The Dark Side of Supply Chains: Understanding Supply Chain Attacks

Supply Chain Attacks: What They Are and How to Protect Your Business from Them

As the world becomes more interconnected, so do supply chains. Companies rely on a complex web of suppliers, vendors, and third-party providers to deliver goods and services to their customers. While this interconnectedness brings significant benefits, it also presents a significant challenge: the rise of supply chain attacks.

A supply chain attack is a cyberattack that targets a company's supply chain ecosystem to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data, systems, or intellectual property. Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in one or more third-party vendors, suppliers, or service providers to infiltrate a target company's network and steal or disrupt its operations.

These types of attacks have become increasingly common in recent years, affecting businesses of all sizes and industries. In 2020, several high-profile supply chain attacks made headlines, including the SolarWinds attack, which exposed sensitive data from government agencies and companies such as Microsoft, and the Accellion attack, which targeted multiple organizations, including the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.

Why Are Supply Chain Attacks So Dangerous?

Supply chain attacks are particularly dangerous for several reasons. First, they can be challenging to detect and thwart, as attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in a company's supply chain outside of its direct control. Second, these types of attacks can have widespread implications, as they can affect multiple organizations through the interconnected supply chain.

In addition, supply chain attacks can be financially devastating, as businesses may face substantial fines or lawsuits for failing to protect sensitive data or intellectual property. They can also damage a company's reputation and erode customer trust, leading to lost revenue and opportunities.

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Examples of Supply Chain Attacks

One of the most infamous supply chain attacks occurred in 2013 when hackers compromised the point-of-sale systems of Target, one of the US's largest retailers. Attackers infiltrated Target's network through a third-party vendor that provided refrigeration and HVAC services.

The hackers were able to steal as many as 40 million credit and debit card numbers, along with the personal information of up to 70 million customers. The attack cost Target $202 million in settlement agreements with affected customers and financial institutions.

Another example is the WannaCry ransomware attack in 2017, which affected hundreds of thousands of computers across the globe. The attack exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows, which was initially discovered by the National Security Agency (NSA) and subsequently leaked by hackers. WannaCry infected computers through a malicious software update of a third-party server used by many companies and organizations.

In 2018, Chinese hackers launched a supply chain attack that compromised Supermicro, a US-based computer hardware supplier. Attackers reportedly implanted tiny microchips on Supermicro's motherboards, which were used in servers deployed by various US government agencies and technology companies, including Amazon and Apple.

While the full scope and impact of the attack remain uncertain, it highlights the far-reaching implications of supply chain attacks and the importance of securing the supply chain against potential threats.

How to Protect Your Business from Supply Chain Attacks

Securing your business against supply chain attacks requires a multifaceted approach that involves identifying and managing supply chain risks, implementing robust cybersecurity measures, and fostering a culture of security awareness within your organization.

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Here are some steps you can take to protect your business from supply chain attacks:

1. Conduct a Risk Assessment

Start by examining your supply chain ecosystem, identifying critical vendors, suppliers, and service providers. Develop a risk management plan that includes a comprehensive risk assessment, regular audits, and contingency planning to address potential vulnerabilities and disruptions.

2. Implement Robust Cybersecurity Measures

Ensure that all third-party vendors and service providers follow robust cybersecurity protocols, including regular updates and patches, multi-factor authentication, and encryption of sensitive data. Verify their compliance with your organization's security policies and assess their security posture regularly.

3. Monitor Your Supply Chain

Implement a continuous monitoring program to detect potential security incidents or breaches within your supply chain. Use security intelligence tools, such as threat intelligence feeds and automated vulnerability scanning, to identify and isolate suspicious activity.

4. Foster a Culture of Security Awareness

Create a culture of security awareness within your organization, emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity as a shared responsibility. Provide regular training and awareness programs for employees, contractors, and vendors to raise their awareness of cybersecurity threats and best practices.


Supply chain attacks are a complex and evolving threat, but they can be mitigated with a proactive and comprehensive approach to cybersecurity. By identifying and managing supply chain risks, implementing robust cybersecurity measures, and fostering a culture of security awareness, businesses can protect themselves from the potentially devastating consequences of supply chain attacks.

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