Supply Chain Attacks and How to Avoid Them?
Supply chain attacks remain a major concern in the cybersecurity domain, requiring vigilant procedures from organizations that want to protect their digital assets and operations. Causing significant disruptions to key daily-life operations, supply chain attacks can result in irreversible damage to your company’s trust, reputation and stakeholders.
The associated costs of businesses dealing with supply chain attacks are simply staggering. According to a study by Juniper Research, in 2023, global businesses were expected to sustain almost $46 billion in costs from software supply chain attacks. The average cost of cyber attacks on supply chains currently stands at $4.35 million per incident.
In this article, Bocasay, our offshore IT agency based in Vietnam, provides all you need to know about supply chain attacks and shares an overview of how to avoid them.
What is a Supply Chain Attack?
A supply chain attack, also known as a third-party or value-chain attack, is a type of cyberattack that targets an organization by compromising the security of a supplier or partner in its supply chain. These attacks are a means for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to the target organization’s systems or data, often with the goal of stealing sensitive information, disrupting operations, or launching further attacks.
Key Stages of a Supply Chain Attack
Typical stages of a supply chain attack include the following stages:
Identifying Weak Links
Attackers will often begin by identifying vulnerabilities or weak points within the target organization’s supply chain. These can include suppliers, subcontractors, or service providers that have established trusted access to the target’s systems or networks.
Compromising a Third Party
The next focus for cybercriminals attackers is to ultimately compromise the security of one of these third-party entities. This can involve exploiting vulnerabilities in their software, infiltrating their network, or even conducting social engineering attacks to gain access.
Once gaining access to the compromised third party, the attackers are able to exploit the trust relationship between that entity and the target organization. They may use this access to move laterally within the target’s network or to launch attacks against the target.
Cybercriminals can pursue various objectives that can include stealing sensitive data (e.g., customer data, intellectual property), disrupting operations, installing malware, or establishing persistent access for future attacks and exploitation.
Case Studies of Supply Chain Attacks
According to a 2022 report by Sonatype, the overall number of supply chain attacks involving malicious third-party components had increased 633% over the previous years, totalling over 88,000 known cases. With supply chain attacks becoming increasingly common in recent years, here are two indicative case studies:
In May of 2021, Colonial Pipeline, a US oil pipeline located in Houston, sustained a ransomware cyber attack which disrupted the computer systems that managed gasoline and jet fuel distribution throughout the southeastern United States.
Within several hours from the attack, the cybercriminal group responsible, later identified as DarkSide by the FBI, had requested a $4.4 million payment from the Colonial Pipeline Company in order to restore the computer system’s operation.
Over a period of four days, the pipeline shutdown caused panic buying and major fuel shortages at gas stations across five states. The incident constituted the largest cyberattack on an oil infrastructure target throughout the history of the U.S.
Investigations conducted in the aftermath of the corporate cyber attack revealed that the initial vulnerability was the personal password of a breached company employee that was found by the cybercriminals on the dark web.
Discovered in December of 2020, the SolarWinds supply chain attack was a highly sophisticated and widespread cyberattack that targeted organizations worldwide, including government agencies, corporations and other major organizations.
Exploiting the build process of SolarWind’s software updates, the attack ultimately compromised the SolarWinds Orion platform, a widely used network management and monitoring software. Subsequently, SolarWinds unknowingly distributed these compromised software updates to its customers.
Cybersecurity researchers and government agencies eventually discovered the attack. Based on the specific tactics, techniques and procedures used in the attack, it was attributed to a Russian state-sponsored hacking group known as APT29 (Cozy Bear). Despite the attribution, the attack’s ultimate goals and beneficiaries remained somewhat unclear
The SolarWinds supply chain attack was significant not only due to its scale, but also because of the potential access it gave the attackers to sensitive information across a wide range of organizations. It highlighted the vulnerability of supply chains and the need for enhanced security measures, including supply chain security assessments and threat detection mechanisms.
How to Defend your Organization Against Supply Chain Attacks?
Defending your organization against supply chain attacks requires a comprehensive approach that focuses on identifying vulnerabilities, implementing security measures and continuously monitoring and adapting your defenses. Here are some key steps you can take in order to enhance your organization’s defense against supply chain attacks:
- Assess and Monitor Suppliers: Regularly evaluate the cybersecurity practices and policies regarding data handling, network security and incident response plans of all of your company’s suppliers and third-party partners.
- Implement Strong Security Practices: Ensure that suppliers follow robust security protocols, including regular software updates, employee training sessions, patching systems promptly and monitoring for any suspicious activity.
- Segment Networks: By deploying techniques like network segmentation, you should essentially limit the access that third parties and other partners have to sensitive parts of your company’s network. This can help contain breaches and reduce the risk of lateral movement by attackers.
- Stay Informed: Always keep up with the latest cybersecurity news and trends, especially those related to supply chain threats, in order to adapt security measures accordingly. Provide regular security training to employees and partners, emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity best practices and vigilance.
- Incident Response Plans: Meticulously develop and regularly test specific incident response plans in order to respond quickly and effectively if a supply chain breach occurs. Establish clear channels for reporting and sharing information about supply chain security incidents with relevant authorities and industry groups.
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