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Supply Chain Risks Got You Down? Keep Calm and Get Strategic!

Security leaders must maintain an effective cybersecurity strategy to help filter some of the noise on new vulnerabilities.

The security industry collectively loses its mind when new vulnerabilities are discovered in software. OpenSSL is no exception, and two new vulnerabilities overwhelmed news feeds in late October and early November 2022. Discovery and disclosure are only the beginnings of this never-ending vulnerability cycle. Affected organizations are faced with remediation, which is especially painful for those on the front lines of IT. Security leaders must maintain an effective cybersecurity strategy to help filter some of the noise on new vulnerabilities, recognize impacts to supply chains, and secure their assets accordingly.

Supply Chain Attacks Aren't Going Away

In roughly a year's time, we've suffered through severe vulnerabilities in componentry including Log4j, Spring Framework, and OpenSSL. Exploitation of older vulnerabilities also never ceases from implementations that are misconfigured or that use known vulnerable dependencies. In November 2022, the public learned of an attack campaign against the Federal Civilian Executive Branch (FCEB), attributable to a state-sponsored Iranian threat. This US federal entity was running VMware Horizon infrastructure that contained the Log4Shell vulnerability, which served as the initial attack vector. FCEB was hit with a complex attack chain that included lateral movement, credential compromise, system compromise, network persistence, endpoint protection bypass, and cryptojacking.

Organizations may ask "why consume OSS at all?" after security incidents from vulnerable packages like OpenSSL or Log4j. Supply chain attacks continue trending upward because componentry reuse makes “good business sense” for partners and suppliers. We engineer systems by repurposing existing code rather than building from scratch. This is to reduce engineering effort, scale operationally, and deliver quickly. Open source software (OSS) is generally considered trustworthy by virtue of the public scrutiny it receives. However, software is ever-changing, and issues arise through coding mistakes or linked dependencies. New issues are also uncovered through evolution of testing and exploitation techniques.

Tackling Supply Chain Vulnerabilities

Organizations need appropriate tooling and process to secure modern designs. Traditional approaches such as vulnerability management or point-in-time assessments alone can't keep up. Regulations may still allow for these approaches, which perpetuates the divide between "secure" and "compliant." Most organizations aspire to obtain some level of DevOps maturity. "Continuous" and "automated" are common traits of DevOps practices. Security processes shouldn't differ. Security leaders must maintain focus throughout build, delivery, and runtime phases as part of their security strategy:

  • Continuously scan in CI/CD: Aim to secure build pipelines (i.e., shift-left) but acknowledge that you won't be able to scan all code and nested code. Success with shift-left approaches is limited by scanner efficacy, correlation of scanner output, automation of release decisions, and scanner completion within release windows. Tooling should help prioritize risk of findings. Not all findings are actionable, and vulnerabilities may not be exploitable in your architecture.
  • Continuously scan during delivery: Component compromise and environment drift happen. Applications, infrastructure, and workloads should be scanned while being delivered in case something was compromised in the digital supply chain when being sourced from registries or repositories and bootstrapped.
  • Continuously scan in runtime: Runtime security is the starting point of many security programs, and security monitoring underpins most cybersecurity efforts. You need mechanisms that can collect and correlate telemetry in all types of environments, though, including cloud, container, and Kubernetes environments. Insights gathered in runtime should feed back to earlier build and delivery stages. Identity and service interactions
  • Prioritize vulnerabilities exposed in runtime: All organizations struggle with having enough time and resources to scan and fix everything. Risk-based prioritization is fundamental to security program work. Internet exposure is just one factor. Another is vulnerability severity, and organizations often focus on high and critical severity issues since they're deemed to have the most impact. This approach can still waste cycles of engineering and security teams because they may be chasing vulnerabilities that never get loaded at runtime and that aren't exploitable. Use runtime intelligence to verify what packages actually get loaded in running applications and infrastructure to know the actual security risk to your organization.

We've created product-specific guidance to steer customers through the recent OpenSSL madness.

The latest OpenSSL vulnerability and Log4Shell remind us of the need for cybersecurity preparedness and effective security strategy. We must remember that CVE-IDs are just those known issues in public software or hardware. Many vulnerabilities go unreported, particularly weaknesses in homegrown code or environmental misconfigurations. Your cybersecurity strategy must account for distributed and diverse technology of modern designs. You need a modernized vulnerability management program that uses runtime insights to prioritize remediation work for engineering teams. You also need threat detection and response capabilities that correlate signals across environments to avoid surprises.

About the Author

Michael Isbitski

Michael Isbitski, Director of Cybersecurity Strategy at Sysdig, has researched and advised on cybersecurity for over five years. He's versed in cloud security, container security, Kubernetes security, API security, security testing, mobile security, application protection, and secure continuous delivery. He's guided countless organizations globally in their security initiatives and supporting their business.

Prior to his research and advisory experience, Mike learned many hard lessons on the front lines of IT with over 20 years of practitioner and leadership experience focused on application security, vulnerability management, enterprise architecture, and systems engineering.

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