Fortifying the Digital Frontier: Cybersecurity Strategies for the Tech Supply Chain

Cybersecurity has become a critical component for any business that relies on technology.

In the era of digital transformation and Industry 4.0, cybersecurity has become a critical component for any business that relies on technology. It’s not just about safeguarding the organization’s devices and networks, but also about protecting the data and intellectual property (IP) that are generated, processed, and shared within the technology supply chain. The technology supply chain is a complex network that includes various entities and activities involved in the design, development, production, delivery, and maintenance of technology products and services. This network can include suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, retailers, customers, and service providers, as well as the infrastructure and software that connect them. Given the global nature of these supply chains, they can span across multiple sectors, regions, and jurisdictions, leading to intricate interactions and dependencies

As per Gartner, it’s estimated that 44% of organizations will substantially increase their year-over-year spending on supply chain cybersecurity. This is due to the expanding digitalization of supply chains and the mounting threats of cyber attacks to governments, businesses, and critical infrastructure. However, despite the increased awareness and investment, there is still a significant gap in understanding the cyber vulnerabilities in the supply chain. Even 64% of executives who believe that their organization’s cyber resilience meets its minimum requirements to operate say they still have an inadequate understanding of their supply-chain cyber vulnerabilities.

This article highlights four cybersecurity threats that can cause significant damage to Supplychain ecosystems:

Advanced persistent threats (APTs)

Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are stealthy and sophisticated attacks that target specific organizations or individuals, often for espionage or sabotage purposes. The number of attacks conducted by APTs against EU institutions, bodies, and agencies (EUIBAs) increased by 60% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a European Commission report. APTs can infiltrate the tech supply chain at any stage, from the design and development of software and hardware to the delivery and installation of products and services, to the operation and maintenance of systems and networks. For instance, the Iran-linked MuddyWater APT (also known as TA450) sent phishing emails to two Israeli regional managed service providers and IT support firms. APTs can compromise the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of data and IP, as well as cause physical damage or disruption to the tech supply chain. For example, the Stuxnet worm that targeted Iran’s nuclear facility destroyed numerous centrifuges by causing the uranium enrichment facilities to burn themselves out. Overall, according to Proofpoint data, threat actors aligned with Russian, Iranian, and North Korean state interests have increasingly targeted small and medium-sized businesses, which often don’t have the resources or budget to implement security measures. These threat actors then use their compromised infrastructure for phishing campaigns, financial theft, and supply-chain attacks.

Ransomware

Ransomware, a form of malicious software, encrypts the victim’s data or systems and demands a ransom for their decryption. This type of cyber threat has seen a 13% year-on-year increase and is now present in 25% of data breaches.  In the context of the tech supply chain, ransomware poses a significant threat. It can lock access to vital data and intellectual property (IP), disrupt operations and services, and extort money from the affected parties. For instance, the BlackCat ransomware group launched an attack affecting 233 German gas stations, causing disruption that forced oil company Shell to re-route supplies to different depots. Ransomware can serve as a smokescreen for other malicious activities, such as data exfiltration or destruction. This was evident in the case of Nvidia, which fell victim to a ransomware attack by the Lapus$ group, leading to the theft of the company’s source code. In 2021, cybersecurity authorities in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom observed an increase in sophisticated, high-impact ransomware incidents against critical infrastructure organizations globally. The FBI, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the National Security Agency (NSA) observed incidents involving ransomware against 14 of the 16 U.S. critical infrastructure sectors. 

Spear phishing

Spear phishing, a form of social engineering attack, employs deceptive emails or messages to manipulate recipients into clicking on harmful links or attachments, or revealing confidential information. In 2022, spear-phishing attacks accounted for 47% of all such attacks globally. In the context of the technology supply chain, spear phishing can pose a significant threat by masquerading as credible entities or individuals, such as suppliers, customers, or partners. This exploitation of trust and reputation within the tech supply chain can lead to serious consequences. The repercussions of spear phishing can include the compromise of credentials, data, and intellectual property (IP), as well as the installation of malware or backdoors on the devices and networks within the tech supply chain. For instance, the Silent Starling attack ring affected over 500 companies through vendor email compromise (VEC), a form of spear phishing. Therefore, understanding and mitigating the risk of spear phishing is crucial for the security and integrity of the tech supply chain.

Distributed denial of service (DDoS)

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks are a form of cyber threat that inundates the target with an overwhelming volume of traffic or requests, thereby causing it to malfunction or become entirely non-operational. In 2021, DDoS campaigns became more targeted, persistent, and increasingly multivector. In the context of the technology supply chain, DDoS attacks can have a significant impact. They can disrupt the availability and performance of the infrastructure and software that underpin the tech supply chain, including cloud services, web servers, or communication platforms. For instance, in 2023, zero-day and supply chain attacks, including DDoS, led to a 72% increase in incidents of compromise over the previous record. Moreover, DDoS attacks can serve as a smokescreen for other malicious activities, such as data breaches or intellectual property (IP) theft. This was evident in the case of the SolarWinds hack, where a supply chain attack resulted in a widespread breach of multiple government agencies and private companies.

Now that we know what the challenges are let us look at how to these cybersecurity challenges and protect the data and IP of the tech supply chain, the following measures can be taken:

Data and IP classification and protection: This involves identifying and categorizing the data and IP according to their sensitivity, value, and criticality, and applying appropriate security controls and policies to protect them. For example, data and IP can be encrypted, anonymized, or pseudonymized, depending on their level of confidentiality. Data and IP can also be backed up, replicated, or archived, depending on their level of availability. Data and IP protection should be implemented throughout the lifecycle of the tech supply chain, from the creation and acquisition to the storage and processing to the transmission and sharing, to the disposal and destruction of data and IP.

Data and IP governance and compliance: This involves establishing and enforcing the roles, responsibilities, and rules for the management and use of data and IP within and across the tech supply chain. For example, data and IP governance can define the ownership, access, and usage rights and obligations of the data and IP, as well as the accountability and liability for the data and IP. Data and IP compliance can ensure adherence to the relevant laws, regulations, standards, and best practices for the data and IP, such as data protection, privacy, and IP laws, as well as industry-specific or sector-specific frameworks and guidelines for the data and IP.

Data and IP awareness and education: This involves raising and maintaining awareness and knowledge of the data and IP among the stakeholders of the tech supply chain, such as employees, customers, partners, and regulators. For example, data and IP awareness can inform and alert the stakeholders about the value, risks, and challenges of the data and IP, as well as the potential threats and attacks that target the data and IP. Data and IP education can train and equip the stakeholders with the skills, tools, and best practices to protect and manage the data and IP, as well as to detect and respond to the incidents and breaches that involve the data and IP.

Cybersecurity is a vital component of the tech supply chain, as it safeguards the data and IP that are essential for the innovation, competitiveness, and sustainability of the tech supply chain. By implementing the measures discussed above, the tech supply chain can enhance its cybersecurity posture and resilience, and mitigate the cybersecurity risks and challenges that threaten its data and IP.

Arjun Sharma

Arjun Sharma is a global program manager at a FAANG company, where he manages a part of the cloud services business. He is a subject matter expert in the areas of supply chain management, manufacturing, and negotiations. Arjun has 18 years of supply chain experience across prestigious organizations such as Apple and the Indian Army. Arjun holds an MBA degree from Washington University in St. Louis. He can be reached at arjunsharma4@gmail.com.

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