Software Supply Chain Security Understanding Supply Chain Attacks

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Software supply chain attacks are becoming increasingly prevalent and devastating, with Gartner predicting that 45% of all businesses will experience a breach by 2025. Cybersecurity Ventures further underscores the gravity of this threat, projecting a staggering $138 billion in annual damages caused by software supply chain attacks by 2031. These alarming forecasts highlight the urgent need for organizations to prioritize software supply chain security and implement robust measures to protect their sensitive data, operations, and reputations.

The rise of third-party components, accelerated software development cycles, complex supply chains, lack of visibility, evolving attack techniques, SaaS adoption, and limited resources are all contributing factors driving the surge in software supply chain attacks. Organizations need to adopt a comprehensive and proactive approach to address these challenges and safeguard their software supply chains.

What is a Software Supply Chain Attack?

ENISA defines SSCA as “a compromise of a particular asset, e.g. a software provider’s infrastructure and commercial software, with the aim to indirectly damage a certain target or targets, e.g. the software provider’s clients.” In other words, a Software Supply Chain Attack refers to a malicious activity targeting the software supply chain, aiming to compromise and introduce vulnerabilities or malicious elements into the software development and distribution process. This attack capitalizes on the interconnected and often complex network of processes, tools, and entities involved in creating and delivering software.

Key components and concepts related to a Software Supply Chain Attack

The academic cyber threat intelligence and infosec literature has segmented software supply chain attacks into distinct categories for a more comprehensive understanding. We would like to provide an introduction to these concepts based on the MITRE Attack Pattern Catalog. This catalog structures and describes supply chain attack patterns to facilitate analysis using various sources, including the adversarial threats compiled by NIST.

Attack Act: The What. 

An action that causes a malicious payload or malicious intention to be delivered to or directed at a system to adversely affect that system

  • Example 1: Malware is inserted into system software during the build process
  • Example 2: System requirements or design documents are maliciously altered. 
 
Attack vector: The How. 

The route or method used by an adversary to exploit system design vulnerabilities or process weaknesses to cause adverse consequences. (Attack vectors are how adversaries can access attack surfaces, which can be thought of as reachable and exploitable vulnerabilities)

  • Example 1: An adversary with access to software development tools and processes during the software integration and build process
  • Example 2: An adversary gains unauthorized access to system technical documentation
 
Attack origin: The Who. 

The source of an attack. Information to identify the adversary’s role, status, and/or relationship to the system development and acquisition (e.g. inside or outside the acquiring organization and/or supply chain, type of job performed, etc.)

Attack Goal: The Why. 

The adversary’s reason for the attack. More than one may apply (disruption, corruption, disclosure, destruction…)

Attack Impact: The consequences. 

What the attack accomplishes. A description of adverse effects on the system. 

Most common Software Supply Chain Attacks

Numerous types of software supply chain attacks (SSCAs) exist, and organizations must be aware of the various threat vectors at each stage of the software supply chain lifecycle. Based on The SLSA framework, The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), we can categorize these threats into four main categories: source, build, package, and dependency threats.

Software Supply Chain Security Understanding Supply Chain Attacks

Software Supply Chain Security Threats in the Source Stage

  • Submit bad code 
  • Compromise source repo
  • Build from a modified source
  • Write insecure code
  • Tampering critical files

Software Supply Chain Security Threats in the Build Stage

  • Bypass CI/CD
  • Modify code after source control 
  • Compromise build process
  • Compromise artifact repository

Software Supply Chain Security Threats in the Package Stage

  • Use Compromised Dependency

Dependency Threats in the Software Supply Chain

  • Use compromised package
  • Compromise package registry
  • Upload Modified Package

Common software supply chain attack techniques

Although there are numerous types of techniques that can be employed in the cybersphere, the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) of the U.S. Department of Commerce have summarized them in three categories in their publication  “Defending Against Software Supply Chain Attacks”.

  • Hijacking Updates
  • Undermining Codesigning
  • Compromising Open-Source Code

Xygeni: Your Comprehensive Solution for Robust Software Supply Chain Security

Xygeni’s comprehensive platform goes beyond traditional security solutions that focus on isolated phases of the SDLC or specific threat vectors. We take a holistic approach to security, providing a unified defense against all types of threats that can compromise your software supply chain.

Whether you need to mitigate specific threats or secure your entire SDLC, Xygeni offers a comprehensive range of solutions to address your security challenges effectively. Our suite of products includes:

Our products:

  • Security Posture: Continuous monitoring, assessment, and management of the security risks within the pipeline, infrastructure, and teams

  • SDLC Inventory: Discover and catalog all artefacts, resources, and dependencies by their security posture.

  • CI/CD Security: Prevent insecure configuration and ensure the end-to-end software supply chain remains steadfastly secure.

  • Build Security: Elevate your software’s trust with Xygeni’s attestation, ensuring no unauthorized changes in CI/CD processes.

  • Anomaly Detection: Real-time detection and alerting of anomalous activity that may cause or be a precursor to an attack.

  • Open Source Security & SBOM: Identify questionable dependencies and malicious code that may compromise software projects.

  • Secrets Security: Identify secrets throughout the entire SDLC and prevent new secrets included in coding, building, and delivery actions

  • IaC Security: Ensure security and integrity of IaC templates to avoid replicating vulnerabilities at scale

  • Compliance: Enforce and provide evidence that security policies are applied throughout all stages of the SDLC.

With Xygeni, you gain a comprehensive solution for robust software supply chain security, tailored to your specific needs and priorities. We’re committed to helping you fortify your SDLC, ensuring the security and integrity of your software across its entire lifecycle.

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