10/27/2017
11:00 AM
Dan Dahlberg
Dan Dahlberg
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3 Steps to Reduce Risk in Your Supply Chain

Many companies have very limited visibility into their vendors' security posture -- and some may have thousands of vendors. Here are steps that every company should take to lock down their supply chains.



In June, the compromise of an update server for a Ukrainian accounting software platform MeDoc led to the widespread distribution of NotPetya ransomware. A dozen known corporate victims suffered damages already exceeding $500 million.

Around the same time, attackers had infiltrated the network of Piriform, the maker of the popular system-maintenance program CCleaner, infecting two versions of the program that were distributed to more than 2.3 million systems over the month that the attack remained undetected. Files recovered from the command-and-control server showed that the malware infected some 700,000 systems in the final four-day window of the program's spread. (The attackers appear to have regularly deleted all logs, hiding whatever actions they took the other 26 unmonitored days.) The attackers also attempted to specifically target at least 20 companies with additional malware, including major networking hardware and office-electronics providers, such as Cisco, D-Link, Epson, HTC Group, Intel, Linksys, Samsung, Sony, and VMware.

If companies were not watching their software supply chain before the summer, these two events should push them to do so now. Although many companies have focused on shoring up their own security, they have very limited visibility — if any — into their vendors' security posture. Many companies can have hundreds or even thousands of vendors. In many cases, information security teams do not know who those vendors are. Here are three steps that every company should take to lock down their supply chains.

1. Know your business and software vendors. Ever since 9/11, banks have been required to "know their customers." Today, companies should take that advice to heart as well. Over the past several years, more attention has been directed to those vendors for which a company conducts business. These recent attacks have shown that this also applies to all direct and indirect dependencies on their entire operations. While accounting or another part of the organization likely has knowledge of these vendors, security teams might not be appropriately informed.

2. Measure security and determine metrics. As early as possible, security teams need to determine how they are going to measure security. However, there generally is a lack of metrics to determine a company's security posture. In the past, most companies have relied on a vendor's management certifying that they are following a list of best practices.

A variety of metrics and best practice documents are available today, from the Building Security in Maturity Model and its open-source cousin the Open Group Service Integration Maturity Model to the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cyber Security Framework. In addition, the ability to gauge security from external indicators has led to a rapidly evolving rating ecosystem.

While the security team is adopting a process to measure the security of vendors, it should also consider what its own requirements will be. These requirements will vary, depending on the level of access that the vendors — or their products — will have to the company's network.

3. Be proactive with vendors. Finally, companies need to be proactive and bring up the topic of security with vendors regularly. Many companies make sure that they have different policies and technologies in place, but unless they regularly address those issues with their vendors to ensure they are complying, it is more likely that issues will arise.

Larger companies have the benefit of having deeper security expertise, with which they can monitor their vendors. But increasingly, security requirements will flow downstream, and unless smaller contractors can meet requirements, they may lose business.

As attackers focus on vendors as a way to gain entry into their customers' systems, the security of the supply chain will become even more important. Companies need to address these issues today, before the next attack.

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As a Research Scientist at BitSight, Dan Dahlberg is responsible for researching the latest vulnerabilities and threats to understand at a technical and practical level how they affect the risk profile of organizations. He is also responsible for discovering new sources of ... View Full Bio
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