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Supply Chain Attacks: Prevention Best Practices and Examples

Supply chain attacks are a growing concern in the cyber space, impacting businesses across various sectors. These attacks can lead to significant disruptions, financial loss, and damage to reputation. Understanding how they work, recognizing their types, and implementing effective mitigation strategies is essential for maintaining organizational security.

What are supply chain attacks?

Supply chain attacks target third-party vendors trusted to provide essential services or software within a supply chain. In software supply chain attacks, attackers inject malicious code into an application to infect its users, whereas hardware supply chain attacks tamper with physical components to achieve the same goal.

Historically, supply chain attacks have targeted the trusted relationships between companies, exploiting weaker security in one supplier to reach their larger trading partners. Today, however, the main reason for worry is software supply chain attacks. These attacks are especially threatening because modern software relies heavily on pre-built components, including third-party APIs, open-source code, and proprietary software from vendors. This means if a widely-used application incorporates a compromised dependency, every business that downloads software from that vendor is at risk, potentially affecting a large number of victims.

Also, because software is often reused, a single vulnerability can persist beyond the life of the original software, especially in software that lacks a large user community. Larger communities tend to identify and address vulnerabilities more quickly than smaller ones.

How do supply chain attacks work?

Cyber attackers infiltrate a supplier or vendor's network, often one with weaker security protocols. Once inside, they can tamper with software and systems to compromise the security of any connected organizations. Because businesses typically trust their suppliers, these attacks can go unnoticed for a long time, allowing malicious actors to cause extensive damage.

Types of supply chain attacks

Software attacks

These involve malicious modifications to software products before the delivery to customers. It includes embedding malware within legitimate software updates or installation packages.

Browser-based attacks

Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in web browsers to execute unauthorized commands or redirect users to malicious websites.

JavaScript attacks

These attacks use malicious JavaScript code inserted into reputable websites, often through compromised third-party services.

Magecart attacks

A specific type of JavaScript attack where cybercriminals inject skimming code into e-commerce sites to steal credit card data directly from online payment forms.

Open-source attacks

These occur when attackers inject malicious code into open-source libraries or components, which are then unknowingly used by developers in various applications.


In this scenario, attackers use someone else's computing resources to mine cryptocurrency without their knowledge.

Watering hole attacks

Cybercriminals compromise a popular website known to be visited by targeted users to infect their systems.

Known examples of supply chain attacks


In 2020, a highly sophisticated supply chain attack came to light, targeting the Orion software by SolarWinds, a popular IT management solution. This attack involved the insertion of a malicious code, dubbed "SUNBURST," into the software's updates. Over 18,000 SolarWinds customers downloaded the compromised software update, which then allowed attackers to infiltrate the networks of multiple US federal agencies and numerous private companies. The breach was notable not only for its scale but also for the stealth and sophistication with which the attackers operated, remaining undetected for months.


In 2021, Mimecast, an email management tool, reported that one of its digital certificates was compromised. This certificate was used to authenticate Mimecast Sync and Recover, Continuity Monitor, and IEP products to Microsoft 365 Exchange Web Services. As a result, the attackers potentially accessed email and other data from about 10% of Mimecast's customers who used this connection. The breach was part of a larger series of attacks that also involved SolarWinds, suggesting a coordinated effort to target multiple parts of the technology supply chain.


The Equifax breach, which occurred in 2017, was one of the largest recorded data breaches and involved the exposure of sensitive personal information, including social security numbers, of approximately 147 million people. The attackers exploited a vulnerability in Apache Struts, an open-source application framework used by Equifax for its web applications. Despite patches being available several months before the breach, Equifax failed to update its systems in time, leading to unauthorized access and massive data leakage.


Okta recently experienced a significant software supply chain attack, impacting files associated with 134 of its customers, which is less than 1% of its total customer base. The breach notably damaged Okta's reputation, a critical asset in the cybersecurity field, resulting in an 11% drop in its shares due to diminished trust among current and potential customers. Sensitive customer data was compromised during the attack, thereby raising serious privacy and security concerns. Additionally, the breach led to potential operational disruptions for the affected customers. While a prompt response helped mitigate severe impacts, necessary investigations and bolstered security protocols likely disrupted regular business activities. Also, the attackers had access to stolen session tokens, which could lead to unauthorized account takeovers, further endangering confidential data and operational integrity within the affected organizations.

10 best practices to mitigate software supply chain attacks

  1. Inspect unauthorized shadow IT systems: Regularly audit and monitor for any unauthorized IT practices or solutions within the organization.
  2. Keep a comprehensive and up-to-date software asset inventory: Maintain a detailed inventory of all software assets to manage and secure them effectively.
  3. Evaluate the security standards of suppliers: Before onboarding, assess the security posture of all potential suppliers to ensure they meet your security requirements.
  4. Continuously validate supplier integrity: Regularly review and reassess the security practices of suppliers to ensure ongoing compliance and security.
  5. Implement client-side security measures: Deploy security solutions that protect end users from potential threats via their client devices.
  6. Utilize endpoint detection and response technologies: Implement advanced technologies that can detect, investigate, and respond to security threats on endpoint devices.
  7. Establish stringent code integrity guidelines: Create policies that only allow vetted, authorized applications to run in your environment.
  8. Ensure the build and update infrastructure is secure: Safeguard all systems involved in the development, build, and deployment processes from unauthorized access and tampering.
  9. Incorporate secure software updates within the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC): Integrate security practices into every phase of software development to detect vulnerabilities early.
  10. Formulate a robust incident response strategy: Develop a comprehensive incident response plan to quickly identify, respond to, and recover from security breaches.

By understanding and implementing these practices, organizations can significantly enhance their defenses against the rising tide of supply chain attacks, ensuring their data and systems are well-protected against this sophisticated and potentially devastating form of cyber threat.

How can ASEE help?

Third-party attackers often exploit weak authentication measures and inappropriate access control to target the authentication infrastructure. This strategy enables them to penetrate organizations and inject malicious code into the software. Highlighting this tactic further underscores the strength of our security solutions and effectiveness in protecting against such breaches. ASEE offers innovative solutions tailored to address specific cybersecurity challenges, effectively mitigating risks and enhancing overall security. Here’s how ASEE can assist your organization in overcoming these challenges:

Enhanced mobile application security:

Many organizations face the challenge of compromised mobile applications and failing penetration tests. ASEE’s App Protector solution directly addresses this by minimizing vulnerabilities and actively detecting and responding to threats in real-time. Through application hardening techniques like code obfuscation, anti-tampering, and integrity checks, it becomes significantly harder for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities. Additionally, Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP) technology monitors the application’s behavior and context, effectively blocking malicious activities such as jailbreaking, rooting, debugging, hooking, emulator detection, and screen recording. This comprehensive approach reduces the attack surface and ensures that your mobile applications remain secure against emerging threats.

Robust access management:

Inadequate authorization mechanisms can expose organizations to unauthorized data breaches. ASEE’s Identity and Access Management (IAM) system enforces stringent access controls, managing and authenticating the credentials of employees and third-party entities alike. This system ensures that only authorized personnel have access to critical systems and data while maintaining detailed audit trails for enhanced security and compliance.

Multi-Factor and Adaptive authentication:

Weak authentication measures leave organizations vulnerable to unauthorized access. ASEE addresses this by implementing Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and Adaptive Authentication. MFA adds an extra layer of security, making it difficult for unauthorized users to gain access even if they have compromised credentials. Adaptive Authentication takes this further by analyzing factors such as user behavior, location, device, and time of access to dynamically assess the risk level of each authentication attempt. This real-time analysis allows the system to respond immediately to potential threats, providing a smarter, more responsive security layer.

Passwordless authentication systems:

Unsafe password management by employees can lead to significant security risks. ASEE’s Passwordless authentication solution shifts away from traditional password-based security, using biometric authentication methods instead. This not only makes the login process simpler and more secure but also reduces the chances of security fatigue among users. With biometric credentials that cannot be easily stolen or replicated, organizations can ensure a higher level of security with less user friction.

By integrating ASEE’s tailored solutions, your organization can significantly enhance its security posture, protect critical data, and maintain compliance with industry standards.

Feel free to contact us– zero obligation. Our ASEE team will be happy to hear you out. 

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