Although it was far from the first one, the software supply chain attack against SolarWinds was truly devastating. We are still suffering from related attacks, and no one yet knows what the full consequences of the compromise will be. Since the attack, organizations of all sorts have been scrambling to prepare themselves for similar attacks and to find ways to prevent them from affecting them. The good news for these organizations is that now there is new authoritative guidance just published to help them.
This month, the CISA and NIST released a joint paper entitled “Defending Against Software Supply Chain Attacks.” This document provides an overview of software supply chain risks and recommendations on how software customers and vendors can use the NIST Cyber Supply Chain Risk Management (C-SCRM) framework and the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) to identify, assess, and mitigate risks.
The paper begins by explaining what the larger information and communications technology (ICT) supply chain framework is, how the software supply chain fits into it and what the six phases of the ICT Supply Chain Lifecycle are. They illustrate how vulnerabilities can creep into each phase of this life cycle and give examples of past compromises. They explain some particular reasons why software supply chain attacks are so attractive to cyber-criminals, who is most likely to be behind such attacks and some of the most common attack vectors used by these criminals.
One of the big points they make is how difficult it is for network defenders to quickly mitigate the consequences of a software supply chain attack after it has occurred. They emphasize that only by being prepared for software supply chain attacks before they occur can organizations hope to properly prevent and effectively respond to these attacks. They recommend that a formal C-SCRM approach should be employed across the organization, business and system tiers of the organization.
NIST includes a list of eight key practices for customers for establishing a C-SCRM approach which include:
- Integrate C-SCRM across the organization.
- Establish a formal C-SCRM program.
- Know and manage critical components and suppliers.
- Understand the organization’s supply chain.
- Closely collaborate with key suppliers.
- Include key suppliers in resilience and improvement activities.
- Assess and monitor throughout the supplier relationship.
- Plan for the full lifecycle.
The paper then goes into actions customers can take to prevent acquiring malicious or vulnerable software, actions customers can take to mitigate deployed malicious or vulnerable software and actions customers can take to increase resilience measures to help mitigate the impact of a successful attack. The paper then provides valuable recommendations for software vendors themselves to take in fighting this problem.
I highly recommend that organizations at risk from software supply chain attacks download this guidance and take it to heart. Only an organized, prepared and resilient information security program has any hope of helping organizations fight software supply chain attacks. Happily, instituting a proper infosec program such as described will also help you protect your organization from the other types of cyber-attacks that currently plague us.