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Understanding Supply Chain Attacks

Supply Chain is Big! It is defined as “a network of organizations, people, activities, information, and resources involved in the production, handling, and distribution of goods or services from the point of origin to the end consumer”. It refers to the business-to-business activity within a country or a trading bloc.

It encompasses various stages, including raw material acquisition, production, transportation, storage, and distribution. Supply chains can be complex, involving multiple entities and processes working together to deliver products or services to the market. Effective supply chain management is crucial for optimizing efficiency, reducing costs, and ensuring timely delivery of goods or services.

It goes without saying that any data breach at just a single business within the supply chain could potentially be very disruptive with very serious, damaging consequences. For example:

* Data breaches and theft of sensitive information

* Disruption of critical systems and infrastructure

* Financial losses due to downtime and remediation costs

* Damage to the reputation of the target organization

In an era of interconnected digital systems, supply chain cybersecurity attacks are a potential menace. The malicious actors will be able to assess the vulnerabilities of supply chain partners and target aspects of the “weakest link” business, wrecking production and causing data breaches. For the other businesses within that supply chain, this sophisticated form of cyberattack poses significant risks, as it allows their systems to be infiltrated indirectly, often bypassing traditional security measures.

A Guide to Supply Chain attacks

Here is a brief breakdown:

1. Targeting Weak Links

Malicious actors often exploit vulnerabilities in the supply chain by targeting weak links such as third-party suppliers, manufacturers, or distributors. These entities may have less stringent security measures, making them attractive entry points for attackers.

2. Infiltration at Source:

Attackers may compromise the development environment itself, injecting malicious code or backdoors into the software or hardware during the production phase. This can go undetected for extended periods, allowing the attackers to maintain access and control.

3. Distribution Channels

Supply chain attacks can also target distribution channels. Adversaries might compromise the integrity of software or hardware during transportation, manipulating products before they reach the end user.

Documented Supply Chain Attacks

1. SolarWinds (2020)

The SolarWinds supply chain attack is one of the most notorious examples. Malicious actors compromised the software build system of SolarWinds, a widely used IT management software provider. This allowed them to distribute updates containing dangerous malware (trojans) to thousands of SolarWinds' customers, including numerous government agencies.

2. NotPetya (2017)

NotPetya, a destructive malware strain, spread through a Ukrainian accounting software update. This supply chain attack affected companies globally, causing widespread disruption and financial losses.

Supply chain attacks can be serious and now we have discussed what they are, how they work and had a couple of examples, it’s important to discuss mitigation strategies:

1. Vendor Due Diligence

Organizations should conduct thorough security assessments of their vendors and suppliers. This involves evaluating their cybersecurity practices, incident response plans, and overall security posture.

2. Code Integrity Checks

Implementing code integrity checks during the software development life cycle can help detect and prevent the insertion of malicious code. Regular audits of source code and dependencies are crucial.

3. Secure Distribution

Securing distribution channels is essential. Employing encryption, tamper-evident packaging, and secure transport mechanisms can help safeguard products during transit.


As organisations become more interconnected, the risks associated with supply chain attacks continue to grow. Proactive measures, including rigorous vendor assessments, code integrity checks, and secure distribution practices, are imperative to mitigate these threats. A comprehensive approach to cybersecurity that addresses vulnerabilities at every stage of the supply chain is crucial in safeguarding against these sophisticated and potentially devastating attacks.

Useful Links:

Article on Solar Winds attack:

Article on NotPetya attack:

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