5 Common Risks for Supply Chain Cyber Attacks and What to Do About Them

Eran Orzel
Sep 19 · 7 min read

The year 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, was an opportunity for hackers to create major upheaval. As the world dealt with a new way of living, the tech world dealt with one of the biggest cybersecurity breaches of the 21st century. The cyberattack on SolarWinds activated a huge supply chain incident that affected thousands of establishments, including the US Government. 

Although supply chain attacks have been around for decades, they have increased exponentially in the past 10 years. Keep reading to learn what a supply chain attack is, the attack types to watch for, and the five common risks for supply chain cyberattacks.

What is a supply chain cyberattack

A supply chain cyberattack refers to when a malicious actor infiltrates an organization through vulnerabilities in the supply chain to infect their clients. Third-party vendors who have access to the organization’s systems and data expose these vulnerabilities through poor security practices in their operations. 

With just one well-placed intrusion, such attacks cause monumental damage once they gain access to hundreds or even thousands of networks. When a supplier is compromised, their entire distribution network faces jeopardy from the attack, so that even software purchases or updates can be used as a means of deception. 

Supply chain cyberattacks extend from large corporations to small and medium-sized businesses, which rarely come under the radar of cybercriminals. Typically, anyone that uses software from an infected vendor gets swept up in the attack. These attacks piggyback legitimate processes to access a business’s computer network and succeed through software updates

Types of supply chain cyberattacks

In every process and at each point in the supply chain network, companies strive toward complete automation. However, the high complexity and low security of these processes increase the risk of various types of cyberattacks from different sources. 

One part of the supply chain that’s most vulnerable to a cyberattack is open-source software projects because of multiple insecure elements. Attackers deliberately breach open-source software to compromise the development process at any level. Often, third-party elements in custom-developed software are open sourced, making them more vulnerable. Because the data required to infiltrate it is public, hackers find it easy to hijack such systems.

Compromised applications, networks, and systems give hackers in countries like China and Russia an open door to hack into them. Let’s look at some of these types of supply chain cyberattacks.  

Data leaks

Data leaks refer to sensitive data that’s exposed outside of an organization into an untrusted environment. In 2013, one of the largest data leaks in the retail industry happened to US retailer Target Corp. Hackers infiltrated a third-party vendor Fazio Mechanical Services—their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) supplier—with malicious code to steal customer credit card data. This breach resulted in hackers stealing 40 million credit and debit cards details and Target settling about $18 million in claims.

Security breaches

A security breach occurs when a hacker gets unauthorized access to an operating system, network, computer, applications, or devices by bypassing security mechanisms. It usually leads to tampering with the system data by deletion, corruption, or replication. Essentially, it’s a break-in. In 2018, Facebook experienced a security breach when hackers gained the access tokens of 30 million Facebook users.

Malware attack

A malware attack occurs when malicious software (malware) runs unauthorized actions on a system. This type of attack is usually carried out to exfiltrate sensitive information, disrupt operations, or demand a payment. Malware can occur as one of three types:

  • Trojan horse, which gains access through a back door
  • Worm, which propagates itself into other systems
  • Virus, which can infect a system

In just the first half of 2021, several companies have already experienced some mighty hefty demands from malware attacks.


Phishing is based on fraudulent messages disguised by popular brand names to trick humans into taking actions that force them to reveal private, personal information such as user IDs, passwords, and account details. These messages can come as emails, text or SMS messages, and voice messages. No one is immune to phishing—not even some of the biggest tech. companies—as human error is the biggest cause of all phishing attacks.

5 common risks for supply chain cyberattacks

Let’s look at five common risks your supply chain needs to prepare for to avoid a cyberattack. Keep each of these in mind as you build security into your own supply chain.

1. Use of unverified or disreputable suppliers

For some companies, protecting their supply chain is as simple as requiring suppliers to sign off on a checklist. They base their vendor relationship—and relationship with their vendors’ vendors—on a game of trust. Without vetting their supply chain, companies take on enormous risk with this game of trust because these vendors will have access to all the information systems of the company.

To avoid taking a gamble on your suppliers, choose reputable companies that you can vet and verify their business practices. Confirm they have protections in place to secure their systems and data, including how they are accessed and used. Your vendors must be both transparent and trustworthy. 

2. Lack of cybersecurity awareness training for employees

A company’s employees are the first line of defense against a cyberattack. When employees don’t have regular access to effective cybersecurity awareness training, they are vulnerable to an attack and unprepared to know how to handle it. 

Starting with your own company, make sure employees at all levels receive regular cybersecurity awareness training so they know how to deal with sensitive data and recognize a potential attack. Equip your supply chain management team with knowledge to recognize common cyber threats. Also, ensure your suppliers give their employees regular cybersecurity awareness training to keep more protective eyes on your supply chain. 

3. No risk-level assessment

Risk-level assessment applies to the security measures your company and vendors take to ensure your software is not prone to vulnerabilities. Without conducting regular risk-level assessments, you and your vendors greatly increase your chances of an attack at any time. 

Make sure your company has a strong and resistant defense system in place that includes regular security testing and vulnerability assessments. For each area that you assess, verify that a corresponding cybersecurity measure is in place to protect it. 

Third-party vendors often introduce new code or software into your own trusted network. Therefore, confirm that your vendors thoroughly test and re-test any code they introduce into your network. 

4. Weak supply chain risk management

Most companies don’t have a proper team in place that’s dedicated solely to protecting the supply chain. Even if some of them do, these teams are both under-staffed and under-funded. Having a dedicated supply chain risk management team in place requires commitment and cooperation from all areas of an organization. 

Create a supply chain risk management team to take on the following responsibilities:

  • Analyze your current vendors and set a baseline. 
  • Critically analyze the vulnerability of the supply chain to determine which level is the weakest and could serve as an entry point for a malicious attack. 
  • Plan for all threat scenarios and their impact on the organization. 
  • Gather and analyze all findings to determine the organization’s risk for a cyberattack and prepare a plan of action to respond to that risk.

5. No end-to-end software supply chain security

A continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) DevOps pipeline is an extensive supply chain system that’s at risk for infiltration on many levels for its complexity. Even a small compromise can lead to major damage. Therefore, end-to-end supply chain security is paramount to ensure your organization’s complete control over code security, quality, and visibility

Make sure your software supply chain protects the integrity of your software through the entire DevOps pipeline—from code to cloud. This solution offers the following advantages:

  • Gives your company complete control over your DevOps pipeline so you can identify and block software supply chain attacks.
  • Helps eliminate various supply chain risks from vulnerabilities, misconfiguration, or insecure elements in the CI/CD pipeline, so you can control the quality of your software before you release it.
  • Monitors the entire development process to prevent source-code tampering or manipulation, giving you visibility over the entire CI/CD process to ensure nothing is compromised.

When choosing an integrity solution for your CI/CD pipeline, look for these characteristics:

  • Impact-less installation that doesn’t interfere with the development process or tamper with any related tools
  • One-click deployment that’s easy, efficient, and hassle-free
  • Secure built-in integration tools that work seamlessly with the existing tools

Protect your supply chain at the source

Supply chain cyberattacks are here to stay. Protect your supply chain by addressing the five risks addressed in this post. You’ll be better prepared to face these attacks in an intelligent, strategic, and secure way—from your code to the cloud and places in between.

Eran Orzel
Sep 19 · 7 min read

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