What is a Supply Chain Attack?

Supply chain attacks are designed to exploit trust relationships between an organization and external parties. These relationships could include partnerships, vendor relationships, or the use of third-party software. Cyber threat actors will compromise one organization and then move up the supply chain, taking advantage of these trusted relationships to gain access to other organizations’ environments.

Preventing an Attack? Cyber Security Report

What is a Supply Chain Attack?

Supply Chain Attacks Are Surging

In recent years, many of the most damaging and high-profile cybersecurity incidents have been supply chain attacks. While this surge may have many drivers, one of the most significant is the cyber pandemic.


COVID-19 transformed the modern business, pushing many organizations to remote work and cloud adoption when they might not have been fully ready to make the move. As a result, security teams – which are often understaffed due to the cybersecurity skills gap – are overwhelmed and unable to keep up.

Examples of Supply Chain Attacks

With the new attack vectors created by remote work and overwhelmed security teams, cybercriminals have had many opportunities to perform supply chain attacks. Some of the largest in recent years include:


  • SolarWinds: In 2020, a hacking group gained access to SolarWinds’ production environment and embedded a backdoor in updates to its Orion network monitoring product. SolarWinds customers running the malicious update suffered data breaches and other security incidents.
  • Kaseya: The REvil ransomware gang exploited Kaseya, a software company providing software for Managed Services Providers (MSPs) to infect over 1,000 customers with ransomware.  The group demanded a ransom of $70 million to provide decryption keys for all affected customers. 
  • Codecov: Codecov is a software testing organization whose Bash uploader script (used to send code coverage reports to the company) was modified by an attacker. This supply chain exploit enabled the attackers to redirect sensitive information such as source code, secrets and more from CodeCov’s customers to their own servers.
  • NotPetya: NotPetya was a fake ransomware malware that encrypted computers but did not save the secret key for decryption. It’s called turning it into a “wiper”.
    • The NotPetya attack began as a supply chain attack when a Ukrainian accounting firm was breached and the malware was included in a malicious update.
  • Atlassian: In November 2020, Check Point Research (CPR) discovered a series of vulnerabilities that, when combined, can be exploited to gain control of an account and various Atlassian apps that are connected via SSO.
    • What makes this vulnerability a potentially supply chain attack is that once the attacker exploits these flaws and gains control of an account, he or she can install backdoors that he can utilize in the future.
    • This can result in serious harm that will only be detected and controlled after the damage has occurred.
    • Check Point Research responsibly disclosed this information to the Atlassian teams which and a solution was deployed to ensure its users can safely continue to share info on the various platforms
  • British Airways: In 2018, British Airways suffered a Magecart attack that compromised over 380,000 transactions on the airline’s website. The attack was made possible by a supply chain attack that compromised one of the airline’s vendors and spread to British Airways, Ticketmaster, and other companies.

How a Supply Chain Attack Works

A supply chain attack takes advantage of trust relationships between different organizations. All organizations have a level of implicit trust in other companies as they install and use the company’s software within their networks or work with them as a vendor.


A supply chain attack targets the weakest link in a chain of trust. If one organization has strong cybersecurity but has an insecure trusted vendor, then the attackers will target that vendor. With a foothold in the vendor’s network, the attackers could then pivot to the more secure network using that trusted relationship.


One common type of supply chain attack targets are managed service providers (MSPs). MSPs have deep access to their customers’ networks, which is invaluable to an attacker. After exploiting the MSP, the attacker can easily expand to their customer networks. By exploiting supply chain vulnerabilities, these attackers have a larger impact and may gain access to networks that would be much harder to attack directly. This is how the Kaseya attackers managed to infect so many organizations with ransomware.


Other supply chain attacks use software to deliver malware to an organization’s customers.  For example, the SolarWinds attackers gained access to the company’s build servers and injected a backdoor into updates to the SolarWinds Orion network monitoring product.  When this update code was pushed to customers, the attackers gained access to their networks as well.

The Impacts of Supply Chain Attacks

Supply chain attacks simply provide an attacker with another method of breaching an organization’s defenses. They can be used to perform any type of cyber attack, such as:


  • Data Breach: Supply chain attacks are commonly used to perform data breaches. For example, the SolarWinds hack exposed the sensitive data of multiple public and private sector organizations.
  • Malware Infections: Cybercriminals often exploit supply chain vulnerabilities to deliver malware to a target organization. SolarWinds included delivery of a malicious backdoor, and the Kaseya attack resulted in ransomware designed to exploit them.

Best Practices for Identifying And Mitigating Supply Chain Attacks

Supply chain attacks take advantage of unsecured trust relationships between a company and other organizations. Some ways to mitigate the risks of these attacks include:


  • Implement Least Privilege: Many organizations assign excessive access and permissions to their employees, partners, and software. These excessive permissions make supply chain attacks easier to perform. Implement least privilege and assign all people and software only the permissions that they need to do their job.
  • Perform Network Segmentation: Third-party software and partner organizations do not need unfettered access to every corner of the network. Use network segmentation to break the network into zones based on business functions. This way, if a supply chain attack compromises part of the network, the rest of the network is still protected.
  • Follow DevSecOps Practices: By integrating security into the development lifecycle, it is possible to detect if software, such as the Orion updates, has been maliciously modified.
  • Automated Threat Prevention and Threat Hunting: Security Operations Centers (SOC) analysts should protect against attacks across all of the organization’s environments, including the endpoint, network, cloud, and mobile.

Protecting Against Supply Chain Attacks with Check Point

Supply chain attackers take advantage of a lack of monitoring within an organization’s environment. Check Point Harmony Endpoint helps an organization to protect against these threats by monitoring applications for suspicious behavior that might point to compromise.


To learn more about the types of attacks that Harmony Endpoint protects against, check out Check Point’s 2021 Cyber Security Report. Then, take a security checkup to learn about the security issues within your environment. You can also learn how to close these security gaps with a free demo.

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