In recent years, cyber attackers have had to become more inventive with their own strategies and techniques as a result of software development organizations taking additional measures to secure their products and services.
The thing is that with the rapid and ongoing rise of code reuse and cloud-native methodologies, they now have more ways to launch their attacks from several distances away from their intended target. Recently, we’ve witnessed more and more instances of these attackers taking control of systems, planting malware, and stealing sensitive data by taking advantage of just one weakness in the supply chain.
The Biden administration has even acted upon this by issuing an executive order to improve software supply chain security.
Due to all of this, software supply chain security is of the utmost importance. But what is it, and how can businesses improve and automate it? Read on.
What Is Software Supply Chain Security?
Software supply chain security incorporates risk management and cybersecurity best practices to help shield the software supply chain from potential weaknesses. Everything and everyone involved in the software development lifecycle (SDLC), from application development to the CI/CD pipeline and deployment, is a part of the software supply chain.
When you make sure your software supply chain is secure, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your code and its dependencies are reliable, compliant, updated, and release-ready. It also guarantees that frequent scans are carried out to find, report, and eliminate vulnerabilities. With a defined set of policies that are consistently enforced across all systems in the chain, you’ll successfully prevent unauthorized access and run unsigned packages.
Why Is Software Supply Chain Security Important?
The majority of software created nowadays is a compilation of open-source software artifacts rather than being created from scratch. The thing is that these software artifacts could include security flaws, and developers have less control over third-party source code or any alterations made to a software artifact over time.
That’s why it’s so important to remember that unpatched software is vulnerable to security issues and cyberattacks. Therefore, because software is necessary to carry out everyday business operations, supply chain security is a critical responsibility of any organization and its security team.
In 2020, the U.S. IT firm SolarWinds was breached when attackers deployed malicious malware through the Orion IT monitoring and management software, a platform used by big businesses and government organizations. By attacking the supply chain, the hackers breached not only SolarWinds but also their customers as well.
This is what you want to avoid. And you can only do this by ensuring supply chain security.
What Are The Security Risks In The Software Supply Chain That Businesses Should Be Aware Of?
Take note that every software artifact dependent on a supply chain component is potentially at risk if that component is exposed to risk.
The reason is that this gives hackers the chance to compromise any components and the supply chains that connect them by introducing malware, a backdoor, or other malicious code.
Software supply chain attacks can have a significant impact on both our digital and physical worlds. They typically belong to one of four categories of risks:
- Processes and Policies will become problematic if you don’t already have them. Create policies and processes for your developers in case of a vulnerability.
- Vulnerabilities are flaws in the coding of software that could be used to breach a system. To minimize the risk, always patch and upgrade your software artifacts.
- Third-party Dependencies are dependencies that come from any outside organization as part of the software supply chain and are challenging to identify. Examine all third-party codes, and discuss your protection with your providers.
- Licensing is a legal risk that can force you to make any resulting software artifacts open-source. It can even nullify patent rights. In this area, it’s important to consult with relevant legal experts.
Hacking updates, undermining code signing, and compromising open-source code are examples of common attack vectors.
How Can Organizations Mitigate Supply Chain Threats?
Security in the software supply chain is crucial for your business, your clients, and any other organization that depends on open-source contributions. No business wants its security compromised, but it also doesn’t want to be held accountable if a similar incident affects another organization. The secret is to put safeguards in place for your software supply chain.
The following are some security best practices that security teams ought to take into account:
- Patch and scan vulnerable systems regularly.
- Provide your employees with regular security training.
- Use strong passwords, enable multi-factor authentication, and grant the least privileged access to resources throughout the supply chain (such as developer tools, source code repositories, and other software systems).
- Strengthen the security of all of your connected devices and sensitive data.
- Become familiar with your suppliers and your business partners. You can start with your tier-one suppliers. Conduct risk assessments to analyze the cybersecurity posture and open policies on vulnerabilities of each supplier.
Additionally, developers must think about secure coding techniques, locking data, and other security-related measures:
- Validate checksums.
- Make the Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) available for consumption.
- Protect against GitHub/OAuth Apps supply chain attacks with GitHub’s security alert.
- Add vendor dependencies to source control.
- Adopt the Supply Chain Levels for Software Artifacts (SLSA), which include:
- The ability to digitally sign your software products to verify their provenance
- Utilizing automation in your policies and procedures.
- Examine your software using automated testing tools such as Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST), Static Application Security Testing (SAST), and Software Composition Analysis (SCA).
Is It Possible To Put My Software Supply Chain Security On Autopilot?
It is indeed possible to automate software supply chain security to maintain constant observation and mitigation of unusual developer activity, identify and validate hardcoded secrets, and achieve continuous CDLC compliance. However, you would need a software vendor that you can trust.
Make sure that all your prospective software vendors undergo security vetting first, regardless of their size or reputation.
As a starting point, requesting a software bill of materials can assist you in gaining awareness of potential vulnerabilities. The SBOM must be made available in both machine- and human-readable formats for your company to benefit the most.
It can also be beneficial to make a matrix or checklist to help you evaluate a vendor’s security procedures and practices. Some questions you can ask are:
- Can the supplier offer a list of the companies from which they purchase the hardware and software used to carry out the contract?
- Does the supplier have policies in place for security upgrades and maintenance after deployment?
- Are important program details protected by the supplier if they could be compromised by dealings with other suppliers?
- Does the supplier employ, document, and monitor risk mitigation practices throughout the life cycle of the product, system, or service?
- Does the supplier have any connections with any foreign governments (including its directors, executives, employees, consultants, or contractors)?
- Can the supplier ensure that it aligns its SDLC to a secure software development standard?
There is no doubt that the answers to the questions can only help you so much in making your assessment. However, selecting security vendors carefully is a crucial component of a larger software supply chain security strategy.
Attacks on the software supply chain are becoming more and more rampant. Additionally, since modern organizations are so interconnected and the software ecosystem is changing at an ever-increasing rate, malicious actors have a wide variety of attack sites to choose from. This emphasizes the necessity of doing everything in our power to prevent vulnerability exploitation.
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