The Critical Intersection of Supply Chains and Security
Digital transformation is reshaping business, and the role of technology supply chains has become more pivotal than ever. These software supply chains are the logistical frameworks and vital arteries pulsating with data, services, and dependencies crucial for business operations.
This web of interconnectivity with third-party vendors and suppliers benefits efficiency and cost-saving but also opens doors to significant business and security risks. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how severe the impacts of physical supply chain disruptions can be on businesses and people. Digital supply chains, such as IT services, SaaS applications, or cloud environments, are prone to similar disruptions.
Your digital supply chain security is imperative to your organization’s core operations. Let’s explore the various types of supply chain risk and see how they can impact business continuity and reputation and why addressing these risks is a necessity with some real-world examples of supply chain-based cybersecurity breaches.
What is Supply Chain Risk?
Third-party tools, software, and digital services are becoming increasingly essential to the operations of (more and more) businesses. That’s why stable and reliable digital supply chains have become critical for many organizations’ business continuity.
That means that disruptions at one organization due to technical issues, or more dangerously, a cyberattack, can quickly snowball into issues for other companies that have downstream business relationships with the initial organizations or that organization’s customers.
Savy threat actors are also increasingly exploiting these business relationships, using supply chain networks as pathways for malware or as cover for phishing attacks. When attackers compromise these third-party vendors, they often aim to infiltrate customer organizations by exploiting their trust and reliance on their providers.
Consider the vast number of services and platforms that modern businesses depend on. At ADS we regularly use tools from a variety of different providers that are critical for our work. Each of those providers relies on a similar number of other third party tools. These interlinking business relationships rapidly compound the attack surface for an organization and create the possibility of widespread shockwaves through multiple businesses if one organization experiences an incident.
Third-party solutions will continue to be essential for many organizations, and threat actors will continually refine their methods to exploit these relationships. Recognizing this risk is the first step in ensuring the continuity and stability of business operations. Organizations need to ensure they partner with vendors that have reliable and mature security posture and that they have policies and architecture in place to secure themselves if a vendor suffers a cyber incident.
Challenges for managing Supply Chain Risk
While recognizing the danger of supply chain risk and attempting to manage it are good first steps, the nature of businesses’ digital supply chains causes unique challenges to effective risk management.
Lack of Visibility
One of the most daunting challenges in supply chain security is the lack of visibility. Modern cybersecurity programs rely on having accurate and timely insight into their environment. This enables them to detect unusual activity and respond quickly before a possible attack can do significant damage.
This direct oversight isn’t possible with many cloud and SaaS tools, forcing security teams to take different approaches. Cyber risk quantification and external vulnerability scanning tools are standard solutions in this space to help organizations have independent security insight into their vendors. Security audits, certified standards, and questionnaires are also methods that help validate whether a vendor takes security seriously and has sufficient security to be trusted as a vital component of an organization’s tech stack.
Supply chain security is complicated by the dual responsibility shared between your organization and third-party providers. As with visibility, your organization’s control over external suppliers’ security measures is inherently limited, as each operates under its own protocols. However, you will typically have some responsibilities about ensuring access provisioning and privilege management that are essential for preventing unauthorized access.
This situation demands a strategic balance: The key to this approach is not just trust but verification and damage limitation. Verification involves setting security baselines, implementing regular audits, and transparent communication with vendors. Mature damage limitation is all about ensuring that a disruption to a vendor affects your organization as little as possible. This will be more or less possible depending on the type of service, and different solutions are appropriate in different cases. Sometimes you may want to limit access to a tool to a company VPN or gateway. Multi-factor Authentication on accounts may also limit the ability of threat actors to compromise your organization if they can steal a vendor’s user information.
The combination of limited visibility and the dual responsibility inherent in third-party collaborations significantly increases the risks of security gaps in the attack surface. These gaps often go undetected due to the complexity of the supply chain and the varying levels of security maturity among different providers.
These vulnerabilities can serve as entry points for cybercriminals, allowing them to access and compromise sensitive systems unnoticed. Closing these gaps requires a proactive approach to supply chain security, encompassing regular assessments, proactive verification, and integration of advanced security technologies.
Examples of Supply Chain Cyber Attacks
Supply Chains have been implicated in several high-profile and significant security incidents in recent years. Here are three examples of how cyber-attacks leveraged supply chain relationships to compromise their targets to demonstrate the urgency and importance of managing this risk.
One of the most high-profile cybersecurity incidents in recent years, the 2020 SolarWinds-related breach, which affected 18,000 government agencies and private organizations, is a perfect example of a supply chain-based attack.
Malicious code in SolarWind’s Orion software, a network and IT monitoring solution, allowed threat actors to infiltrate the networks of organizations using the Orion Software and, in some cases, customers of those organizations.
The breach led to extensive data theft and compelled SolarWinds customers to undergo thorough checks for potential breaches. Many had to take precautionary measures, including offline system management and extended decontamination processes.
Okta and BeyondTrust
In October 2023, BeyondTrust detected an attack targeting their in-house Okta administrator account, indicating a breach in Okta’s support system. This breach happened after a BeyondTrust administrator uploaded a HAR file to Okta’s portal while debugging an issue. From there, threat actors could access the shared file containing a session cookie and use that to attempt unauthorized actions within BeyondTrust’s environment.
While BeyondTrust had security measures that blocked the attacker from gaining access to their systems, Okta determined that the attack was enabled by threat actors gaining unauthorized access to their database of Support System Users, potentially impacting a wide range of their customer base.
This incident underscores a significant supply chain vulnerability: a security lapse in a vendor’s system can lead to potential threats in client networks. It highlights the need for robust security protocols and continuous monitoring to limit the damage of possible breaches in a supplier’s environment.
Kaseya Ransomware Attacks
The attack exploited a vulnerability in Kaseya’s VSA software, a remote monitoring and management tool widely used by managed service providers (MSPs). Threat actors used this vulnerability to target the customers of MSPs using the Kaseya software in ransomware attacks, affecting over 1,000 companies. The responsible threat actors demanded a combined $70 million ransom from affected companies to decrypt the affected data.
This incident highlights how the knock on effects of Supply Chain vulnerabilities quickly spread. While the affected customers had no direct business relationships with Kaseya, they were still directly affected by vulnerabilities because their vendors used Kaseya software.
Securing Your Supply Chain is Securing Your Business
In today’s digital age, where interconnected supply chains form the backbone of business operations, their security is a necessity and a strategic imperative. As highlighted in this blog, the complexities and vulnerabilities within supply chains underscore the critical need for robust, proactive security measures. A breach in any part of the supply chain can have cascading effects, jeopardizing not just data but the very continuity of business operations.
At Atlantic Data Security, we understand the intricacies of supply chain risks and specialize in crafting tailored security solutions that fortify your supply chain against emerging threats. We encourage businesses to reassess their supply chain security strategies and consider partnering with experts like us. For comprehensive guidance and advanced solutions in securing your supply chain, contact ADS. Let us help you transform your supply chain into a bastion of security and resilience.