What is a supply chain early warning system and how does it improve your cybersecurity?

supply chain early warning

89% of businesses have experienced a supply chain risk event in the past five years. Discover how a supply chain early warning system can help you reduce risk and stay one step ahead.

What is a supply chain early warning system?

A supply chain early warning system (EWS) identifies potential security threats in your supply chain, based on a combination of internal and external data. After analysing the data, the system notifies decision-makers and suggests measures to mitigate the threat or minimise the impact. Together with your cybersecurity tools, processes, and policies, it helps to protect your business against third-party threats.

In the past, supply chain early warning systems focussed on far-reaching external factors that could disrupt business operations. For example, natural disasters, critical component shortages, or industrial action. But, due to the growing threat of supply chain attacks, today’s systems play a crucial role in protecting businesses against cybercriminals.

Supply chain attacks increased by 633% in 2022.

– Sonatype, Stats of the Software Supply Chain

5 supply chain cybersecurity risks an early warning system detects

Supply chain attacks surpassed traditional malware-based exploits by more than 40% in 2022, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center’s annual Data Breach Report. In the past twelve months, supply chain attacks impacted over 10 million people representing 1,734 entities.

What makes them so difficult to detect, let alone stop, is the diverse array of delivery methods. Of the numerous supply chain risks to be aware of, these are among the most common.

Worried about the threat posed by supply chain attacks? Read our guide to protecting your business.

1. Watering hole attacks

The hacker inserts malicious software into a website that receives a lot of traffic from the target business or businesses. When someone visits the compromised site, the malware infiltrates the visitor’s defences to gain access to their systems or data. Watering hole attacks are difficult to detect and boast a higher-than-average success rate.

2. Compromised software development tools

The hacker compromises a supplier’s software development tools, infrastructure, or processes. This leaves any resulting applications built from them vulnerable to zero-day security exploits, putting end-users at risk.

3. Compromised website builders

The hacker compromises a supplier’s website via its website builder. Typically, the hacker installs malicious software or a redirect script into the target site, which sends users to a malicious clone of the website when they visit the URL.

4. Stolen product certificates

The hacker steals an official product certificate, which enables them to distribute malicious software and applications under the guise of legitimate products. 

5. Third-party data store breaches

The hacker infiltrates a third-party data centre, for example, via a botnet. Once inside, they can steal sensitive business or customer information which they can then:

  • Sell for profit on the dark web
  • Ransom back to the victim
  • Release to the public
  • Delete or corrupt

How do early warning systems protect you against supply chain threats?

Detect and respond to network vulnerabilities

Most businesses only realise a hacker has compromised their network when they spot suspicious activity. For example, when a network client scans the internet. But at this point, the damage may already be done. An early warning system proactively monitors your network for vulnerabilities and malware, giving you time to repair any breaches before hackers can exploit them.  

Identify and assess cyber risks

An effective supply chain early warning system raises your awareness of external cybersecurity threats that may impact your business. When your system identifies a potentially harmful event or attacker, it notifies relevant stakeholders. This helps you:

  • Quickly spot and assess risks
  • Proactively monitor emerging threats or incidents
  • Prepare your defences to minimise or mitigate the impact on your business

Raise stakeholder awareness

By keeping stakeholders informed of current and emerging threats, early warning systems help to raise awareness of your supply chain risks. Over time, you’ll understand what to look out for and where to invest your cybersecurity budget to protect against online threats. 

Forewarned is forearmed

A supply chain early warning system adds another layer of defence to your cybersecurity. It gives you a clear view of your risk landscape, so you can detect and respond to online threats more effectively.

However, you don’t necessarily need a specialist tool to dramatically improve your supply chain security. Cyber Essentials certification can help you get the basics in place. Meanwhile, a generalist security tool like CyberSmart Active Protect can give you early warning of vulnerabilities within your own organisation, mitigating many of the risks your business faces. Likewise, following the NCSC’s guidance on mapping your supply chain can also help better protect your organisation.

You can’t always control the security of your suppliers or partners, but by getting the fundamentals down, you can minimise your risk.

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