What are Supply Chain Cyber Attacks? How To Prevent Getting Hacked

2 men guarding against supply chain cyber attacks on computer

Supply chain cyber attacks are on the rise as hackers try to back-door their way into the networks of companies storing valuable and sensitive digital assets. Reports indicate that supply chain attack attempts have escalated by 430 percent in recent years.

The increase has been attributed to companies investing in advanced cyber security measures that force online criminals to find alternative data breach methods. From 2021 to 2022, the number of supply chain cyber attack attempts spiked from 521 to a stunning 1,743 in the U.S. alone. It’s important to understand that a single supply chain cyber attack can ravage countless numbers of networks as hackers go big game hunting.

What is a Supply Chain Attack?

Supply chain cyber attacks typically target a seemingly reliable third-party vendor or business partner that provides services to a high-level target. When orchestrated as a software supply chain attack, malicious code is inserted into an application designed to populate across networks and infect the primary objective. By that same token, hardware supply chain attacks involve infesting physical components that may result in compromising another enterprise’s system.

In today’s software-as-a-service culture, a software supply chain attack has a higher success rate for hackers. That’s largely because software and applications are usually downloaded and reused by wide-reaching devices, thereby expanding the number of vulnerable organizations. These types of supply chain attacks pose a clear and present danger to corporations, government bureaucracies, and military defense contractors, among others.

Types of Supply Chain Attacks

The software supply chain attack remains the preferred choice of cyber criminals. It usually requires enough software development knowledge to craft and insert malicious code into programs or apps that go undetected. Under the software supply chain attack umbrella, there are a variety of strategies being used by hackers. These include the following.

Upstream Server Attacks

Considered the most popular type of supply chain attack, a bad actor inserts malware into a software product that infects any and all entities that download it. The Solar Winds hack is now a veritable case study of failed password protection and supply chain attacks. An intern literally posted username and password information online. Hackers discovered it, logged into the Texas-based software corporation, and placed an update with malware. It infected upwards of 18,000 customers, including the highest level of the U.S. government. It was randomly discovered as hackers stole sensitive information while hiding in plain sight.

Midstream Attacks

This less popular approach to supply chain attacks focuses on intermediate software tools. For example, Click Studios makes an enterprise-grade password manager known as Passwordstate that was hit by a midstream attack. The application, used by Fortune 500 corporations, was compromised and Click Studios issued a user warning.

Dependency Confusion Attacks

Orchestrated with minimal effort by hackers, dependency confusion attacks leverage automation to target inherent weaknesses in open-source ecosystems. By exploiting simple software dependencies, an ethical hacker breached 35 big tech firms. These reportedly included the likes of Microsoft, Uber, Apple, and Tesla.

Stolen and Compromised SSL and Code-Signing Certificates

A Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate is a digital object that helps systems verify identities and follow through with the encryption necessary to maintain data privacy. Compromising a certificate threatens secure, encrypted connections and transmissions.

Two years ago, an organization by the name of Mimecast reportedly suffered a compromised certificate that impacted 10 percent of its users when they connected to Microsoft 365. When a cyber criminal manages to steal a code-signing certificate, the bad actor could integrate malware packages as if they were harmless software.

How to Defend Against Supply Chain Cyber Attacks

There are a wide range of risk mitigation strategies that organizations can implement to avoid falling victim to a supply chain attack. Monitoring for abnormalities that could be telltale signs of an attack constitutes a strong proactive cyber security measure. Others include zero trust architecture to limit access should a hacker breach your system. It’s also prudent to have a risk assessment performed to identify any vulnerabilities to cure them.

What a Cybersecurity Consultant Can Do for Your IT Security

At CyberTeam, our managed IT and cybersecurity consulting experts have the experience and technology to protect your company from supply chain cyber attacks. We work diligently with industry leaders to harden defenses and develop a comprehensive cyber security plan. Contact us today and let’s get the process started.

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