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Securing the Software Supply Chain: Risk Management Tips

Securing the software supply chain can seem daunting, but with the right strategy, you can optimize your software supply chain risk management practices.

Over the past few years, the supply chain has become a central figure in cybersecurity as threat actors and state-sponsored groups realize its importance. Compromising a key component of the supply chain not only disrupts hundreds or thousands of companies, but it can lead to further compromise of many other organizations.

The same is true with the software supply chain, yet few companies are taking the steps to properly secure it. Threat actors are very much aware and actively exploiting vulnerabilities and targeting software supply chains to their unfortunate success.

Having effective software supply chain risk management isn’t easy, especially as it requires a strong understanding of the threats and vulnerabilities involved, as well as the environments these risks live in. However, it’s a key component of an organization’s overall security posture and it requires a holistic approach. In this article, we’ll delve into why it’s so important to secure the software supply chain, offer real-world examples of attacks and compromises and provide some best practices to follow when implementing a software supply chain risk management strategy.

With Security Attacks on the Rise, the Data Doesn't Lie 

Software supply chain risks aren’t just theoretical. There have been a number of high-profile attacks and discovered vulnerabilities that highlight the need for securing the software supply chain. Here are a few of the most recent profiled discoveries. 

The landscape of cybersecurity is increasingly fraught with sophisticated threats, especially in the realm of software supply chain security. Recent incidents underscore the paramount importance of vigilance and proactive measures in securing the software supply chain.

LastPass Supply Chain Attack Leads to Source Code Exposure

In 2022, LastPass, a popular password manager with over 25M users, was hit with a software supply chain attack. This was a highly embedded attack that led to account credential access and proprietary source code exfiltration. User account information was also stolen, which included PII and vault data.

PyPi Halts Account and User Activity to Deal With Security Incidents

This attack went straight to the source of the software supply chain. PyPI, the official Python Package manager, had to suspend new users and project registration after being hit with a high volume of malicious users and projects. The amount was so overwhelming, the team was unable to respond in a timely fashion. Many of these packages were designed to impact legitimate users, which could have led to malware, backdoor access, and more.

GitHub Manages to Avoid a Major Attack 

One of GitHub’s engineers announced how they faced a major attack attempt. Around 35K of the most popular repositories on GitHub were cloned with malicious code insertions. However, before that code could be merged back into the original repositories, GitHub removed all traces of the code. These kinds of clone and merge attacks are possible on GitHub on a much smaller scale, meaning GitHub may not always be able to catch them. This puts a lot of users at risk even if a small attack is successful.

Comm100 Is Hit With a Trojan, Affecting Thousands Globally

State-sponsored attackers were able to successfully compromise one of Comm100’s Live Chat application installers with a malicious trojan horse designed to “steal information and sabotage compromised organizations.” Two malicious versions were published, which suggests the attackers had persistence across the company’s CI/CD pipeline. Given Comm100’s global reach (it serves over 15K customers in 51 countries), there’s no telling how many organizations could be impacted by downloading the compromised installer.

OAuth Access Tokens Are Compromised, Affecting Dozens of Companies

GitHub, again, was targeted as threat actors know they can reach multiple organizations through the popular repository site. In this attack, an attacker was able to access GitHub’s NPM production infrastructure via a compromised AWS API key, which allowed the attackers to steal OAuth user tokens. This could lead to secrets exposure, access to private repository content, and could potentially lead to further access in an organization’s infrastructure.

Clearly, software supply chain risks are on the rise, with attackers increasingly exploiting vulnerabilities in interconnected systems. Given the complexity and interconnectedness of modern software supply chains, a single vulnerability can have widespread repercussions, affecting countless end users and businesses. This is why remediating software supply chain vulnerabilities needs to be an essential part of your organization’s overall cybersecurity and risk management strategy.

Why Now’s the Time to Secure the Entire Software Supply Chain

As we highlighted earlier – the software supply chain is at risk and both threats and vulnerabilities are only going to increase in quantity as threat actors look for new ways to compromise an organization. By taking the time to secure your software supply chain now, you’re able to fortify the overall health and resilience of your organization and maintain a competitive advantage compared to your peers. Here’s how.

Benefits of Securing Your Supply Chain

Protects proprietary information: As we saw with the LastPass attack, even source code can be a target for these threat actors. Securing the software supply chain is necessary to prevent a company’s proprietary information from unauthorized access and theft.

Improved visibility: With increasingly complex environments, secrets, assets, and even databases may not be managed properly. Prioritizing your software supply chain security means having visibility across all your assets, which allows for effective risk management and security.

Helps adhere to data protection compliance requirements: Sensitive data, like customer information, financial records, or employee details, is protected against breaches and leaks with a secure software supply chain. This is also necessary for complying with data protection regulations, maintaining the trust of stakeholders, customers, and creating long-term value for a company.

Protects a company’s reputation: A single security incident can severely damage an organization’s reputation, leading to lost business and trust. These companies often have a long-term climb back towards regaining their customer’s trust and restoring the company’s public image. With a secure software supply chain, you can mitigate such damaging incidents and also point to your commitment towards cyber resiliency.

Reduces the risk of business operation disruption: Given the critical nature of the software supply chain, an attack may significantly hinder your company’s ability to carry out its business services. This can include product development, order fulfillment, customer acquisition, and more. By securing the software supply chain, you’re vastly decreasing the risk that an incident will impact business operations.

Improves incident response: Securing your software supply chain means you’re giving yourself the capabilities required to respond swiftly and effectively to any security incidents. This means being able to quickly identify threats and carry out incident response plans with the appropriate stakeholders, minimizing the actual time a threat is in your network and minimizing damage accordingly. 

The need to secure the software supply chain is more pressing than ever, given the increasing sophistication of software supply chain threats and complex environments, which may lead to accidental exposure or misconfiguration. Having a secure software supply chain not only protects against immediate risks but also builds a foundation for sustainable growth and resilience against future challenges.

Tips for Optimizing Your Risk Management Policies & Procedures

For effective software supply chain security, it’s important to adhere to key best practices, which include implementing a proper cyber supply chain risk management (C-SCRM) strategy. This will allow you to effectively mitigate potential risks, vulnerabilities, while safeguarding the integrity, confidentiality, and availability of software assets.

Assess risk exposure potential

Knowing your risk exposure allows you to manage it effectively. This involves identifying and evaluating the threats and vulnerabilities within the software supply chain that could be exploited by malicious actors and assessing how these risks will impact your organization’s operations, data, and reputation. Ongoing risk assessments can help organizations stay ahead of emerging threats and adapt their security measures accordingly.

Consider both internal and external risks

Effective software supply chain management requires considering both internal and external risks. Internally, risks can arise from not having the right security policies, human error which can lead to misconfigurations, or internal system or software issues. Externally, risks can stem from third-party or open source vendors, threat actors, or new technologies changing the threat landscape. A comprehensive approach should evaluate your organization’s risk profile as well as your partners and suppliers.

Document risk management controls

This process involves detailing all your security policies, procedures, and measures implemented to mitigate identified risks. It also requires having a clear roadmap for managing and responding to threats, facilitating continuous improvement of security practices. This will ensure accountability and compliance with regulatory requirements, by providing documented evidence, which may also help in case any investigation occurs due to a data breach or security incident. 

Foster coordination in cross-functional teams

Security is a collective responsibility spanning multiple departments, from IT to procurement, finance, legal, and beyond. This means having effective communication, fostering collaboration, and getting buy-in from key stakeholders will improve policy and process enforcement and incident response. This ultimately makes software supply chain management an organizational priority, allowing for a unified approach that’s more effective.

Regularly update and patch systems

As we saw with earlier incidents, known vulnerabilities can lead to security incidents, so it’s important to have a system in place that automatically updates and patches your systems and assets. This also requires having a strategy to periodically update more substantial systems to minimize downtime and/or business disruption.

Implement strong access controls

The principle of least privilege (PLoP) is most effective here. Employees and third parties should have access only to systems and data they need. Restricting access to authorized personnel only will reduce the risk of unauthorized access and improve your ability to view and manage activity within your environment, fostering more effective threat detection and response capabilities.

Don’t Sleep on Software Supply Chain Risk Management 

Ignoring software supply chain risk management can be disastrous for a company. We’ve already seen instances of high-profile attacks from both hacker groups and state-sponsored hackers who are specifically targeting the software supply chain. These attacks are not expected to let up so it’s important to start addressing these risks now and take a proactive approach.

Cybersecurity and DevSecOps leaders need to think strategically and make the software supply chain a key part of their overall risk management strategy. This includes implementing tools, processes, and policies that will help an organization get a better grasp of their environment to properly handle risks and vulnerabilities.

Solutions designed to improve visibility, vulnerability detection, and fast remediation within complex developer environments are key here. As you consider potential vendors and partnerships, remember that operational efficiency is a key differentiator. You’re likely going to have to shift your organizational culture and adopt a security-first mindset within your development team, so it’s important to leverage tools that won’t slow down your team or bog them down.

Legit Security is a platform designed for DevSecOps teams. It’s easy to implement, provides comprehensive visibility across complex environments, and can serve as a key solution aiding your shift towards having a more robust software supply chain.

Secure your software supply chain today.

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Published on
April 01, 2024

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