September 5, 2023

Supply chain security is a subset of supply chain management that addresses the threats posed by external suppliers, vendors, resellers, logistics, and transportation. These include physical attacks and cyber attacks that target third parties, which are perceived to have weaker defenses than target organizations. 

How does supply chain security work?

Risk management is an important part of supply chain security as it helps identify, analyze, and mitigate the potential impact of incidents. Technology and physical security controls are also foundational components of supply chain security. 

Cybersecurity in the supply chain is a subset of supply chain security. It includes the IT systems, software, and networks that are used and the associated management controls.  

Supply chain security solutions are optimized to address a range of vulnerabilities and threats that target supply chains.

How are supply chains secured?

    In addition to IT security solutions and processes, the following should be used with a focus on supply chain security. 

    Attack surface monitoring

    Attack surface monitoring helps identify third-party security risks, including supply chain security vulnerabilities across cloud solutions throughout third- and fourth-party networks. 

    Data encryption

    Strong encryption should be used to protect data at all times—at rest regardless of where it resides and in transit, no matter how it is transferred.   

      Identity and access management

      Robust access controls should follow the principle of least privilege. Supply chain security protocols should dictate that no user has access beyond what is minimally required to perform their duties. 

        Network segmentation

        Networks should be logically divided based on purpose and trust level to isolate sensitive information and prevent lateral movement across networks. 

        Penetration testing 

        Supply chain security systems and processes should be regularly subjected to penetration testing—automated and human-administered. This should include applications, IT infrastructure, and people (e.g., with simulated phishing attacks) as well as threat response tactics.   

        Software composition analysis (SCA)

        SCA tools are used to gain visibility into applications’ code and monitor for supply chain security vulnerabilities or potential backdoors. 

        Security audits

        Ongoing audits are performed to assess supply chain security and identify vulnerabilities. These can be a combination of self-guided audits and on-site audits.    

        Vulnerability scanning

        Vulnerability scanners are used to uncover known and unknown vulnerabilities. Performing vulnerability scans on a regular basis helps expedite threat detection and response and minimize supply chain security risks. 

        What is global supply chain security?

        Global supply chain security is an extrapolation of supply chain security that takes into consideration the unique and complex challenges of international trade. Trade outside the borders of the United States is prone to increased risks associated with natural hazards, geo-political threats, accidents, and malicious digital and physical incidents that can threaten security and disrupt operations.   

        Supply chain security challenges

          Organizations of all sizes are at risk for supply chain security breaches. Challenges that can lead to these security issues include the following. 

          Dormant backdoors

          To evade detection by supply chain security systems, cybercriminals often implant backdoors during a malware attack and leave them for future use. Security teams are distracted by the attack and do not notice the backdoor, which is exploited at a future date. 

          Flaws in application code

          Applications pose a risk to supply chain security. With applications increasingly being created using many third-party components, developers rarely have complete visibility into all of the code. Attackers routinely exploit vulnerabilities buried deep in an application to compromise security and gain unauthorized access to systems and networks. 

          Lack of visibility over third parties

          Without proper controls, organizations are unable to see how third parties manage their IT resources. This creates significant risks, because even the best supply chain security solutions cannot protect what they cannot see. 

          Overprovisioning of third-party access rights

          A common weakness in supply chain security is caused by the granting of excessive access rights to third parties. Organizations frequently provide third parties access to systems, but often overextend those privileges and fail to retract access privileges when they are no longer required.   

          Partners with breached supply chain security

          Supply chain security is only as strong as its weakest link. It only takes one partner to have a breach to put all others at risk. Once compromised, even a very small partner can provide a point of entry for cybercriminals to gain entry into other partners’ environments. 

          Poor data protection practices 

          Sensitive data can be exposed when organizations fail to securely use, store, and protect data systems and processes. If supply chain security is not extended to all sensitive data, it is at risk of being compromised. 

          Supply chain security best practices

          Create a test lab

          Use a test lab to uncover hidden hardware and software vulnerabilities. 

          Develop and maintain a threat response plan

          Be prepared to take swift and effective action in the event of a supply chain security incident. Work with a cross-organization team to develop a threat response plan that takes into account all areas of supply chains, including all third and fourth parties. This plan should detail specific actions that should be taken, the order in which they should be taken, and what teams and individuals are responsible for each function. 

          Implement DevSecOps

          Integrate DevSecOps best practices into all areas of development to optimize supply chain security. Prioritizing security and addressing potential issues early in the development lifecycle improves security in applications before they are released into production, where they will be targeted for compromise.   

          Engage in threat hunting

          Proactively search for unknown vulnerabilities and identify supply chain attacks that have resulted in unauthorized access to systems. 

          Prioritize third-party risk management

          Make third-party risk management a priority with resources focused on supply chain security risks. This should include ongoing monitoring and analysis of the risks that can arise from relationships with third-party providers, such as vendors, suppliers, contractors, and other business partners. 

          Use blockchain

          Blockchain systems drive rust, transparency, and provenance into supply chains. Using blockchain supports supply chain security and reduces fraud by guaranteeing authenticity. 

          Remember supply chain security nuances

          Supply chain security, as a complement to overall security, should be included in the list of high priorities for the enterprise. The ripple effects of failures in supply chain security cannot be overstated—from operational disruptions and revenue losses to reputational damage and adulterated products.  

          The inherent fragility of security across sprawling supply chains demands attention and purpose-built solutions that take into account the nuances of complex security requirements. And, it delivers results. Resources dedicated to supply chain security deliver an exponential return on investment, with compromises avoided and overall security enhanced.  

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