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Top supply chain vulnerabilities: people

June 6, 2022

The supply chains of this digital era are long and complex, and any disruptions caused by security threats will have a massive impact on the entire organisation. Businesses can usually plan for external risks to ensure continuity, such as supply chain disruption and abnormal demand. What is often overlooked are the internal threats arising from malicious or negligent employees within a company.

Right now, the risk of someone infiltrating your systems through an external supplier is at an all-time high. Since you are not in direct control of the employees who work for your suppliers, you might find it more difficult to mitigate the people risks in your supply chain. However, this does not mean that supply chain risks cannot be mitigated at all. By extending proper security awareness training to your suppliers, and building a resilient defense against various threats, supply chain risks can be greatly reduced.

The biggest vulnerability in a supply chain is the human element in it, so let’s look at the different measures you can take to overcome this risk.

Why hackers target supply chains

Cyber security risks targeting the supply chain of an organisation have grown much worse over the years. As the pandemic lockdown took effect, supply chain cyber security risks increased by about 80% with remote working scenarios making things worse for suppliers. However, there are some specific reasons why hackers target the supply chains of large organisations.

Many larger organisations now take adequate precautions against various cyber threats, so gaining access through the front door isn’t as easy as it used to be for hackers. The supply chain, on the other hand, offers cyber criminals a creative way to infiltrate larger organisations.

Small suppliers often don’t have the budget to invest in extensive cyber security measures. They are also likely to have legacy hardware and software products that can be exploited in an attack. As a result, these suppliers tend to act as a channel for cyber criminals to inflict a bigger attack on a large organisation.

People risks originating from supply chains

The employees working in these supply chains often offer an easy way in for attackers. Although organisations have well-defined processes to vet and evaluate their suppliers and third-party suppliers, it isn’t easy to measure the risks originating from the people who work for these companies. Also, they don’t have a centralised view of the third-party members accessing their applications and critical data.

Take the example of an employee opening an email containing a malicious link and clicking on it which then downloads a ransomware program. These types of phishing emails can also be used to steal an employee’s login credentials. Once these attackers gain a foothold in the IT environment of the supplier, they can use it as a backdoor entry to a larger organisation in the supply chain and infiltrate their IT networks.

Other activities, like using unsecured Wi-Fi networks or personal devices for work, in the supply chain can also create major security issues. Opportunistic cyber criminals look forward to exploiting any possible loophole in an organisation’s security. When these threats carry forward from your supplier’s network to yours, it has the potential to disrupt your operation and damage your reputation.

Mitigating internal risks in the supply chain

Many organisations already have formal programs to assess and manage third-party risks. However, these programs are not always adequate to deal with employee risks. For instance, companies have questionnaires for their suppliers regarding their security requirements, yet research suggests only a small percent of companies believe the responses!

That’s why extra measures are required to deal with the human risks that third parties pose. Here are some examples of what you can do:

Limit access to critical information

Many third-party users require access from your end to perform their tasks. However, this access must be limited to their job roles. You also need to have a full list of individuals accessing your information and the type of information they are accessing.

Extend security awareness training to suppliers

The cyber security awareness training you have for your internal employees should also extend to members of your third-party suppliers. There should be strict guidelines on security measures that should be followed by everyone accessing your data.

Create a backup strategy

One of the best ways of mitigating data security risks is by backing up your critical data. You need to be prepared for the worst possible scenarios and have a disaster recovery strategy to get your operations up and running immediately after an unexpected attack.

Audit your suppliers regularly

Choosing your third-party suppliers is not a one-and-done process. Regular audits of your suppliers and business partners will expose new vulnerabilities in their systems.

Secure your critical data

With supply chain risks at an all-time high, you need a trusted partner by your side to protect your data from all kinds of human threats emerging from the supply chain.

Quintech’s expertise in data security and security awareness training can help you overcome supply chain obstacles and secure your data from all kinds of threats. Give us a call on 01684 887200 or email info@quintech.co.uk