Information Security

The Vital Link: Supply Chain Management and Cyber Security 

In todays’ interconnected world, where organisations heavily rely on technology and digital infrastructure, the importance of cybersecurity cannot be overstated. Organisations invest significant resource to protect their data and systems from cyber threats. While much attention is given to traditional cybersecurity measures, one critical aspect that often goes unnoticed is supply chain management. Supply chain management plays a vital role in ensuring the overall cybersecurity posture of an organisation. In this blog post, we will delve into the importance of supply chain management in bolstering cybersecurity and the potential risk associated with a weak supply chain. 

Understanding Supply Chain Management 

Supply chain management refers to the coordination and oversight of all activities involved in the production, procurement, and delivery of goods and services. It encompasses all stages, from sourcing raw materials to the final distribution of products. In the digital age, supply chains are increasingly reliant on complex technology systems and interconnected networks, making them vulnerable to cyber threats. 

Recognising Supply Chain Vulnerabilities 

Cybercriminals often target supply chains as an entry point to compromise organisations’ security. A weak link anywhere along the supply chain can have far-reaching consequences. Attackers may exploit vulnerabilities in supplier systems, hardware, or software to gain authorised access to introduce malware. This can lead to data breaches, theft of intellectual property, or disruption of critical business operations. 

Ensuring Supply Chain Integrity

Maintaining supply chain integrity is paramount to safeguarding an organisations cybersecurity. It involves implementing robust measures to ensure the authenticity, confidentiality, and integrity of components, software, and service. Organisations should establish strict vendor evaluation and selection criteria, including security assessments and audits. Contracts and agreements should also include cyber security requirements, such as regular vulnerability assessments and incident reporting.

Implementing Secure Development Practices

Organisations should encourage secure development practices among their suppliers. This includes adhering to established cyber security frameworks and standards, conducting secure coding practices, and performing regular software updates and patch management. Close collaboration between suppliers and customers is crucial for identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities in a timely manner. 

Implementing Secure Development Practices 

Organisations should encourage secure development practices among their suppliers. This includes adhering to established cyber security frameworks and standards, conducting secure coding practices, and performing regular software updates and patch management. Close collaboration between suppliers and customers is crucial for identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities in a timely manner.

Continuous Monitoring and Risk Assessment

Effective supply chain management necessitates continuous monitoring and risk assessment. Organisations should implement comprehensive monitoring systems to detect and respond to potential threats within the supply chain. Proactive monitoring helps identify unusual activities, detect malware, and mitigate risks before they escalate. Regular risk assessments, including third-party penetration tests and vulnerability scans, help evaluate the security posture of suppliers and identify areas for improvement. 

Incident Response and Recovery 

Despite preventive measures, incidents may still occur. Organisations must have robust incident response plans in place, specifically tailored to address supply chain incidents. This includes clear communication channels with suppliers, predetermined escalation procedures, and effective co-ordination to mitigate the impact of an incident swiftly. Regular rehearsals and simulations of incident response scenarios help ensure preparedness and minimise disruption.

The NCSC provide advice in their Mapping your supply chain guidance,  Gathering information about your suppliers in a consistent manner and storing it in a centralised repository that’s access controlled will ensure it’s easier to analyse and maintain. 

Typical information to include:

  • a full inventory of suppliers and their subcontractors, showing how they are connected to each other.
  • what product or service is being provided, by whom, and the importance of that asset to your organisation
  • the information flows between your organisation and a supplier (including an understanding of the value of that information)
  • assurance contacts within the supplying organisation
  • information relating to the completeness of the last assessment, details of when the next assurance assessment is due, and any outstanding activities.
  • proof of any certifications required, such as Cyber Essentials, ISO certification, product certification.

This ultimately allows you to manage the risks, with a comprehensive view of the supply chain, that is always up to date.

Acquiring this information, especially for large organisations with complex supply chains, can be a massive undertaking. The NCSC has guidance on How to assess your supply chain’s cyber security, that helps organisations to undertake this.

Getting started

This will depend on your organisations structure, risk appetite as well as the tooling you have available, along with your procurement process. 

The NCSC produced a set of principles detailing the approach your organisation could take as you work to mitigate the risks that your supplier ecosystem presents. 

  1. Build a list of known suppliers. Prioritise suppliers, systems, products, and services that are critical to your organisation.
  2. Decide what information would be useful to capture about your supply chain.
  3. Understand how you will store the information securely and manage access to it.
  4. Establish whether you want to collect information about your suppliers’ subcontractors, how far down the chain is useful to go.
    • Consider using additional services which evaluate your suppliers and provide supplementary information about their cyber risk profile.
    • For new suppliers, state upfront within your procurement process what you expect your suppliers to provide.
    • For existing suppliers, inform them what information you want to capture about and why, and retrofit information collected from existing suppliers into a centralised repository.
  5. Update standard contract clauses to ensure the information required is provided as standard when initiating working with a supplier.
  6. Define who is best placed in your organisation to use this information; this might include procurement, business owners, cyber security, and operational security teams. Make them aware of the information store and provide access.
  7. Consider creating a playbook to deal with situations where an incident occurs and you may need to co-ordinate effort across both the extended supply chain, and third parties such as law enforcement, regulators and even customers. A useful Supply Chain scenario can be found in the NCSC Exercise in a box service.
  8. Finally, document the steps that will need to change within your procurement process as a result of supply chain mapping. 

A secure and resilient supply chain is an indispensable component of a comprehensive cyber security strategy. Recognising the significance of supply chain management in mitigating cyber risks and protecting digital assets is integral. 

In todays interconnected digital landscape, a secure supply chain is the foundation of a secure organisation. 

If you would like to understand more about how SCM can help bolster your organisations security, or interested to better understand where your organisation is today, and where you can be tomorrow. Please contact us.