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Supply chains under digital siege: Cyberattacks the new norm?

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Ours is a world where technology has taken precedence over everything. However, it is more like a coin with two sides. One is of that which helps us connect globally, makes everyday life and business easier, and even aids us in humanity’s overall evolution. However, there also exists a not so meritorious side of technology, one that has the potential to severely disrupt the world as we know it. Cyber-attacks are a part of this other, dark side of technology that has gained momentum as we continue to increase our techdependency. Their presence strengthens at a time when global supply chains are at a critical stage, struggling to survive in the pandemic’s aftermath, and with this article, we bring to your insights about cyber-attacks inflicting the global supply chains.

A supply chain attack can be defined as a cyber-attack that seeks to damage an organisation by targeting less-secure elements in the supply chain. Supply chain management experts recommend strict control of an institution’s supply network in order to prevent potential damage from cybercriminals.

In an era of seamless global connectivity, with the help of high-end technology, there exists a data pool of cosmic proportions. It is this data that is targeted and used by cybercriminals to attack supply chains. Generally, cybercriminals start by identifying that member of the supply chain network of the targeted organisation, which has the weakest cyber security and defense mechanism. Vikram Bansal, Chief Technology Officer, Kale Logistics tells us, “Any cyberattack can attack a supply chain and the supply chain attacks have the added risk of spreading over an entire trusted network, as the hackers can attack the weakest link of the supply chain.”

It is unavoidable for a business to not share data/information with their suppliers if they want to maintain an un-broken supply chain, yet it puts the business at an enormous risk of a cyber-attack. Poorly managed supply chain management systems can become significantly hazardous, which can lead to a loss of sensitive customer information, disruption of the manufacturing process, and could damage a company’s reputation. It also becomes very difficult to trace a supply chain attack in light of the gigantic and complex network of a supply chain.

Considering how complex the global supply chains have become, it becomes inevitable that a cyberattack that paralyses one organisation (or even an important part of it) will have a bigger domino effect throughout the supply chain. And this has been proved already with the recent incidents of supply chain attacks.

Identifying attacks

A supply chain can be subject to different types of cyber-attacks, and include hardware, software as well as firmware. A hardware supply chain attack uses physical devices like the USB keylogger or any other plug and play device. Cybercriminals target a device and make their way through, damaging and disrupting the entire supply chain in the process. A software supply chain attack uses an infected software to deliver the malware across the supply chain. These attacks target the source code of the software and use it to transfer the infected code to a trusted application or software system. The entry points in such attacks are often through the software updates, which users trustingly install on their computers. Such supply chain attacks are the most difficult ones to trace. Firmware attacks use the computer’s booting code to execute the infected file, takes a few seconds and jeopardizes the entire system by causing incredible damage.

Yannick Herrebaut, Cyber Resilience Manager – CISO, Port of Antwerp gives us details about the major aspects of supply chain attacks. “There are two aspects to supply chain attacks. The first one is a supply chain attack through your software or hardware vendors, or through a service provider. We have seen plenty of examples in the recent past. There has been the hack of Solarwinds, a company that provides, amongst others, monitoring solutions for its customer’s IT equipment. A second example is the hack of Kaseya, a company that provides a solution for remote IT management. Also, the devastating NotPetya attack of 2017 could be categorized as a supply chain attack, because all the victim companies were compromised via Ukrainian accountancy software, that was hacked by a Russian state actor called Sandworm or Voodoo Bear.”


This is an abridged version of the original story that was published in the April 2022 edition of the Logistics Insider magazine. To read the complete article, click here.

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