Rise of Supply Chain Cyber Attacks: Understanding and Preventing the Threat

Cyber Security, Newsletter

As the digital landscape evolves, so too do the threats that loom within it. Cyber Security measures are ever-improving, but in the cat-and-mouse game of the online world, hackers often still manage to gain the upper hand. The latest strategy in their arsenal? Supply chain attacks. These insidious assaults target the weakest links in an organisation’s supply chain, providing a backdoor into the corporate network.

What is a Supply Chain Attack?

A supply chain attack is a type of cyber attack that targets companies by exploiting vulnerabilities within their supply chain. This chain can include everything from third-party software to hardware, services, and suppliers, vendors and even customers. In an increasingly interconnected world, you may feel that your business may be safeguarded with robust security, but if a third party in your supply chain has lacks the right cyber security practices, they could become an inviting target for malicious actors. Once the attacker infiltrates the third party’s network, they can attempt to launch attacks on others within that business’s supply chain.

The mechanics of a supply chain attack are centred around exploiting trusted relationships between a company and its external partners. These partnerships can range from vendor relationships to the use of third-party software. The threat actor selects a target, identifies a vulnerability within the target’s supply chain, and exploits it. This has recently been seen in the global 3CX security breach that targeted third parties in order to gain access to 3CX and launch an attack that had global implication. This exploitation can involve installing malware on an employee’s computer within the supply chain, or employing phishing tactics to trick employees into divulging sensitive information. In some cases, threat actors may alter source code and hide malware in popular third-party software, infecting devices when the software is installed or updated.

The rise in supply chain attacks can be attributed to several key factors. Many companies now utilise open-source software that can be inspected or modified by anyone, increasing supply chain risks. The sophistication of malware is continuously improving, making detection within a supply chain increasingly challenging. Furthermore, many companies have yet to adopt tools such as Endpoint Detection & Response, Advanced Email Threat Detection, Multi-Factor Authentication, a Zero-Trust model, and much more. As such human errors are inevitable. In a world where sophisticated social engineering campaigns are becoming the norm, users can be tricked into sharing login credentials, downloading malicious files, and much more, providing hackers with a foothold within the supply chain.

So, how can companies protect themselves against supply chain attacks? The complexity of the supply chain, a lack of visibility, and the sophistication of attack techniques can make this a daunting task. However, there are several strategies that can significantly enhance your security posture.

Firstly, conduct due diligence on your vendors. This should include an assessment of their security practices, compliance with industry standards such as Cyber Essentials or Cyber Essentials Plus, past track records, and commitment to security updates and patches. Implementing a zero-trust security architecture can also be a robust control measure. This model operates on the principle of “never trust, always verify”, requiring all users to be authenticated, authorised, and continuously validated for security configuration.

Furthermore, adopt a least privilege access policy to limit the potential damage a threat actor can inflict such as “Privileged Access Management”. Network segmentation can also minimise the impact of supply chain attacks by dividing your network into smaller, independent segments. Monitoring third-party attack surfaces, minimising shadow IT threats, investing in cyber security tools, and educating your staff and vendors about cyber threats are also crucial steps. This education should include information about different types of cyber attacks, how to identify and report suspicious activities, and the importance of secure password practices.

In an increasingly digital world, supply chain attacks pose severe threats to organisations. These attacks can lead to ransomware installations, data breaches, and irreparable damage to a company’s reputation. Therefore, it is crucial for businesses to take the necessary steps to prevent these attacks and enhance their security posture through effective third-party risk management.

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