Supply chain attacks, also known as supply chain breaches, are cyberattacks in which an attacker targets an organisation’s supply chain to gain access to sensitive data or systems. These attacks can be particularly damaging, as they can go undetected for long periods, allowing the attacker to infiltrate multiple layers of an organisation’s systems and infrastructure.
One of the critical reasons why supply chain attacks are so effective is that they take advantage of organisations’ trust in their suppliers and partners. When an organisation relies on a third-party supplier for goods or services, it trusts that the supplier will handle sensitive data and systems with care. However, if the supplier’s systems are compromised, that trust can be exploited by attackers.
Common Supply Chain Attacks Methods
Malware injection: This involves inserting malicious code into software or hardware products supplied to the victim organisation. The malware is activated when the victim installs or uses the compromised product, allowing the attacker to access sensitive data or systems.
False update: In this attack, the attacker creates a fake update or patch for a software product used by the victim organisation. The attacker gains access to their systems when the victim installs the fake update.
Compromised third-party vendor: In this scenario, the attacker targets a third-party vendor used by the victim organisation, such as a cloud provider or software developer. The attacker can access the victim organisation’s data and systems by compromising the vendor’s systems.
Counterfeit products: This attack involves the attacker creating fake versions of hardware or software products that the victim organisation uses. The attacker gains access to their systems when the victim purchases and installs counterfeit products.
Insider attacks: Insider attacks involve an employee or contractor who has access to an organisation’s supply chain and uses that access to steal sensitive data or disrupt operations. These attacks can be challenging to detect and prevent.
Why is Supply Chain Currently Target Most For Cyberattacks
The supply chain is currently a prime target for cyberattacks for several reasons. One of the main reasons is that the supply chain is often the weakest link in an organisation’s security posture. This is because the supply chain comprises a complex network of suppliers, partners, and other third-party vendors, each of which may have different security practices and levels of protection.
Another reason the supply chain is targeted is that attackers often find it easier to access an organisation’s systems through the supply chain rather than directly. By targeting a third-party vendor or supplier, an attacker can gain access to an organisation’s systems without being detected.
In addition, the increasing reliance on technology in the supply chain has made it easier for attackers to carry out supply chain attacks. With the proliferation of connected devices and the use of software in supply chain operations, there are more points of entry for attackers to exploit.
Attackers commonly use several supply chain attacks, including malware injection, false updates, compromised third-party vendors, and counterfeit products. Each attack takes advantage of organisations’ trust in their suppliers and partners and can go undetected for long periods.
The impact of a supply chain attack can be severe, as it can allow attackers to infiltrate multiple layers of an organisation’s systems and infrastructure. This can lead to the loss of sensitive data, disruption of operations, and damage to an organisation’s reputation.
Examples of Supply Chain Attacks
There have been several high-profile examples of supply chain attacks in recent years. Some of the most notable examples include:
SolarWinds: In 2020, it was discovered that hackers had compromised the software of the IT management company SolarWinds and used it to gain access to the systems of various government agencies and private companies. This attack, believed to have been carried out by a nation-state, is considered one of the most sophisticated and wide-reaching supply chain attacks.
Target: In 2013, hackers gained access to the systems of retailer Target through a vendor that provided heating and air conditioning services. The attackers were able to steal the credit card information of 40 million customers and the personal data of 70 million customers.
Marriott: In 2018, it was discovered that hackers had been accessing the systems of the hotel chain Marriott for over four years through a subsidiary company. The attackers could steal the personal data of up to 500 million guests, including names, addresses, and passport numbers.
NotPetya: In 2017, a cyberattack known as NotPetya targeted the systems of Ukrainian company M.E.Doc and spread to other organisations through the supply chain. The attack caused widespread damage, with companies like Maersk, Merck, and FedEx reporting significant losses.
APT1: In 2013, security firm Mandiant released a report detailing the activities of a Chinese hacking group called APT1. The group was found to have compromised the systems of over 141 organisations through various supply chain attacks.
These examples demonstrate the destructive potential of supply chain attacks and the importance of implementing strong security measures and adopting secure procurement practices.
What Is Behind These Attacks
There are several motivations behind supply chain attacks, including:
Financial gain: One of the primary motivations behind supply chain attacks is financial gain. An attacker can steal valuable information such as credit card numbers, personal data, or intellectual property by gaining access to an organisation’s sensitive data or systems. This information can be sold on the black market or used to commit fraud.
Industrial espionage: In some cases, supply chain attacks are carried out to gather competitive intelligence or steal trade secrets. Nation-states or other groups often sponsor these attacks to gain a competitive advantage.
Sabotage: Supply chain attacks can also sabotage an organisation’s operations. For example, an attacker might compromise the software or hardware used in an organisation’s supply chain to disrupt production or cause damage to equipment.
Political or ideological motives: In some cases, supply chain attacks are carried out for political or ideological reasons. For example, an attacker might target an organisation’s supply chain to make a political statement or disrupt the organisation’s operations.
Attackers use several standard methods to carry out supply chain attacks, including malware injection, false updates, compromised third-party vendors, and counterfeit products. Each method takes advantage of organisations’ trust in their suppliers and partners and can be challenging to detect.
Which Industries Are The Target Groups
Supply chain attacks can impact any industry, but some industries are more likely to be targeted than others. Some of the industries that are most commonly targeted by supply chain attacks include:
Manufacturing: The manufacturing industry is a prime target for supply chain attacks due to the complex network of suppliers and partners involved in the production process. In addition, relying on software and connected devices in manufacturing operations creates additional points of entry for attackers.
Technology: The technology industry is also a common target for supply chain attacks, as it is often the source of valuable intellectual property and sensitive data. Attackers may target technology companies to steal trade secrets or gain a competitive advantage.
Healthcare: The healthcare industry is another common target for supply chain attacks, as it often holds many sensitive personal and medical data. Attackers may target healthcare organisations to steal this critical information and sell it on the black market.
Government: Government agencies and organisations are often targeted by supply chain attacks due to the sensitive nature of the information they hold. Attackers may target government organisations to steal sensitive data or disrupt operations.
Financial services: The financial services industry is also a common target for supply chain attacks, as it holds many sensitive financial data. Attackers may target financial institutions to steal credit card numbers or commit fraud.
What Can Companies Do To Prevent These Attacks
To prevent supply chain attacks, companies can take several measures, including:
Conducting thorough background checks on third-party vendors and suppliers: Before entering into a partnership or contract with a third-party vendor, it is vital to conduct thorough background checks to ensure that the vendor has strong security practices. This includes verifying the vendor’s security certifications and checking for past security incidents or breaches.
Implementing strong security measures: Companies should implement strong security measures such as encryption, access controls, and two-factor authentication to protect against supply chain attacks. This helps to ensure that sensitive data and systems are protected even if an attacker gains access.
Regularly updating software and firmware: Keeping software and firmware up-to-date is crucial for protecting against supply chain attacks. It is essential to periodically check for and install updates to ensure systems are protected against the latest threats.
Educating employees: Training employees on good security practices is critical to preventing supply chain attacks. This includes teaching employees how to spot and report suspicious emails or activities and appropriately handle sensitive data.
Implementing secure procurement practices: Companies can also protect against supply chain attacks by implementing secure procurement practices. This includes verifying the authenticity of products and software before purchasing them and ensuring that all products are properly licensed and up-to-date.
Conducting regular security assessments: These can help companies identify and address any vulnerabilities in their supply chain. These assessments should include internal and external assessments of the organisation’s systems and processes.
Establishing incident response protocols: It is also essential for companies to have incident response protocols in place if a supply chain attack occurs. These protocols should outline the steps that should be taken to contain the attack, mitigate any damage, and restore affected systems.
Working with cybersecurity experts: Finally, companies can prevent supply chain attacks by working with cybersecurity experts who have experience detecting and responding to these types of attacks. These experts can help companies implement strong security measures and develop a plan for responding to potential attacks.