Why Supply Chain Attacks are on the Rise and What Can Be Done to Stop Them

What is a Supply Chain Attack?

In this modern era of technology, supply chain attacks have emerged as one of the most dangerous cyber threats to businesses across the globe. A supply chain attack, also known as a third-party attack, is a type of cyber-attack where hackers target a business's extended supply chain network to access sensitive information.

A supply chain attack takes place when cybercriminals breach the security of a third-party vendor or supplier that has access to a company's data, systems, or network. Once the attackers obtain the credentials, they can use the authorized access of the vendor or supplier to penetrate the target company's system surreptitiously.

Although supply chain attacks are not a new phenomenon, they have become increasingly popular among hackers over the past few years. Cybercriminals use supply chain attacks as a smokescreen to steal sensitive data, launch ransomware attacks, or conduct other malicious activities without being detected, as the attack originates from a trusted source - the vendor.

How Do Supply Chain Attacks Work?

The working method of a supply chain attack is a process of compromise, infiltration, and exploitation of the target company's systems by exploiting the vulnerabilities in the supply chain network. Here are the five phases of supply chain attacks:

1. Reconnaissance

Reconnaissance is the first phase of a supply chain attack, where hackers collect information about the supply chain network of the target company. The attackers look for vulnerabilities in the target company's vendor or supplier network to find a weak link to exploit.

2. Compromise

In the compromise phase, the attackers breach the security of a vendor or supplier in the supply chain network of the target company. This breach can occur through methods such as a phishing attack, malware-infected software update, or exploiting an unpatched vulnerability.

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3. Infiltration

Once the attackers gain access to the vendor or supplier system, they try to infiltrate the systems of the target company by stealing login credentials or exploiting existing vulnerabilities. With legitimate access, the attackers can easily move laterally across the network and disguise their activities.

4. Exploitation

Exploitation is the phase where the hackers harvest the target company's sensitive data, plant malware, or conduct other malicious activities. By putting ransomware on the network and demanding payment to decrypt locked files, attackers can cost companies millions of dollars.

5. Exfiltration

In the exfiltration phase, attackers exfiltrate the stolen data from the target company's system and remove all traces of their activity. This can leave the target company unaware of the attack for weeks or months, leading to more damage in the future.

Real-Life Examples of Supply Chain Attacks

Several high-profile supply chain attacks have made headlines over recent years. One of the most mentionable is the SolarWinds hack, which is believed to be one of the most significant cyber-attacks ever conducted. It was discovered in December 2020, and the ramifications of the attack are still being disclosed.

The hackers compromised the SolarWinds Orion software by implanting a malicious code into its update. SolarWinds supplies its software to over 300,000 organizations worldwide, including the US government, federal agencies, and Fortune 500 companies. The vulnerability allowed the attackers to gain access to the email accounts and sensitive data of various government organizations, including the US Department of Homeland Security.

Another example is the NotPetya ransomware attack, which began in Ukraine in 2017 and quickly spread worldwide. It targeted a Ukrainian accounting program, M.E.Doc, used by countless organizations in the country. The attackers inserted a malicious code into the software update, which distributed the ransomware to all connected systems. The attack caused organizations worldwide to experience tens of billions of dollars in damages.

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How to Mitigate Supply Chain Attacks?

As supply chain attacks are becoming more common, it is vital for businesses to take measures to prevent or mitigate them. Here are some ways businesses can achieve this:

1. Strong Vendor Management

Increase the security posture of vendors and suppliers that are part of the supply chain network by implementing strict security measures into vendor contracts.

2. Risk Assessment

Conduct risk assessments to identify the security vulnerabilities and gaps in the supply chain network, and reduce them.

3. Regular Security Audits

Perform cybersecurity audits and assessments of vendors and suppliers periodically, testing to ensure they meet security requirements and detect discrepancies.

4. Continuous Monitoring

Maintain continuous monitoring of the supply chain network to detect any malicious activities and identify potential security risks.

5. Utilize Security Solutions

Deploy robust security solutions such as firewalls, intrusion detection and prevention systems, antivirus software, and endpoint security technologies to protect against cyber-attacks.


Supply chain attacks are significant threats that can cause a lot of damage to businesses and their partners. As attackers continue to innovate new techniques, it's essential to implement measures to prevent or counter these attacks. By having strong vendor management, conducting thorough risk assessments, regular security audits, continuous monitoring, and utilizing security solutions, businesses can protect themselves against supply chain attacks.

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