What is a Software Supply Chain Attack?

A software supply chain attack occurs when a threat actor invades a software vendor’s network and deploys malicious code to infiltrate the software before the vendor sends it to its customers. The doctored software then exploits the customer’s data or system. Software supply chain attacks can target products at any development lifecycle stage to gain access, enact sabotage, and conduct espionage. Such attacks can use simple deception techniques, such as disguising itself as legitimate products or using complex methods to access and alter the source code of genuine programs. A compromise may occur through other means, such as a hotfix or a patch. Cybercriminals may use several ways to exploit a software supply chain. One such way would be to find vulnerabilities to infiltrate the storage of downloadable software when stored on a third-party website.

Another method includes attacking developers’ accounts and gaining access or accessing a software or website maintainer account. Upon gaining entry, hackers may then publish malicious updates of the software, compromising every user and company that downloads the new update.

Software Supply Chain Attacks on the Rise

According to the NCC Group, the number of attacks on supply chains increased by over 51% between July to December 2021. Organizations are also responsible for the rise in supply chain attacks. However, nearly half of the companies do not specify security standard procedures for their suppliers, while one-third rarely monitor, and risk assess their supplier’s cybersecurity practices. According to the study, only 34% of security decision-makers said they would categorize their organization as “very resilient,” calling for quicker response times and improved cybersecurity to avoid attacks.

 Software supply chain attacks are damaging because the smallest changes can have a widespread and pernicious effect. These attacks require one compromised application or a chunk of code to disrupt the entire supply chain. Hackers often target vulnerabilities in application source code, which can exploit a trusted software system or application.

How to protect against software supply chain attacks

Network defenders are limited in swiftly mitigating the after-effect of a cyberattack on the supply chain. Because organizations rarely control their entire software supply chain, they need to have more jurisdiction to force all companies in their supply chain to act quickly. Because of the gaps in mitigating the consequences after the attack, network defenders must implement industry best practices before an attack occurs.

  • Make use of endpoint detection and response solutions that detect and repair suspicious activity automatically.
  • Maintain a highly secure build and update infrastructure.
  • Implement mandatory integrity controls for only legitimate tools to run.
  • Deploy strong code integrity policies to allow authorized apps to run.
  • Mandate multi-factor authentication for admins.
  • Apply security patches for OS and software immediately.
  • Ensure there are digital signatures. Keep the software updater from accepting generic inputs and commands.
  • Require Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to update channels and administer certificate pinning.
  • Develop an incident response process for software supply chain attacks. Disclose the supply chain attack and inform customers with correct and timely information.
  • Sign everything, including XML files, packages, scripts, and configuration files.

Also Read: 6 Steps for A Successful Cybersecurity Incident Response

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