Any cybersecurity breach is damaging to individual companies. But when it becomes a supply chain attack, the results can be chaotic and widespread. While most businesses overlook the dangers of supply chain cyber attacks, hackers have not. Malicious actors are continuously looking for, and finding, new ways to invade company networks.

With these looming threats, companies must know how to prevent supply chain attacks and find new means of securing against cybersecurity breaches.

Let’s look at what a supply chain attack is, the different types and examples, and how to prevent your company from becoming the next victim of network security hacks.

What is a supply chain attack?

A supply chain cyber attack occurs when threat actors access your network via suppliers or third-party vendors (your digital “supply chain”). Many businesses work with various suppliers, from production materials to outsourced work. Supply chain attacks can spread quickly from your network to those connected to you, devastating thousands of companies simultaneously. It can compromise confidential data, resulting in loss of customers, reputational damage, and financial harm to your business.

In August 2021, the European Union Cybersecurity Agency (ENISA) reported that supply chain attacks might escalate 4x by the end of the year. The organization also stated that the major targets of hackers are data, people, financial assets, and a business’ internal processes.

According to a survey by The Pearson Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 9 in 10 people in the US are somewhat concerned about hacking that involves financial institutions, their personal information, and government agencies.

Types of supply chain attacks

Software supply chain attack

A software supply chain cyber attack only needs one piece of software, or a single compromised application, to bring malware into your entire supply chain. It usually targets an application’s source code, injecting their own malicious code into the system.

The SolarWinds attack was first uncovered in 2020 by the cybersecurity company FireEye. They discovered that some of their software tools had been stolen, and that hackers had gained access to their systems via SolarWind’s infrastructure monitoring and management platform, Orion.

The Kaseya attack, which took place in Miami in 2021, saw malicious code inserted into Kaseya’s Virtual System Administration (VSA) software, making it inaccessible to customers, and affecting more than one million companies worldwide.

Hardware supply chain attack

A hardware supply chain attack is dependent on accessing a network through compromised physical devices, like USBs. The compromised devices will commonly install applications or kits to allow access for the hackers on the other side of the security perimeter. Hackers will then target a network device to intrude supply chain systems, causing severe damage to the company’s entire operations.

Firmware supply chain attack

A firmware attack targets a computer’s booting code, and it takes only a second to unfold. The process is quick and simple—attackers surreptitiously load malware into your computer, and once it boots up, the malicious code is executed and jeopardizes your entire system.

Other supply chain attacks include:

  • Stolen certificates
  • Malware preinstalled on devices
  • Compromised software development tools
  • Ransomware
  • Phishing

Best practices for supply chain security

Supply chain attacks are practically inevitable, but it doesn’t mean you can’t guard your company against them. Here’s some of the best things you can do to defend network infrastructure and avoid cyber security breaches:

1. Assess your current security strategies

Different companies have different security postures. To establish a better supply chain security, you must ensure your strategies are both strong and effective. Are you always prepared to mitigate possible supply chain threats and attacks? Do your methods align with compliance requirements? Most importantly, can your supply chain adapt to the real risks of an attack occurring?

2. Invest in Security Operation Center (SOC) analysts

SOC analysts are IT professionals who will examine your company’s cybersecurity infrastructures. They’re well aware of possible threats, and the effects of cybersecurity breaches on your system. Some businesses are lucky to have this kind of expertise in-house, who can determine any problems or missing protection on their systems. But if your IT team isn’t capable of deep-examining your security measures, try seeking help from a SOC analyst.

3. Get to know your suppliers

As mentioned above, suppliers can be a direct source of malware and security issues. Hence, it’s essential to know your suppliers or partners before giving confidential information or access to your systems.

To evaluate the integrity of your suppliers, ask yourself:

  • How long have they been in the business?
  • Can they provide stock items in full amount and on time?
  • Are the suppliers solvent?

After getting to know your suppliers, audit their terms and conditions. Auditing your suppliers means looking into their security controls, security-related policies and procedures, and their ISO certification. You should also know how your suppliers would store your information and the specific people who’ll have access to your data and information.

4. Have an effective and updated software asset inventory in place

When your software assets are outdated, they become prone to malware and exploits. But when your software is updated, you can effectively track which apps and system upgrades may present security issues.

For instance, if you use a financial reporting software, your data and security processes should be up-to-date. This is crucial to not compromise finance management decisions on cash flow, profits and financial performance.

5. Conduct regular testing

Regular testing and vulnerability scans can help analyze possible supply chain security weak points. Aside from conducting penetration testing, you should also include cybersecurity as part of your company’s regular training. Not only will this lessen the dangers of supply chain attacks, but it will also help your employees understand the importance of cybersecurity in all your business operations.

6. Have strong password controls

Passwords can make or break your business. As revealed by Cybersecurity Media, there are about 300 billion passwords used by humans and machines worldwide. With the massive number of passwords being utilized by various businesses, you should make sure your passwords are unique and well-protected.

Here are some ways to have strong password controls:

  • Use a different password for each of your business accounts
  • Make sure multi-factor authentication is activated on all your company devices
  • Your passwords should be complex instead of just containing common phrases. Try mixing letters with numbers and special characters
  • Consider using password manager software or an Enterprise Password Management Platform (EPM)

But, passwords aren’t the strongest security. An attacker can steal or even guess it. If that happens, it can compromise one system and then compromise the others. That’s why it’s crucial to use a zero-trust network, a security model where networks don’t trust any device or individual without verification – even if they have been previously verified, connected, or elevated to administrator status.

7. Use an Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) system.

Malicious actors often take advantage of companies with no secured endpoints. By using an EDR system, you can prevent various types of supply chain attacks because the endpoint is protected against possible infections. The endpoint also prevents the spreading of attacks on your other distributed networks.

How? An EDR system records and monitors activities and events on all endpoints and workloads. It offers continuous visibility, so you can uncover, detect and respond to any cyberthreat in real-time.

Keep Your business secure and free from supply chain attacks

Supply chain cyber attacks are scary and hard to deal with. With just a single malware, your business can shut down in seconds. However, the severity of supply chain threats can be prevented with the right knowledge and practices. Just read this guide and choose the best solutions to keep your data and systems always secure.

Ryan LaFlamme

About Ryan LaFlamme

Ryan LaFlamme is Auvik's Content Manager. Ryan has worked as an advertising and marketing professional for 10 years, working with leading global brands in Canada and internationally.


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