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The Chain Reaction: Why Cyber Security in Supply Chain Networks is Critical


Chain React

Imagine this, you decide to do your weekly shop at the supermarket. You walk in and it is empty, with not even a single tin of beans on the shelves. This would happen if stores do not continually replenish their stock, but even the staple products on the shelves sometimes require a complex supply chain to ensure the product gets to the store in the first place. Supply chains originate from the raw materials and ingredients used to make a sellable product, they often come from different locations and suppliers; some may be local, but others may be abroad in far-flung places worldwide.


Regardless of where the ingredients or materials originate from they need to be transported to manufacturing factories in order to produce the final product. Also when we think about supply chains we primarily think of the products we are buying, but we often gloss over the packaging used to keep the products we buy free of damage and spoil. Each part or link of the supply chain is critical to keep the supply chain running smoothly. If even one aspect of the supply chain is not working as it should the whole supply chain could be thrown askew, which may lead to fewer products being delivered to shops causing product shortages.

How Can Cyber Attacks Negatively Impact Supply Chain Networks?

Typically when supply chain cyber-attacks occur the hackers exploit a vulnerability in one of the organisations involved in the supply chain, from this information about the supply chain will be exposed to malicious outsiders which could lead to other parts of the supply chain being compromised by cyber attacks. Supply chain cyber attacks take a significant amount of time to detect and contain, in some cases it can take a year or more to contain the cyber attacks. Cyber attacks at any part of the supply chain can cause service outages; which means that the products may not be manufactured in the expected timescale. Additionally, disruptions in the supply chain also impact the delivery of key materials and ingredients used to manufacture the products in the first place. Disruptions can also halt products being transported to shops once they have been manufactured.   

Why Do Hackers Target Supply Chains?

     Financial Gain: Supply chains are ideal targets for hackers to exploit one chain link company in the supply chain and then have the potential to create issues for many other companies within the supply chain. Each of these relies on being able to perform its designated function in the supply chain. For example, the companies manufacturing the products need to ensure that they are sticking to their production targets; and then the companies transporting materials and items from one location to another need to ensure that they can continue doing this unhindered. Depending on the financial situation of these organisations even the smallest disruption can be disastrous for the company's financial health. Hackers know this and can use this leverage to demand ransom from companies that may be desperate to continue regular operations.

     Bragging Rights: Hacking is a skill that takes time and patience to master, just like other skills that require the same personal sacrifices to learn people want to show off their skills to others. Hackers show off their skills by hacking businesses and government entities, the bigger the target that they have successfully infiltrated the more bragging rights they have. Supply chain networks are big, lucrative targets where even targeting one chain of the supply chain can have disastrous impacts on the entire supply chain ecosystem.

     Disruption And Theft: Supply chain networks often hold a lot of sensitive information about different businesses within the supply chain. This data can be held at ransom by hackers, who may either be threatening to release it to the general public or threatening to delete it and not give it back to the company that has been hacked. In some cases, companies may be willing to pay hackers the ransom fee just so they can get the data back in safe hands. If a hacker is identified and caught stealing company information they can face up to 20 years in prison. 

How Can Supply Chains Protect Themselves Against Cyber Attacks?


     Utilising Honeytokens: Honey tokens are like tripwires that cyber intruders set off when they steal data from a supply chain network, honeytokens are fake resources that pose as sensitive data. When the hackers interact with the honeytokens a signal is activated and the organisation that is being breached is given an early warning signal that they are being cyberattacked. Additionally, the organisation being cyber attacked is also notified of the method the hacker is using to breach their systems. This way they can use the most effective method that is part of their arsenal to deal with that type of threat. Additionally, if the hacker is not behind a firewall, honeytokens can reveal the location and identity of the hacker. This means that law enforcement can get involved and stop the hacker from hacking companies in the future.

     Secure Privileged Access Method: When hackers breach an account connected to a computer system of a company or supply chain they often move laterally around the organisation in search of a privileged account to breach; giving them more access to sensitive information and a greater control over the network they have breached. To prevent this businesses within the supply chain need to take preventative measures such as:

-      Employee Training: Develop cyber security policies and educate staff to reduce the likelihood of staff members falling for techniques that hackers use to breach networks, such as scam emails or phishing. These emails can be designed to seem like they originated internally within the organisation, however when somebody clicks on a link they will be taken to a website that downloads malware onto a computer system without their knowledge. This can give backdoor access for hackers to breach the computerised networks of a company. Companies should also show employees examples of online scams which will help people know what signs to look for to prevent them falling for scams.

-      Detect Vendor Leaks: Because of the collaborative nature of supply chains if one company is breached within the supply chain this may lead to other companies becoming targets in the future. This is why having detection methods in place to identify cyber attacks when they happen, and establishing a culture of letting other companies in the supply chain know about the intrusion as soon as possible instead of trying to cover it up. Companies may try to cover up cyber attacks because they may worry about the reputational impact that being the victim of a cyber attack may bring about.

-      Encrypt All Internal Data: When you encrypt data you are essentially mixing all the data together so it is unreadable without the decryption key, which the hackers should not have. Meaning that even if the hackers were able to steal any sensitive data as long as it is encrypted it would be unusable to the hackers.


Supply chains can be lucrative targets for hackers for a variety of reasons. It is important for companies in supply chains to recognise this and ensure that they have countermeasures in place to help prevent cyber-attacks in the first place, and additional protections in place if they are actually hacked.

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