What is a Supply Chain Attack in Cybersecurity? (Examples, How to Detect & Prevent)

What is a Supply Chain Attack?

A supply chain attack, also known as a value-chain or third-party attack, occurs when an outside partner or provider with access to your systems and data infiltrates your system. The attack surface of the typical organization has grown substantially in recent years, with more suppliers and service providers touching critical data than ever before.

  • A supply chain attack is a cyber-attack that aims to harm an organization by targeting the supply chain's less-secure sections.

  • A supply chain attack can affect businesses in any sector, including banking, oil and gas, and government sectors.

  • A supply chain attack can occur in either software or hardware. Typically, cybercriminals meddle with a product's manufacturing or distribution by inserting malware or hardware-based spying components.

How Does a Supply Chain Attack Work?

Supply chain attacks are intended to take advantage of the trust that exists between a business and its external partners. Partnerships, vendor ties, and the use of third-party software are the examples of these types of relationships. Cyber threat actors will infiltrate one insecure supplier in a chain and then advance up the supply chain, leveraging the trusted relationships to get access to their bigger trading partners.

In order to infect all the users of an app, software supply chain attacks insert malicious code into it, whereas hardware supply chain attacks compromise the physical components for the same reason.

Software Supply Chain Attack

The greatest worry today is a software supply chain attack. Because modern software isn't created from the ground up, it relies heavily on off-the-shelf components like third-party APIs and open source.

  • The majority of companies have little visibility into their software supply chain. Any third-party supplier that offers software or services to major businesses and is not sufficiently secured is vulnerable to a supply chain assault.

  • Attackers frequently target the weakest connections in a supply chain, such as small vendors without cybersecurity safeguards or open source components with a tiny community or low-security procedures.

  • The majority of supply chain assaults are the result of inserting backdoors to authorized and certified software or compromising third-party providers' systems. Existing cybersecurity defenses are unable to detect such attacks.

Supply Chain Attacks - Examples

Now let's discuss briefly about some of the famous examples of supply chain attacks −

The SolarWinds Attack

The SolarWinds Attack is probably the most well-known supply chain attack. This was a sophisticated attack that injected malicious malware into the software's build process, infecting about 18,000 clients downstream, including significant corporations and government agencies that were protected by the most advanced cybersecurity tools and services available at the time.

Attack on ASUS Live Tool

Another sophisticated supply chain attack targeted the ASUS Live Tool, a software utility that comes pre-installed on ASUS computers and upgrades the BIOS, UEFI, drivers, programs, and other components of the machine. The infected software has been downloaded and installed by over 57,000 users; however, the true number is likely far higher. This was a targeted attack aiming at a certain MAC address group of users.

Attack on Linux and macOS

An assault on Linux and macOS operating systems targeted the popular open-source JavaScript utility. Brandjacking was employed in the attack, which deceives users into downloading malicious code. The targeted software, Browserify, is downloaded by over 1.3 million people every week. Thus the consequences of its compromise might be huge. The attack, in this case, was detected and stopped within a day of its initiation. Many more attacks of this nature, on the other hand, go unnoticed.

Attack on CC Cleaner

Supply chain attacks have been known to target cyber security firms. The famous free cleanup tool CC Cleaner, for example, was infected with a backdoor that allowed hostile actors to gain access.

How to Detect and Prevent a Supply Chain Attack?

Attacks on supply chains are becoming a business-critical concern, affecting important connections with partners and suppliers. Supply chain attacks are difficult to spot. Furthermore, just because a software product has been vetted in the past does not imply that it is secure today.

Organizations must also address supply chain risks that make them vulnerable to attack, in addition to rigorously analyzing the vendors they use. This necessitates the use of effective technology for prevention, detection, and reaction.