Is Your Supply Chain the Weakest Link?

Despite organizations' best efforts to secure intellectual property and other sensitive information, limited progress has been made in effectively managing information risk in the supply chain.

Steve Durbin, CEO, Information Security Forum

March 19, 2019

5 Min Read

Supply chains are a vital component of every organization's business operations and the backbone of today's global economy. However, security chiefs everywhere are concerned about how open they are to an abundance of risk factors. A range of valuable and sensitive information is often shared with suppliers, and when that information is shared, direct control is lost. This leads to an amplified risk of its confidentiality, integrity or availability being compromised.

Do you know where your information is?
Security is only as strong as its weakest link. Despite organizations' best efforts to secure intellectual property and other sensitive information, limited progress has been made in effectively managing information risk in the supply chain. Too often data breaches trace back to compromised vendor credentials to access the retailer's internal networks and supply chain. Mapping the flow of information, and keeping an eye on key access points in order to continuously manage information security risks, will unquestionably remain a crucial part of building a more resilient organization.

Do you know if your suppliers are protecting your company's sensitive data as diligently as you would protect it yourself? This is one obligation you can't outsource because in the end, it's your liability. By looking at the structure of your supply chains, determining what information is shared, and assessing the probability and impact of potential breaches, you can balance information risk management efforts across your enterprise.

Organizations of all sizes need to think about the consequences of a supplier providing accidental, but destructive, access to their corporate data. Information shared in the supply chain can include intellectual property, customer or employee data, commercial plans or negotiations and logistics. Caution should not be confined to manufacturing or distribution partners. It should also embrace professional services suppliers, all of whom share access, often to your most valuable assets.

To address information risk in the supply chain, organizations should adopt strong, scalable and repeatable processes -- obtaining assurance proportionate to the risk faced. Supply chain information risk management should be embedded within existing procurement and vendor management processes.

Brand management and reputation are at stake
Supply chains are difficult to secure. They create risk that is hard to identify, complicated to quantify and costly to address. A compromise anywhere in the supply chain can have just as much impact on your business, your bottom line, and your reputation, as one from within the organization.

In the coming years, I anticipate that cloud service providers will be systematically sabotaged by attackers aiming to disrupt Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) or cripple supply chains. Organizations dependent on cloud services will find their operations and supply chains undermined when key cloud services go down for extended periods of time.

Therefore, what can organizations do to better prepare themselves? A few examples include:

  • collaboration and sharing in the supply chain along with collaborating through relevant industry groups and forums;

  • clarity about what good cybersecurity in their supply chain needs to look like;

  • more advice and guidance by government for smaller organizations that often form a critical link in the supply chain to point out what is available in terms of support and help;

  • businesses making use of a one-stop shop for security policies and guidelines (such as the ISF Standard of Good Practice) that provide practical insight and guidance about what to do and how to do it when it comes to securing information across the supply chain.

There's a great necessity to track everything that is happening in the supply chain as even the smallest supplier or the slightest hiccup can have dangerous impact on your business. Brand management and brand reputation are subject to the supply chain and therefore are constantly at stake.

Implementing a supply chain information risk assurance process
To help organizations manage their supply chain information risk, and protect their brand's reputation, the Information Security Forum (ISF) has instituted the Supply Chain Information Risk Assurance Process (SCIRAP), an approach for larger organizations to manage this risk across their supplier base. SCIRAP focuses on identifying information shared in the supply chain and focusing attention on the contracts that create the highest risk.

SCIRAP integrates with existing procurement and vendor management processes, providing a mechanism to make supply chain information risk management a part of normal business operations. As a result, organizations of all sizes will be able to better understand their supply chain information risk, identify the assurance or actions required, and work with procurement or vendor management to manage information risk.

Be prepared and Stay Resilient The time to make supply chain security enhancements a priority is now. A well-structured supply chain information risk assessment approach can provide a detailed, step by step approach to portion an otherwise daunting project into manageable components. This method should be information-driven, and not supplier-centric, so it is scalable and repeatable across the enterprise.

The unfortunate reality of today's complex global marketplace is that not every security compromise can be prevented beforehand. However, being proactive also means you, and your suppliers, will be better able to react rapidly and intelligently when something does happen. In extreme but entirely possible scenarios, this readiness and resiliency may dictate competitiveness, financial health, share price, or even survival of your business.

Steve Durbin is managing director of the Information Security Forum (ISF). His main areas of focus include the emerging security threat landscape, cybersecurity, BYOD, the cloud, and social media across both the corporate and personal environments. Previously, he was senior vice president at Gartner.<//P

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About the Author(s)

Steve Durbin

CEO, Information Security Forum

Steve Durbin is CEO of the Information Security Forum, an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to investigating, clarifying, and resolving key issues in information security and risk management by developing best-practice methodologies, processes, and solutions that meet the business needs of its members. He is a frequent speaker on the board's role in cybersecurity and technology.

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