Business, Code, Tech

What Is Supply Chain Security and Why It Affects Everyone

What Is Supply Chain Security? 

Supply chain security helps manage the risks introduced by external vendors, suppliers, transportation, and logistics. It involves identifying, analyzing, and mitigating all risks inherent in working with other entities as part of a supply chain. Supply chain security typically covers physical and software-based security related to products.

Supply chains vary greatly between entities and may involve various organizations. As a result, you cannot find one framework that mandates supply chain security guidelines and best practices across all supply chains. 

Each organization should design a supply chain security strategy that follows risk management principles and in-depth cyber defense, accounting for government standards, such as those set by the Department of Homeland Security, or industry regulations for international supply chains.

Why Software Supply Chain Attacks Are Becoming More Common 

Supply chain attacks are becoming less sophisticated – which means more risk for businesses

The software supply chain is anything and everything that touches an application or plays a role, in any way, throughout the entire software development and deployment life cycle (SDLC). 

The increasing prevalence of supply chain attacks is due to the following reasons.

Economy of scale 

Attackers usually act like for-profit businesses looking for a high ROI while keeping operational costs low. Attacking the software supply chain allows hackers to scale their attack campaign.

For example, a hacker can target one organization to gain a foothold and then exploit it to compromise many other organizations with minimal effort. Attackers often use automation to simultaneously compromise multiple targets, execute fast attacks, and decrease the likelihood of human intervention. 

Difficult to detect

Compromised supply chains often yield continuous benefits to an attacker while the attack remains undetected. The complexity of a software supply chain attack makes it harder to detect than an attack on a single system or organization. 

Attackers often add backdoors to legitimate products to exploit trust and bypass security controls. Organizations usually consider legitimate software trustworthy and fail to scrutinize it, ignoring or overlooking potentially malicious behavior in the software. 

Traditional security controls and monitoring solutions struggle to identify supply chain attacks because they focus on known vulnerabilities in open source components or flaws in proprietary code. Many organizations lack access to the source code and build artifacts required to test their applications and cover the entire supply chain, limiting their ability to detect threats. 

Flexible malware patterns

A common way for supply chain attacks to avoid detection is to change their shape to obfuscate their trail. Sophisticated malware can modify its behavior to prevent evidence like consistent malicious behavioral patterns. Identifying a supply chain attack often involves aggregating different artifacts and activities. These ostensibly unrelated actions throughout the supply can combine to breach the system, exfiltrate data, and drop packages.

How Supply Chain Security Affects Your Business

How to Fight Tomorrow’s Novel Software Supply Chain Attacks

Your business should prioritize supply chain issues over other security concerns because a compromise in a supply chain system could disrupt your operations. Vulnerabilities in the supply chain can result in inefficient delivery, intellectual property (IP) loss, and additional costs. Another consequence to consider is the lawsuits you might face if the products you deliver are faulty or lack sufficient approval. 

Protecting the supply chain from physical to digital threats is possible using a security management system. While it’s impossible to eliminate threats, supply chain security helps ensure a more secure and efficient flow of products, allowing your business to recover quickly from disruptions.

The security of every partner and supplier directly impacts your organization. Approximately two-thirds of supply chain attacks exploit the business’s trust in its suppliers. If an attacker compromises payment information, your customer data is at risk. Suppliers and third-party organizations must protect consumer data, a popular cyberattack target.

Cybersecurity involves more than installing antivirus software on corporate computers – it’s important to implement security measures at all supply chain stages. Businesses should treat virtual crime as seriously as they do physical security.

How to Ensure Supply Chain Security 

A New Linux Tool Aims to Guard Against Supply Chain Attacks

Using Automated Security Testing Tools

Automated testing tools can help strengthen software supply chain security. Here are popular tools to consider:

  • Software composition analysis (SCA)—automatically identifies known vulnerabilities in open source code and provides remediation guidance. SCA tools create an inventory of open source components and the associated licensing to enable modern development pipelines to incorporate open source components securely.
  • Static application security testing (SAST)—development teams implement SAST tools early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) to find issues in proprietary code at rest. The goal is to gain feedback and remediate early in the SDLC when it is faster, easier, and chapter to fix security issues.
  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST)—Unlike SCA and SAST tools that test code at rest, DAST tools analyze running applications. A DAST tool can find exploitable errors, such as operating system injections, SQL injections, and cross-site scripting (XSS). DAST tools test a running application using bad inputs to check the application’s behavior and do not have a language dependency.

Conduct Asset and Access Inventories

Effective security relies on visibility. Conducting asset and access inventories provides visibility into an organization’s cyber assets and third-party access. By locating these connections, organizations can learn where they are vulnerable and strengthen their security to protect against supply chain vulnerabilities. 

It typically involves continuously updating the asset inventory and recording specifications across software and hardware, updates, patches, and associated traffic patterns. This information is critical to determine specific mitigation tactics to secure IT environments, endpoints, and remote work connections.

Supply chain security also requires inventorying access to identify and track all vendors and other third parties with access to the organization’s data and assets. Failure the identify and track these parties creates critical blind spots in security and threat measurement. An accurate inventory can help manage access according to clear temporary and finite parameters.

Beware of Dependency Confusion Attacks

Hacker Lexicon: What Is a Supply Chain Attack?

Modern software development involves using multiple open source components to minimize the effort spent writing code from scratch. This practice significantly speeds up development but introduces supply chain risks. 

Since dependencies have dependencies, the chain of trust can stretch, creating a complex web of dependencies that is very difficult to track and manage. This issue has turned into a threat category commonly known as dependency confusion attacks or dependency chain–of-trust abuse. 

What is a dependency confusion attack?

This attack occurs when a threat actor identifies internal-looking dependencies in a repository’s Software Bill of Materials (SBoM). The actor creates a malicious package using the same name that can be placed on a default public registry, where it can be unwittingly pushed into projects. Next, the threat actor employs a fail-open behavior management system to find these dependencies. When these issues occur, the actor covertly plants the malicious code. 

Since this attack occurs covertly, it leaves many victims unaware. Mitigating this issue requires implementing an employee training program that teaches personnel to recognize these attacks, designating specific registry sources in the BoM, and scanning for dependency name leakages.

Elevate Third-party Risk Management

Here are several ways to help extend risk management strategies and tactics across third parties:

Add security policies into vendor contracts  

Creating a cultural baseline for inter-organizational security collaboration can help align all parties around the same security standard. It enables organizations to set specific parameters around data lifecycle management for third parties to comply with, implement assessment requirements, and configure notifications.

Validate your vendors’ security posture 

Requiring vendors to verify their security posture can help ensure they maintain the same level of security continuously. Organizations can ask vendors to conduct penetration testing, determine security ratings, and comply with frameworks like the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification or GDPR.

Conduct constant risk assessments 

Incorporating questionnaires, inspections, and simulations can help test the incident response capabilities of third parties allowed to gain access to your organization’s assets. Regular risk assessments can help ensure third parties meet your security standards and do not expose your organization to unnecessary risks.


In this article, I explained the basics of supply chain security and how to secure it:

  • Using automated security testing tools—automated testing tools can help strengthen software supply chain security.
  • Conduct asset and access inventories—conducting asset and access inventories provides visibility into an organization’s cyber assets and third-party access.
  • Beware of dependency confusion attacks—modern software development involves using multiple open source components. This practice significantly speeds up development but introduces supply chain risks. 
  • Elevate third-party risk management—organizations need to extend risk management strategies and tactics across third parties.

I hope this will be useful as you design your supply chain security strategy.

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