Supply chain attacks: everything you need to know (2023)

The weak link in your corporate security may depend more than you like on your partners and suppliers. We are talking about supply chain attacks that target suppliers and partners to hit a specific organization in the supply chain.

Often overlooked and difficult to detect, supply chain attacks can be disastrous and put many companies out of business at the same time.

According to a recent study, the frequency of attacks on supply chains has increased by a whopping 300% in the past yearAquasec Message. The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) finds that 66% of emerging supply chain attacks focus on a software vendor's code to compromise their customers. The numbers are alarming and it is time for companies to address the security of their entire supply chain.

Here's what you need to know about such attacks and some pro tips to mitigate these deceptive security risks.

What is a supply chain attack?

A supply chain attack is also known as a third party or value chain attack. Supply chain attackers focus on infiltrating your network systems through a third party or vendor that has access to your network.

(Video) What is a Supply Chain Attack?

The worst thing about supply chain attacks is that you have no idea where such an attack could come from.

Now consider that most businesses today rely on third-party software and a variety of partners to run their day-to-day operations. That is why there is so much talk about these types of attacks.

Due to their deception and unpredictability, supply chain attacks can render traditional enterprise security efforts useless.

Think about it like this. Your company is perhaps the best example of cybersecurity practices. You may be serious about network security, your passwords can be complex, unique and stored in an encrypted vault, and your employees can take regular security training. But all of that goes down the drain when your partners have a lax attitude toward safety.

How do supply chain attacks work?

The whole idea behind supply chain attacks is to exploit the relationships and mutual trust between partner organizations. Most companies today rely on their partners for their day-to-day operations. Just think of all the different apps that modern businesses are using.

Let's get a little more technical. For a supply chain attack to be successful, the attackers must discover a weak link in the so-called supply chain. This can be the organization's partners or trusted vendors.

The next step is to exploit the poor security measures of a vendor or partner organization. Once the attackers have found a way to compromise the network or its components, they're ready to go.

(Video) What is Supply Chain Attack | Supply Chain Attacks in Cyber Security | Intellipaat

This is where bad actors can get creative. They could inject malicious software into the compromised vendor's networks and systems to gain backdoor access. They could manipulate the code to grant themselves specific permissions and later use them in further attacks on the vendor's customers.

Password security for your business

Store, manage and share passwords.

Get NordPass Business

30 Day Money Back Guarantee

Types of Supply Chain Attacks

Supply chain attacks come in a variety of forms, but all are designed to exploit vulnerabilities in solutions that organizations trust and use.

(Video) Supply Chain Attacks - SY0-601 CompTIA Security+ : 1.2

Attack on the software supply chain

A software supply chain attack focuses on compromising an application or any other type of software at its base level – the source code. Malware is then injected throughout the supply chain.

Attack on the hardware supply chain

A hardware supply chain attack relies on compromising actual physical devices such as USB drives, phones, tablets and even keyboards. This type of supply chain attack aims to infect a device early in its development and then use it as a gateway into broader network systems.

Attack on the firmware supply chain

Digital hardware is essentially controlled by firmware, which ensures its smooth operation. A firmware supply chain exploits this by injecting malware seed code, making this type of attack quite difficult to detect. If the malware infection is successful, it starts its dirty work as soon as the computer boots up.

Recent attacks on the supply chain

Here's a quick look at some of the biggest supply chain attacks in recent years.


In 2020, a team of hackers were able to access SolarWinds systems and plant a backdoor called SUNBURST in their Orion IT update tool. The attack affected more than 18,000 SolarWinds customers.

ASUS Live utility

This supply chain attack targeted ASUS Live Utility, software that comes preinstalled on ASUS devices. This software enables automatic updates for the computer's drivers, BIOS, UEFI, and other components. The attackers were successful and affected more than 57,000 users.


During the Codecov supply chain attack, hackers modified the company's bash uploader script. The company used this script to send internal code coverage reports. The modification helped attackers collect sensitive data such as source codes from Codecov's customers.

(Video) What are Supply Chain Attacks?

How to protect your business from a supply chain attack

Organizations can use a variety of techniques and tools to mitigate the risks of supply chain attacks. The idea is to improve their overall cybersecurity posture and ensure the security of endpoints against system intrusion. Here are some pointers that apply to most businesses looking to improve their security practices.

Deploy automated threat monitoring

As cybercriminals increasingly rely on AI and automation, organizations need advanced tools to level the playing field. Automated threat monitoring solutions provide just that—an intelligent way to deal with threatsHarnessing the power of machine learning and AI.

Develop third-party contingency plans

There's a saying, “Those who don't plan, plan to fail.” Developing a contingency plan can save you time and money if one of your third-party partners suffers supply chain attacks that could impact your business. With a well-thought-out contingency plan, you'll be ready to respond immediately.

Use a business password manager

A corporate password management solution makes it easy for you to keep track of all your corporate passwords. It also boosts employee efficiency thanks to features like autosave and autofill.

With a password manager such asNordPass store, you can also control user access rights and monitor company password strength from a single place – the admin panel. Additionally, business password managers tend to improve their users' password habits, which is a huge plus for any organization.

Implement third-party access controls

Having control over who can access your systems is one of the best ways to thwart supply chain attacks. Review providers with such access and ensure the permissions granted are consistent with your organization's overall security approach.

Make sure vendors provide a full description of their cybersecurity measures

A thorough understanding of your partner's security measures can help you improve your company's overall security infrastructure. When collaborating or implementing new software for enterprise use, learn about the other party's security practices.

(Video) Top 5 Things to Know About Supply Chain Attacks

Create security policies and organize regular cyber security training for your employees

Having a team that is aware of the potential threats greatly reduces the risk of a supply chain attack. Provide your employees with in-depth training that introduces the core principles of the organization's approach to security. Consider making the sessions regular so your team stays informed.

bottom line

Containing supply chain attacks can be challenging due to their unpredictability and deception. However, any organization that wants to thrive in the digital economy should focus on enterprise security. Start by knowing your systems end-to-end. Then top that off with a thorough understanding of who you're working with and the security risks you might be running.


1. Supply-Chain Attack | Let's Talk SolarWinds Attack | What all you need to know about it
2. 5 Things You Need to Know About Supply Chain Attacks
(Cumbria Computer Repairs)
3. What is a supply chain attack | Supply chain security | Supply chain attack SolarWinds
(Secure Disruptions)
4. How to Defend Against Supply Chain Attacks in 2022
(Check Point Software Technologies, Ltd.)
5. The Enemy Within: Modern Supply Chain Attacks
(Black Hat)
6. What Is A Supply Chain Attack, Really?
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Manual Maggio

Last Updated: 03/24/2023

Views: 6059

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 92% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Manual Maggio

Birthday: 1998-01-20

Address: 359 Kelvin Stream, Lake Eldonview, MT 33517-1242

Phone: +577037762465

Job: Product Hospitality Supervisor

Hobby: Gardening, Web surfing, Video gaming, Amateur radio, Flag Football, Reading, Table tennis

Introduction: My name is Manual Maggio, I am a thankful, tender, adventurous, delightful, fantastic, proud, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.