Supply chain attacks – an overview

The increased number of organized supply chain attacks since 2020 has pushed cyber security into the spotlight, as the threat landscape continues to intensify and evolve.

Supply chain attacks are a form of cyber-attack targeting businesses by focusing on the weakest links in the organization’s supply chain.

A supply chain is the connected network of all resources, suppliers, activities and technology involved in the creation and sale of a service or product to consumers. This is usually made up of third-party entities including producers of raw material, manufacturers, packing and distribution, warehousing, and purchasers.

The constant drive to reduce operational costs and streamline processes has increased business reliance on digital technology, from hardware, software, cloud or local data storage, and distribution applications.

Sharing information among supply chains is critical for the supply network to function, but its very existence creates risk. The threat of a supply chain attack is a very real problem, affecting many industries including the financial sector, government, pharmaceutical, large retailers. Any industry with a complex supply chain network is potentially vulnerable to an attack.

It only takes one weak point in the supply chain for malicious actors to find their way into the organization; from there, they are able to take advantage of the rest of the supply chain’s network.

By taking advantage of the trust organizations may have placed in third party vendors, cyberattacks are more likely to be successful.


What do supply chain attacks do?

The goal of a supply chain attack is to find and access the weakest point within a business supply network, with the intention of causing disruption or outages, eventually causing harm to the target organization.

Most commonly this is via a third-party supplier connected to the main target.

Typically, attacks are focused on the third party that has the weakest point in the supply chain which can then be used to get to the target up the chain.

Every business is a potential target of a cyberattack if they have assets that cybercriminals want to exploit.

Most cyber-attacks are for financial gain, while some are motivated by activism or intellectual challenge. Supply chain attacks can allow criminals to access:

Supply chain attacks focus on one or two suppliers and can take months or even longer before they are detected or until the attack reaches the intended target. These attacks are often laser focused, complex, and involve substantial amounts of resources.

This means attackers are generally sophisticated and have the persistence to succeed, allowing them to enact financial or data theft, undertake monitoring of individuals or organizations, and disable systems/networks. These cyber-attacks can severely damage a business, both in terms of commercial loss and reputation, as well leaving them exposed to potential regulatory action and negligence claims.

Types of supply chain attacks

Data breach through a supplier is another way supply chain attacks can occur. Each vendor in the network may need access to data to integrate with internal systems. If one vendor is compromised, data from all their connected businesses may be exposed.

The number of victims of a supply chain attack can increase if the originally targeted vendor has connections with other customers. Most supply chain attacks rely on software that’s already trusted and is distributed widely. This can make them difficult to detect – and so can the lack of a third party to supervise the vendor distributions.

Public key certificate

How do you protect against supply chain attacks?

Supply chain attacks are reported to multiply exponentially in 2021 and this has prompted the cybersecurity community to introduce protective measures to prevent potential attacks in the future.

There are several ways organizations can prevent supply chain attacks. These include:

Regardless of the size of a business, the financial impact of a supply chain attack can be devastating. The cost of dealing with the impact of a supply chain attack can include IT investigation, loss of business, loss of trust, and regulatory fines.

Organizations intent on preventing supply chain attacks cannot afford to be complacent about even the most trusted vendor in their network. Contact the expert team at BCS365 to find out how their complete managed security solutions can protect your business process and technology.