Supply chain attacks have been making lots of news recently. Before we explore this phenomenon, let’s first make sure we’re clear on what we’re talking about. A supply chain attack is a type of security incident in which a threat actor inserts code into a trusted software product or hardware device. This technique opens an opportunity for the actor to hijack the product or device manufacturer’s distribution systems and misuse them for malicious purposes, per Wired. As an example, they can push out a software update containing a trojan and use the ensuing infections to penetrate an untold number of customers’ networks.

Why Are Supply Chain Attacks Ending Up in the Headlines?

One of the main reasons why supply chain attacks are getting so much coverage these days is because they’re increasing in both volume and complexity. Regarding the former, supply chain attacks have increased in number over the past several years, not just this year. Dark Reading reported in February 2019 that these kinds of threats rose 78% over the course of the previous year, for instance. Approximately two years later, SD Times shared the results of a report in which researchers documented 929 software supply chain attacks over a 12-month period. By comparison, researchers recorded just 216 attacks between February 2015 and June 2019.

As for an increase in complexity, this development in part reflects how some supply chain attacks have targeted the distribution systems of companies that provide solutions to managed service providers (MSPs). This is a problem, as MSPs help fulfill various IT and/or security functions for their customers. Compromising an MSP can enable attackers to drill into even more organizations’ networks and compromise even more sensitive data.

Provided below are a few examples of some of the supply chain attacks that recently made news.

SolarWinds Orion

As recounted by SANS, news of a data breach involving the U.S. Treasury Department emerged in mid-December 2020. It wasn’t long after before sources confirmed that the individuals who had breached the U.S. Treasury Department were the same to have stolen some red team tools from FireEye. An investigation into these incidents revealed that the threat group APT29 had compromised the distribution systems used by SolarWinds to push out a malicious update for its Orion IT management software. SolarWinds went on to note in a filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that it believed the supply chain attack had affected approximately 18,000 of its 300,000 Orion customers.

Microsoft Exchange Server

It was in early March when the world learned that a digital espionage actor known as “HAFNIUM” had breached 30,000 organizations by exploiting four zero-day vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Exchange Server software. Virsec analyzed those exploit attempts and found that they began with a malicious login request leveraging one of the disclosed vulnerabilities. This attack chain led the threat actor to send malformed serialized data containing malware capable of remotely executing code. From there, the attacker set up a reverse shell with system privileges that they could use to conduct reconnaissance. They could also drop a web shell for gaining full remote control of an organization’s vulnerable Exchange server, thus gaining access to confidential information, sensitive data, and other details exchanged by email.

Kaseya VSA

In the beginning of July, IT management firm Kaseya published an update on its website in which it disclosed a potential attack involving its VSA IT management software. Kaseya launched an investigation into what happened and learned that some of its customers had suffered ransomware infections and had received messages from the attackers. Huntress analyzed the forensic patterns, ransom notes, and Tor URL for those attacks and determined that an affiliate for the REvil Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) operation had preyed on Kaseya to perpetrate the intrusions. After individually extorting victims of the supply chain attack, the REvil affiliate turned around and demanded $50 million in exchange for a universal decryptor that could help unlock all the affected systems, as reported by Bleeping Computer.

Where Supply Chain Security Needs to Go from Here

Considering the attacks discussed above, organizations need to proactively think through and be prepared for supply chain threats. The U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) specifically highlights that organizations can use a Cyber Supply Chain Risk Management (C-SCRM) approach to manage their supply chain risks. Implementing such a program requires organizations to create an inventory of their suppliers and critical components, collaborate with their key suppliers around reducing security risks, as well as assess and monitor those supplier relationships over time.

Organizations won’t be able to implement a C-SCRM program without visibility into their environments and into known threats. To achieve that visibility, they might consider enlisting the help of a trusted solution like ReliaQuest GreyMatter. With over 600 threat detection rules and counting, ReliaQuest Grey Matter empowers organizations to gain a comprehensive picture of their business risk so that they can identify gaps and minimize their chances of an attack—even those that trace back to a supplier.

When the SolarWind’s compromise came to light ReliaQuest’s threat research team was quick to run hunts within our customers’ environments and provide confidence as to whether they were impacted or not with in 24 hours. To learn more how ReliaQuest protects organizations from the Solorigate/SUNBURST supply chain attack read our Threat Advisory on Solorigate/SUNBURST.