What is a Supply Chain Cyberattack & How to Avoid It?

Written By Sambita Panigrahy  
Anuraag Singh
Approved By Anuraag Singh 
Published On April 21st, 2023
Reading Time 8 Minutes Reading

Recently, a new high-profile attack is surging which targets organizations that have weaker links in their supply chain (that includes the network of all the individuals, organizations, resources, activities, and technology used in the development and marketing of a product). In terms of cybersecurity, it’s referred to as a supply chain cyberattack.

Attacks on the supply chain are frequently overlooked cyberattacks, but given enough time, they are capable of wreaking havoc. These attacks are more challenging to identify and stop if your vendors aren’t adhering to tight cybersecurity standards and employing the best tools since they target vendors and suppliers rather than a single organization directly.

Without any delay, let’s explore this sophisticated attack, understand its nature, and learn different techniques to avoid such an attack.

Supply Chain Attack Definition

When an attacker gains access to a company’s network through third-party vendors or suppliers, or through the supply chain, this is referred to as a supply chain attack (also known as a third-party assault, value-chain attack, or backdoor breach). Some supply chains can be quite large and have intricate relationships, that’s why it becomes challenging to identify some attacks.

Many organizations collaborate with dozens of suppliers, for anything from ingredients to production materials to outsourced work and technology. This is why it’s crucial to safeguard the supply chain and make sure the businesses you engage with share your commitment to it.

How Supply Chain Cyberattack Works – Detailed Modus Operandi

An attack on the supply chain takes advantage of the trust that exists between several organizations. As they install and use the company’s software within their networks or collaborate with them as a vendor, all organizations have an implicit amount of trust in other businesses.

The weakest link in a chain of trust is the target of a supply chain attack. Attackers will focus on a vendor’s security if an organization has good cybersecurity but a reputable third party that lacks security. The attackers may use that trusted relationship to pivot to the more secure network after they had a foothold in the vendor’s network.

Targets for supply chain attacks frequently include managed service providers (MSPs). MSPs have extensive access to the networks of their clients, which is extremely important to an attacker. The attacker can quickly expand to their customers’ networks after taking advantage of the MSP. These attackers have a greater impact and may access networks that would be considerably more difficult to attack directly by taking advantage of supply chain weaknesses. This is how the Kaseya attackers were able to spread ransomware to such a large number of businesses.

Other supply chain hacks employ software to infect a company’s clients with viruses.  For instance, the attackers at SolarWinds were able to access the company’s build servers and included a backdoor into updates for the network monitoring tool SolarWinds Orion.  Customers were sent this updated code at that time,

Different Types of Supply Chain Attacks to Watch Out

This attack comes in many forms. Let’s first discuss the three basic attack forms.

1. Software Supply Chain Attack

This attack just requires one compromised program or software so that it can spread malware across the entire organization’s network. 

Attackers frequently utilize updates to software or applications as access points. Hackers frequently “sign” code using stolen certificates to make it appear authentic, making it challenging to detect software supply chain breaches.

2. Hardware Supply Chain Attack

Similar to the USB keylogger, hardware assaults rely on actual hardware. Further, to maximize the impact and harm, attackers usually aim for a device that travels through the entire supply chain.

3. Firmware Supply Chain Attack

It is possible to initiate an assault right away that inserts malware into a computer’s booting code. The moment computer starts up, the malware starts running, endangering the entire system. Attacks on firmware are swift, commonly unnoticed, and most importantly destructive.

Apart from the above-mentioned types, some other forms of supply chain attacks exist.

For instance, if a hacker obtains a certificate used to guarantee the reliability or security of a firm’s product, they can sell harmful malware that is disguised as the certificate of that company.

In addition to that, hackers execute Malicious code on user browsers. They may target browser extensions or JavaScript libraries that run code automatically on consumer devices. As an alternative, they might take sensitive user data that is saved in the browser (via cookies, session storage, etc.).

Another type involves exploiting vulnerabilities present in open-source code. Undoubtedly,  packages in open-source code can speed up the creation of software and applications for businesses, but they also give hackers the opportunity to compromise known security flaws or cloak malware that is used to compromise a user’s system or device. 

Examples of Supply Chain Cyberattacks That Made Headlines in The News

It’s no surprise that many reputed industries fell into the trap of hackers who aimed to carry out attacks involving the supply chain. Here are instances of some of the high-profile attacks that were all over the news.

  1. According to estimates, the SITA data breach compromised more than 580,000 records from the frequent flyer program of Malaysia Airlines. Numerous other airlines, including Finnair, Air New Zealand, and others, have revealed breaches that exposed tens of thousands of customer details for each airline. The exchange of information between Singapore Airlines and Star Alliance is believed to be the origin of the hack. From there, it spread throughout the entire supply chain.
  2. The IT firm SolarWinds was the target of a supply-chain malware assault delivered through the company’s own servers during a software update. And, it’s potentially one of the greatest data breaches in history. The US Department of Defence, the US Treasury Department, and numerous others were impacted by this attack.
  3. The Australian-based ClickStudios, who developed Passwordstate, have disclosed a supply-chain assault. According to sources, a hacker was able to access the update server for Passwordstate, which is housed on a third-party CDN. During that time, the dangerous software DLL was probably downloaded by any client who upgraded their program.

Using encryption keys kept on the disc of the web server, the malicious program was able to decode all of the data kept in the customer’s SQL database. The attacker was able to decode the entire database and exfiltrate the unencrypted data to the attacker’s server because Passwordstate software does not use client-side encryption.

Best Practices Companies Can Deploy to Avoid Supply Chain Attacks

A few excellent tools are necessary for software supply chain assault mitigation. Refer to the below options.

  1. Invest in managed security operation center (SOC) services. Then, the IT professionals will meticulously review your company’s cybersecurity infrastructure to spot any problems or security gaps. Additionally, they will respond to dangers, examine the results of any attacks, and attempt to enhance your system.
  2. Use red teams and blue teams to stage an attack. Your red side will stage a fake assault to resemble a real danger, and the blue side will respond to it. This can assist you in determining the operation of attacks and whether your present cybersecurity model is sufficient to thwart an active threat.
  3. Have backup plans and threat models that cover all potential third parties. In the event that any third-party provider is compromised or breaches your system, you should always have a backup strategy in place. You may envision potential dangers that could come from your vendors and suppliers with the aid of a threat model.
  4. Utilize an EPM like Keeper, an enterprise password management platform. Keeper gives IT administrators total visibility into employee password usage and the power to enforce password security policies throughout the entire organization, both of which contribute to the prevention of supply chain attacks.
  5. Include cybersecurity training on a regular basis in your company’s training program. Every employee needs to be aware of the value of cybersecurity and how they contribute to the organization’s overall cybersecurity.
  6. Apply access controls for vendors. It’s a wonderful idea to limit the vendor’s access to your system to reduce potential risks. In other words, provide vendors only the access necessary to do the task.
  7. Use a zero-trust architecture to reduce permissions, restrict lateral movement, prevent C2, and eliminate your internet-facing attack surface.
  8. Enable enhanced threat protection for workload-to-internet traffic as well as full TLS/SSL inspection functionality.


Attackers targeting the supply chain profit from a lack of environmental monitoring in a company. Thus, it’s essential to deploy security measures, particularly in services that thoroughly monitor web applications, networks, and other assets of the company which in return helps organizations protect from supply chain cyberattacks.

SysTools aims to help organizations in reducing breaches and achieve a cyber-safe IT environment through various managed cybersecurity services.

For information on cybersecurity solutions, contact our expert team now!