February 24, 2023

What is Software supply chain security?

Table of Contents:

  1. What is Software supply chain security?
  2. Why has it become so important over the last decade?
  3. Why, as an organization, are you required to implement it?
  4. SBOM and SCA practices
  5. List of govt protocols for software supply chain security and how to get certified for the same

Today, most software is not created entirely from scratch. Instead, it uses a variety of third-party and pre-build bases to produce new applications. 

Open source is used in practically all community projects and proprietary codebases. The issue for businesses is not whether you use open source software but how much and what types of open source code you use. A vulnerability upstream in one of your dependencies can influence your application, leaving you open to possible breaches and security threats anywhere in the post-launch period or even in the software development life cycle (SDLC).

Instead of starting from scratch, developers can use pre-built libraries. They can employ what is already available and invest time in developing proprietary code, which will help differentiate their product, complete tasks more quickly, lower costs, and maintain competitiveness. The software supply chain includes these external libraries. If the software supply chain security is compromised, it can have a far-reaching impact on the company's reputation and the end-users.

Let us learn more about software supply chain security.

What is Software supply chain security? 

Companies use software supply chain security to detect, identify, analyze, and reduce risks in the SDLC related to the digital artifacts that enter their program through third parties like open source libraries, commercial software suppliers, or outsourced development. 

In order to evaluate supply chain risks and make design plans to block, reduce, or remediate them, a complete supply chain security strategy combines risk management and cybersecurity principles.

An attempt by malware to enter the software and cloud infrastructures of one or more organizations is known as a supply chain attack. Attackers may take advantage of implicit trust among developer communities or commercial trust between software suppliers and their clients.

For instance, an attacker could add harmful code to an open-source project or insert malware into a software vendor update. Users of these artifacts put their trust in the software they are using, use it in their CI/CD pipelines, and unintentionally spread malware. 

Why has it become so important over the last decade

Recent supply chain attacks, like the SolarWinds and Kaseya breaches, have allowed hackers to compromise numerous well-known firms with a single determined effort. 

The importance of software supply chain security has increased to the point where the US President issued an Executive Order to address it in May 2021. Before that Executive Order, SolarWinds and Apple/Quanta were involved in two significant threat occurrences.

Hackers used malicious code to upgrade the "Orion" system for SolarWinds, which had over 33,000 users. The sophisticated attack went unnoticed for over 14 months. Unaware of the security hole, SolarWinds distributed the patches to their clients, who then installed them. In addition to systems owned by SolarWinds, everyone who installed the upgrade's update had their systems vulnerable to attack.

Systems belonging to Quanta Computer, a significant supplier of Apple goods with headquarters in Taiwan, were compromised in the Apple/Quanta attack in April 2021. The ransomware organization REvil wanted $50 million for the decryption key and claimed to have stolen the latest Macbook designs. REvil started sharing the stolen blueprints on the dark web after Quanta refused to pay. The announcement of the breach by REvil during a significant launch event for the new iPads and Macbooks became a disastrous turn of events for the company.

One of these attacks used a software patch, the other a hardware provider, and both involved the software supply chain. Therefore, these attacks don't just target well-known corporations, but they can occur in any size of business.

Why organizations are required to implement software supply chain security measures?

Organizations should focus highly on supply chain security, as a compromise within the system could damage or interrupt operations. Vulnerabilities within a supply chain may result in needless expenses, ineffective delivery schedules, and the loss of intellectual property. In addition, the delivery of modified or unlicensed products could be detrimental to customers and result in unwanted lawsuits.

Security management systems can assist in safeguarding supply chains against physical and cyber risks. While it is impossible to eliminate all risks, supply chain security can provide a safer, more efficient transportation of commodities that can recover quickly from disruptions.

SBOM and SCA practices

A chained inventory known as an SBOM effectively depicts the whole supply chain by listing and recording software components.

Like any list, this one needs to define some information crucial to its comprehension and effective use. A few SBOM models exist. The American government's Executive Order introduced a minimal set of information that must be included in the SBOM. However, this information can be found for or by each tool that bases its operation on this standard.

Similarly, Software Composition Analysis (SCA) gives developers' teams visibility into the open source libraries and components that go into the software they produce. Risks associated with licenses and security can be managed with SCA. To prevent introducing risks that could result in a data breach, compromised intellectual property, or legal conflicts, it can ensure that any open source component included in apps complies with particular requirements.

To reduce the risks brought on by third parties and stop supply chain attacks, organizations can do the following:

  • Perform regular audits
  • Asses their supply chain
  • Create an incident response plan
  • Monitor third parties
  • Identify attack vectors
  • Conduct security awareness training
  • Examine the reliability and security of the code you consume.
  • Make sure programmers continue to provide secure proprietary code.
  • Build and deliver code securely
  • Harden the data transport protocols that programs utilize
  • Continuously check for dangers in deployed applications.
  • Provide an SBOM to customers

Government protocols for software supply chain security

The following minimal guidelines have been established by NIST Cybersecurity Supply Chain Risk Management (C-SCRM) program for federal agencies as they purchase software or a product including software. 

In relation to safe software development artifacts, attestation, and compliance, these recommendations are meant to help federal agencies and software developers communicate effectively with one another. 

  • To coordinate conversations concerning secure software development needs, use the terminology and structure of the SSDF.
  • Include secure software development methods in the attestation requirements, which should be carried out as part of processes and procedures throughout the software life cycle.
  • If a risk-based approach finds that second or third-party attestation is necessary, accept first-party certification that complies with SSDF practices.
  • Request high-level artifacts when asking for artifacts of conformity.

However, in some cases, these guidelines may not be enough. Organizations may require greater visibility into the practices for certain products so that they can improve their understanding of how the product will impact the firm's cybersecurity risks. 

we45 is a leading AppSec and product security solution provider. We help our clients build secure apps that will help save resources, not increase expenses, and maintain excellent brand credibility. We45 provides customized security solutions as per your business size and needs. Visit our website to know more.