpoints, device management tools like Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) solutions offer many capabilities to secure and manage devices.
A SaaS system like a UEM can monitor every endpoint in its arsenal, including mobile devices across the chain. With the visibility and access gained, admins would be able to remotely manage all endpoints including rugged devices, mobile devices, desktops and IoT devices. The remote capabilities of a UEM range from providing insights into the location and state of their devices to pushing applications and updates or patches irrespective of the location of the device. Additionally, admins can remotely troubleshoot any of their monitored endpoints and even lock or wipe the device should the situation demand it.
6. Strengthen security awareness
For organizations to adopt a security-conscious culture, it’s essential to invest in thorough security awareness programs. Frequent training sessions, phishing simulations, and awareness campaigns help inform staff members and interns about potential hazards and appropriate practices.
The most common mistake businesses make when trying to educate workers about cyber threats involves failing to consider how busy individuals learn. Employees must be kept interested in learning about the most recent cyber threats through appealing narrative-driven content, making use of powerful learning strategies like gamification. Providing them with succinct (but regular) episodes and activities is a much more reliable and productive form of learning.
Blaming a single entity, such as an intern or a third-party dependence, for software supply chain assaults oversimplifies a complicated issue. The game of culpability draws attention away from the structural problems that require collective attention. Instead, organizations should work to establish strong protocols for development and the use of open-source codes, embrace a zero-trust architecture, strengthen their security awareness, and keep a system of continuous monitoring.
According to Gartner, Inc., 60% of supply chain organizations would consider cybersecurity risk as a key factor in deciding whether to perform third-party transactions and commercial engagements by 2025. Enhanced cybersecurity is an issue that Chief Supply Chain Officers will strive to scale as the surface area of digital supply chains grows.