A supply chain attack is a form of cyberattack that aims to harm an organisation by exploiting vulnerable security of one of its trusted partners or suppliers. 


This attack exploits the trust between the targeted organisation and its suppliers/vendors, enabling the attacker to cause harm or gain unauthorised access to the target business’s network. The motive could be data theft, malware introduction, or operational disruption. These attacks pose a significant threat to the integrity and security of businesses globally.


Supply chain attacks are often overlooked, however the impacts of them can be catastrophic and are often more difficult to detect or prevent than other forms of attacks. As businesses become increasingly interconnected safeguarding the supply chain should be of utmost importance. It is crucial for companies to prioritise security by working with vendors who share their commitment towards security.


How They work

In order for supply chain attacks to succeed, attackers relentlessly search for a vulnerability within the supply chain, targeting the organisation’s trusted vendors or partners. Once they find a weakness in the chain, they exploit it. This could be as simple as finding a breached email address that can serve as a gateway to accessing the company’s systems by leveraging stolen credentials.


There are several methods attackers can employ, which may vary based on factors such as their desired attack outcome or the target company’s security protocols. Some of the common forms of attack have been outlined below.


Social Engineering Techniques:

Attackers will use social engineering attacks to manipulate individuals operating within a supply chain into unintentionally compromising the security of the target organisation. They will trick individuals into sending sensitive information or influence such as log ins or sensitive data. 

Attackers commonly employ techniques such as phishing emails, or impersonation to deceive individuals into revealing login credentials, sensitive data, or granting unauthorised access. For example a hacker could use a compromised supplier email in order to trick an individual at the target organisation to open a malware infected attachment.


Compromise Third Parties:

Attackers may target third-party service providers, vendors, or suppliers that have connections to the target organisation. By compromising a third party that the target organisation relies on, attackers can gain access to the target’s systems or data indirectly. For example, attackers may compromise a supplier that is holding important data on the target or a managed service provider that has direct access to the customer’s network. 


Disrupt the Supply Chain:

Instead of directly compromising the target organisation’s systems, attackers may focus on disrupting the supply chain itself. This can involve launching attacks, such as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, against critical suppliers, logistics partners, or shipping companies. Disrupting the supply chain can cause delays, financial losses, and impact an organisation’s ability to deliver products or services.


Compromise Software:

Attackers may compromise the software used by the target organisation. This involves inserting malicious code or backdoors into legitimate software products or applications. The compromised software is then distributed to the target organisation through regular software updates or other delivery methods. Once installed on the target’s systems, the attacker gains unauthorised access, steals data, or carries out other malicious activities.


Compromise Hardware:

Attackers can manipulate physical hardware in the supply chain, including servers, networking equipment, and computers. They might insert harmful hardware components like implants or malware-infected storage devices during manufacturing or shipping. When these compromised components are deployed, they can create security vulnerabilities and backdoors in the target organisation’s infrastructure.