What Is a Supply Chain Attack?

A supply chain attack, also known as a value-chain or third-party attack, occurs when someone infiltrates your system through an outside partner or provider with access to your systems and data. This type of attack can happen in any industry, from the financial sector to utilities and in public and private sectors. The attack surface is the sum of all accessible parts of your system, which grows as the supply chain becomes more complex with more software integrations and third-party services.

What Is a Software Supply Chain?

A software supply chain encompasses the processes involved in developing, deploying, and maintaining software applications. This includes everything from writing code to managing software updates, involving multiple tools like version control systems, build tools, and dependency management systems. The software supply chain is crucial because vulnerabilities within any component can be exploited by cyber attackers to introduce malware or perform unauthorized actions.

Is Software Supply Chain Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks?

Yes, the software supply chain is highly susceptible to cyber attacks due to several reasons:

  • Complexity and interconnectedness: Modern software supply chains involve numerous components, each potentially adding vulnerabilities.
  • Open-source libraries: The extensive use of open-source components with varying levels of security rigor can introduce vulnerabilities.
  • Frequent updates and integrations: Continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) practices, while beneficial, increase risk as each new release potentially introduces new vulnerabilities.

Why Are Software Supply Chain Attacks Trending?

Software supply chain attacks are trending due to their high effectiveness and the expanding attack surface of modern enterprises. According to the 2024 State of Software Supply Chain Security report by ReversingLabs, incidents of malicious packages found on popular open-source package managers increased by 1,300% over the past three years. These attacks provide attackers a high return on investment, allowing them to compromise multiple targets downstream by breaching a single upstream provider.

Are Supply Chain Cyber Attacks Easy to Do?

Supply chain attacks are complex and require significant planning and stealth. However, factors that make them relatively easier include:

  • Increased reliance on third-party components which might not be adequately secured.
  • Lack of robust security practices in monitoring third-party risks.
  • Challenges in detecting intrusions within a complex supply chain network.

What Are Some of the Forms of Supply Chain Attacks?

Several types of supply chain attacks are recognized within the cybersecurity landscape. Besides island hopping and software updates, notable forms include:

  1. Compromise of Development Tools: Attackers infiltrate the tools used for creating software, such as compilers or integrated development environments (IDEs), allowing them to insert malicious code into legitimate software without the knowledge of the developers.
  2. Third-Party Libraries and Components: Often, software projects depend on third-party libraries, which, if compromised, can affect all applications that rely on them. For example, a malicious modification in a popular open-source library can spread the impact to all software that incorporates this library.
  3. Code Signing Certificate Theft: By stealing the digital certificates used by software developers to sign their code, attackers can distribute malware that appears to be legitimate software, tricking users and security systems into trusting it.
  4. Attack on the Supply Chain Information Systems: This involves attacking the systems that manage supply chain operations, such as order processing and inventory management systems, potentially disrupting operations or altering the delivery of goods and services.
  5. Watering Hole Attack: In this scenario, attackers compromise a resource that they know their target audience uses and trusts. When users visit the compromised resource, malware is deployed onto their systems.

What Is the Impact of a Supply Chain Attack?

Supply chain attacks can have a broad and deep impact, affecting not just a single organization but entire industries or sectors. Some of the most notable impacts from recent supply chain attacks include:

  1. 3CX (March 2023): A voice-over-IP (VoIP) software was compromised, leading to the distribution of a version containing malicious code affecting thousands of customers globally.
  2. SolarWinds (December 2020): Malicious code was inserted into the software’s update mechanism, affecting 18,000 customers, including significant government and corporate organizations, leading to massive data breaches.
  3. XZ Utils Backdoor (Discovered 2024): A backdoor in the XZ Utils, a popular compression tool, could have allowed unauthorized remote access to affected systems, though it was caught before widespread distribution in stable software versions.
  4. Ledger dApp Supply Chain Attack (December 2023): Malware inserted in the 'Ledger dApp Connect Kit' library resulted in the theft of $600,000 in cryptocurrencies from wallet software.
  5. North Korean Defense Sector Attack (February 2024): A cyber-espionage operation targeted the global defense sector, involving a supply chain approach to distribute malware to critical defense infrastructure.

What Can Companies Do to Detect and Prevent Software Supply Chain Attacks?


  • Use Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools: To detect known vulnerabilities in third-party components.
  • Implement Anomaly Detection Systems: To identify unusual activities that could indicate a compromise.
  • Conduct Regular Code Audits: Especially for commits made in software repositories to ensure integrity and detect any unauthorized changes.
  • Employ Automated Security Scanning: Of both source code and build environments to detect malicious insertions early in the development lifecycle.


  • Vet Third-Party Vendors Rigorously: Assess the security posture of all third-party vendors and enforce compliance with security standards.
  • Use Trusted Sources: Only use software and dependencies from trusted, well-known sources, and prefer signed packages.
  • Implement Strong Access Controls: To development environments to limit who can make changes to the software.
  • Foster a Security-Aware Culture: Educate employees about the risks of supply chain attacks and promote security best practices throughout the organization.
  • Integrate Security Early in the Development Process: Apply the principles of security by design to ensure security measures are built into the software from the start.


  1. Cyberint: Recent Supply Chain Attacks Examined
  2. Outshift by Cisco: Top 15 software supply chain attacks: Case studies
  3. Outshift by Cisco: Secure Software Supply Chains: You Can't Ignore Them
  4. Dark Reading: XZ Utils Backdoor Implanted in Intricate Supply Chain Attack
  5. ReversingLabs: The State of Software Supply Chain Security 2024: Key Takeaways
  6. BleepingComputer: Latest Supply Chain Attack News
cybersecurity logo


Master Cybersecurity Skills Through Hands-on Realistic Training Labs

Start For Free