Best Practices for Software Supply Chain Security

Today’s business environment extends far beyond traditional brick and mortar organizations. Due to an increased reliance on digital operations, the frequency and complexity of supply chain cyber attacks — also known as vendor risk management or third-party security — are growing exponentially. It’s apparent that business leaders can no longer ignore supply chain security.

Not only did we see an increase in supply chain attacks in 2021, but the entire anatomy of an organization’s attack surface has evolved significantly. With more organizations shifting to a remote or hybrid workforce, we’ve seen a spike in cloud adoption and a heavy reliance on digital collaboration with third-parties.

Over the past few years we’ve introduced many new risks into our software supply chains. So, how do we ensure we don’t become the next SolarWinds or Accellion? In this blog, we reveal four supply chain security best practices to get you started on solid footing.

First, understand where the threats are coming from. 

With so many facets of the supply chain connected through digital products, organizations and security leaders need to understand which sectors are most vulnerable and where hackers can find holes — both internally and externally.

A recent study found that 70% of all breaches are caused by an outside force, and 17% were specifically from malware. This is to be expected. As software developers have been outsourced more frequently, the doors have opened to traditional malware attacks and breaches. Businesses need to understand how and where their resources can be accessed, and whether these threats can be exploited. However, malicious code detection is known to be very difficult. Standard code reviews won’t always identify these risks, as they can be inserted into internally-built software and mimic the look and feel of regular code. This is one of the biggest trends leaders must be aware of and fully understand which threats could impact their organization.

In addition to malware, hackers have begun attacking multiple business assets outside of an organization’s supply chain through “island hopping.” We’re seeing 50% of today’s cyber attacks use this technique. Security leaders need to identify and monitor island hopping attacks frequently to stay ahead of the vulnerability. Gone are the days where hackers target an organization itself — instead adversaries are going after an organization’s partners to gain access to the initial organization’s network.

Supply Chain Security Best Practices

How do organizations ensure they don’t become the weakest link in the supply chain? First and foremost, be proactive! Businesses must look at internal and external factors impacting their security protocol and implement these four best practices.

1. Enforce security awareness training.

Ensure you are training your staff not only when they enter the organization, but also on a continuous basis and as new business emerges. Every staff member, regardless of level or job description, should understand the organization’s view and focus on security, including how to respond to phishing attempts and how to protect data in a remote environment. For example, in a retail environment, all internal employees and third-party partners should understand PCI compliance, while healthcare professionals need a working knowledge of HIPPA. The idea is to get everyone on the same page so they understand the importance of sensitive information within an organization and can help mediate a threat when it is presented.

2. Enact policy and standards adherence.

Adherence to policies and standards is how a business keeps progressing. But, relying on a well-written standard that matches policy is not enough. Organizations need to adhere to that policy and standards, otherwise they are meaningless. This is true when working with outside vendors as well. Generally, it’s best to set up a policy that meets an organization where it is and maps back to its business processes – a standard coherence within an organization. Once that’s understood, as a business matures, the policy must mature with it. This will create a higher level of security for your supply chain with less gaps.

In the past, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on policies and recommendations for brick and mortar types of servers. With the new remote work and outsourcing increasing, it’s important to understand how policies transfer over when working with vendors in the new remote setting. 

3. Implement a vendor risk management program.

How we exchange information with people outside of our organization is critical in today’s environment. Cyber attacks through vendor networks are becoming more common, and organizations need to be more selective when choosing their partners.

Once partners are chosen, security teams and business leaders need to ensure all new vendors are assessed with a risk-based vendor management program. The program should address re-testing vendors according to their identified risk level. A well-established, risk-based vendor management program involves vendor training — follow this three-tiered approach to get started: 

  • Tier one: Organizations need to analyze and tier their vendors based on business risk so they can hone in on different security resources and ensure they’ve done their due diligence where it matters most. 
  • Tier two: Risk-based assessments. The higher the vendor risk, the more their security program should be accessed to understand where an organization’s supply chain could be vulnerable – organizations need to pay close attention here. Those categorized as lower risk vendors can be assessed through automated scoring, whereas medium risk vendors require a more extensive questionnaire, and high-risk vendors should showcase the level of their security program through penetration testing results. 
  • Tier three: Arguably most important for long term vendor security. Re-testing vendor assessments should be conducted at the start of a partnership, and as that partnership grows, to make sure they’re adhering to protocol. This helps confirm nothing is slipping through the cracks and that the safety policies and standards in place are constantly being met. 

4. Look at the secondary precautions. 

Once security awareness training, policy, and standards are in place, and organizations have established a successful vendor risk management program, they can look at secondary proactive measures to keep supply chain security top of mind. Tactics include, but are not limited, to attack surface management, penetration testing services, and red team exercises. These strategic offensive security activities can help identify where the security gaps exist in your software supply chain.

Now that so many organizations are working with outside vendors, third-party security is more important than ever. No company wants to fall vulnerable due to an attack that starts externally. The best way to prepare and decrease vulnerability is to have a robust security plan that the whole company understands. By implementing these four simple best practices early on, businesses can go into the new year with assurance that they won’t be the weakest link in the supply chain — and that they’re safeguarded from external supplier threats.

Want to learn more about how to strengthen your software supply chain security? Watch the on-demand webinar: "How NOT To Be The Weakest Link In The Supply Chain"

Discover how NetSPI ASM solution helps organizations identify, inventory, and reduce risk to both known and unknown assets.