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The Importance of Supply Chain Cybersecurity

Written by: University of Tulsa   •  Mar 1, 2024
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The Importance of Supply Chain Cybersecurity

Today’s manufacturers increasingly rely on global supply chains to provide the components, resources, and services that are used to create their products. At the same time, the professionals who manage these supply chains are increasingly relying on digital tools, like software and connected equipment, to keep their operations running smoothly.

Businesses often can save time and money by using third parties to fill gaps in their supply chain production and distribution functions. However, with increased reliance on third parties comes a greater risk of cybersecurity issues. According to the ninth annual report on software supply chain security by Sonatype, 2023 saw twice as many software supply chain cyber attacks as there were in all previously reported years combined.

Supply chain security has always been important, but the growing role of its digital aspects opens the door for cyber attacks that can severely damage a company, its customers, and its products. Professionals with the right experience and education tasked with noticing these threats and using preventive measures to stop them or react quickly enough to halt significant damage are key players in protecting today’s supply chains. Read on to learn more about these threats and how supply chain cybersecurity professionals can make a difference.

What Are Supply Chain Cybersecurity Threats?

A supply chain consists of a web of organizations, each of which contributes to the larger whole. Many manufacturers also now utilize code, programs, and other components created by third parties to monitor their supply chains. Because of the interconnected nature of a supply chain, a hacker could easily access any organization in the chain if the system, software, or code of one of the third parties is compromised. 

Organizations rely on trust that the third parties they do business with are reliable and that their digital connections are secure. It takes professionals working in various cybersecurity specialties to maintain security across these multiple organizations and applications.

Not all supply chain cyber attacks use the same method, and they don’t all have the same objective. Some hackers target a piece of a supply chain to impact a specific company down the chain, while others may attack at random without a specific goal. The unanticipated nature of cyber attacks can make devising defensive strategies difficult and requires understanding the risks of implementing preventive protocols. Here are examples of cyber threats that can target a supply chain: 

Network Attacks

Network supply chain attacks target companies that have a connected digital network or system that is shared with others. By accessing a single company using this method, hackers can easily sneak through the digital back door of other companies on the same network, bypassing many of the other companies’ cybersecurity protocols. Often, cyber attack strategies such as phishing emails, malware infections, or stolen certificates or credentials are used to gain access to the initial organization to enter through the back door of a larger company — or disrupt the entire network. 

What makes network attacks dangerous is that, even if a manufacturer has adequate cybersecurity protections, the other organizations on its network may have vulnerabilities that can allow hackers to infect its systems.

Software Attacks

Companies that manufacture software often rely on third-party vendors for code and various other components of the applications they produce. Software supply chain attacks target a specific piece of code or software, infecting it with malware or coding that opens a back door in an application that hackers can use for access after the software has reached the intended target. Hackers can target the third parties that create these pieces of software and code and implement their back doors early in the supply chain, or they can disguise themselves as a reputable third party through false or stolen credentials, sending intentionally malicious software or components on to a manufacturer.

Once the malicious piece of software or code has been incorporated into the target’s larger systems, the hacker can then access the company’s services and data. In cases where customers use the software, the hacker can gain access to their data as well, making this supply chain cybersecurity threat even more dangerous to the company’s reputation and bottom line.

Hardware Attacks

Hardware supply chain attacks target pieces of physical technology that may be vulnerable to hackers, such as internet routers. These attacks function much like software attacks in that they infiltrate an organization by disguising themselves as a legitimate and uncontaminated product.

One way hackers may attempt to do this is by implementing a piece of code in a product’s firmware via a compromised manufacturer, which will allow them to access the data and services of the companies who use it and their individual customers alike. They also may find back doors that were unaccounted for in the hardware’s original programming and exploit them for the same effect, necessitating the continuous upgrading of firmware for security purposes.

Keep Supply Chains Safe as a Cybersecurity Professional

Supply chain cybersecurity will continue to grow in importance to companies as they increasingly rely on third parties for digital services and software to manage their supply chain functions. The increased efficiency of these digital supply chains comes at the risk of hackers having more access than ever to confidential company and customer data. Professionals looking to increase their cybersecurity knowledge to help tackle these threats should consider the benefits of enrolling in The University of Tulsa’s online M.S. in Cyber Security program.

This program offers students a curriculum that covers the foundations of cybersecurity, including the technical aspects of network security, access control, and user authentication techniques, and the fundamentals of cryptography and data encryption. As an online master’s program, it allows you to take the next step in continuing your education toward your career goals at any stage of life and lets you learn on your own schedule.

Discover what you’re capable of with The University of Tulsa.

Recommended Readings

Cybersecurity Defense Strategies

Information Security vs. Cybersecurity: What’s the Difference?

The Benefits of Earning Cybersecurity Certification


BlueVoyant, “The State of Supply Chain Defense in 2022”

BlueVoyant, “Supply Chain Attacks: 7 Examples and 4 Defensive Strategies”

Check Point Software Technologies, “What Is Supply Chain Security?”

CyberSaint Security, “Cybersecurity Risks to Consider in Supply Chain Management”

Fortinet, “Supply Chain Attacks: Examples and Countermeasures”

GuidePoint Security, “What Is Cyber Supply Chain Risk Management?”

Sonatype, “9th Annual State of the Software Supply Chain”

TechTarget, Supply Chain Security

Terranova Security, “The Chain Reaction: Why Cyber Security in Supply Chain Networks Is Critical”

UpGuard, “The Biggest Security Risks in Your Supply Chain in 2023”

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