how does software supply chain security work, and what is it

How Does Software Supply Chain Security Work, and What Is It?

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    Open-source software is now used everywhere and is part of almost every private codebase and community-driven project. The important question for organisations is not whether they use open-source code or otherwise but which open-source components they use and how much.

    If you don't keep track of the parts of your software supply chain, your application could be exposed to security breaches caused by flaws in dependencies further upstream.

    Before you can understand the idea of software security in the supply chain, you need to know the software supply chain. During the software development (SDLC) life cycle, the supply chain for software includes everything that interacts with a program or has anything to do with its development.

    Software supply chain security means protecting the parts, methods, and processes for making and deploying software. This includes third-party and private code, deployment methods and facilities interfaces and procedures, dev, practises and development tools. Organisations are responsible for putting these security steps in place and showing proof to their stakeholders that they are doing so.

    Why Is It So Important To Have A Secure Software Supply Chain?

    In the modern world, most software isn't made from scratch. Instead, it's made by putting together different pieces of software, which frequently comprises open-source software. Still, these software parts can be vulnerable, and developers need more control throughout the source code of outside additions or any changes made to those software parts over time.

    It's important to stress that security risks become more likely when software isn't updated. Given how important software is to the day-to-day running of a business, every organisation and its security staff must do everything they can to protect the software supply chain.

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    What Does Software Supply Chain Mean?

    Software apps are currently built from scratch using only custom code. Instead, they comprise an intricate network of open-source parts and archives, most of which get their features from outside sources. This chain of links lets developers use their favourite tools and lets teams quickly get working software to their users. Still, it also leaves organisations and their customers vulnerable to problems caused by changes that are out of their control.

    By default, an organisation takes over the software supply chain for all its software.

    Because the software supply chain can get so big and complicated, companies and governments that prefer to avoid taking risks usually ask for a software bill of materials that outlines part or all of the supply chain. For example, software companies with government agencies have to give an SBOM for each job they work on.

    Even in-house, outsourced, private, or open-source software frequently employs external components, so it makes sense that SBOM is so important. This way of making software has benefits like faster development, lower production costs, and less time to market. Still, there is a real risk that bad people will take advantage of common flaws and exposures (CVEs) in those components.

    Why Are Software Supply Chain Attacks Gaining Popularity?

    As software development companies have taken more steps to ensure their apps are safe, attackers have been forced to develop new ways to break into them. The sharp and steady rise of the reuse of code and cloud-native methods has given them more ways to attack targets several steps away from where they want to hit.

    By taking advantage of just one weakness, a threat actor can move into the supply chain and steal private data, plant malicious software, and take over the systems, which has happened a lot in recent years.

    What Security Threats Does The Software Supply Chain Have To Face?

    Any risk to a part of the supply chain for software could pose a risk to every piece of software that depends on that part. It allows hackers to put in malware, a loophole, or other bad code to harm any component and the supply chains that go with it. 

    • Third-party dependencies: As a component of the application supply chain, it's hard to tell if there's any reliance on an outside group. Look at all the code from third parties and ask your providers how they defend you.
    • Licensing: is a legal risk that could force you to declare any software that comes out of it open source and make copyright rights invalid. Talk to people who know the law about this.
    • Software supply chain attacks, which are often done by people who want to make money and by nation-states, are on the rise and can have big effects in both the digital and real worlds. 
    • Processes and policies: It will be easy if you have them. Make rules for your workers and procedures (also called "playbooks") for when it's necessary to fix a vulnerability.
    • Vulnerabilities: are mistakes in the code that might have been used to cause a breach. Patch and upgrade your software to reduce this risk as much as possible.

    Some common ways to attack are to take over changes, break code signing, or hack open source code.

    Why Is It Easy to Attack the Software Supply Chain?

    A software supply chain is a big, growing, complex, and linked system of machinery, individuals, and procedures that offer multiple attack points. Bad people can get into the software supply chain through these points of contact.

    Most of the time, hardware, software, and codebases make up the "technology" touchpoint.

    People vulnerabilities

    Developers and other individuals can intentionally add flaws to the software supply chain or by accident. For instance, the crossenv typosquatting incident in 2017 was an attack by hackers on the npm registry that tried to trick developers into adding a crossenv file containing malware.

    Process Vulnerabilities

    Attackers are interested in "processes," especially those that deal with access and identity management (IAM). Attackers can get around IAM controls using workers or systems to put spyware and ransomware on the network.

    Codebase vulnerabilities

    Even the codebases that hold these programs can be hacked. Synopsys says that up to 88% of business code bases that use open-source software have had parts that need to catch up regarding user updates.

    Software vulnerabilities

    Software made up of private code, but especially libraries that are open-source and third-party tools, can be attacked by adding malicious code or taking advantage of bugs in the code, causing package dependency confusion, taking over updates, and weakening code signing processes.

    Infrastructure vulnerabilities

    Infrastructure is the term for the hardware or software that makes software work. Infrastructure like computers, virtual machines, and storage spaces. and networking devices can be set up wrong, leaving important resources open to cyberattacks.

    Software Supply Chain Security V.S Application Security

    The software supply chain comprises all the people and things that touch your code. Application security, on the other hand, guards the code itself from attacks and holes. Application security should be used at every step of the development process, just like security for the software supply chain. 

    Application security starts during the process of developing software and continues throughout the application lifecycle. The goals of application security are to keep unauthorised people from getting into your system and to protect your private data.

    When you improve the security of your supplier chain, your application security can also go up. Attackers can't take over your applications if you harden configurations, reduce attack surfaces, limit access, sign software, and distribute builds to different system components, among other things. 

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    How To Increase Software Supply Chain Security

    The first step in ensuring your software supply chain is safe is knowing what parts are in it. An SBOM, which shows all third-party parts and dependencies in the software you sell and use, can help both vendors and end users do this.

    • Use only known repositories with verified tools for providers in the chain, and do regular risk evaluations of frameworks, libraries, and suppliers. Test the supplier's work, but also test it yourself often. With the concept of least privilege, you can set up strong IAM controls and procedures as a vendor. Include data governance rules in the software supply chain to protect your systems and data.
    • An SBOM gives an overview of what's happening, shows that you care about security and licence compliance, and may be used as a reference to the latest alert affecting software components. By using different automatic vulnerability scanning technologies, you can get more information about your software supply chain and make it safer.
    • Consider setting up a special team to respond to incidents and provide fixes or updates as required. Make sure that your failover plans are well-written and that you try them often and thoroughly. More is needed to look for or keep track of regular holes. Your amount of exposure can be affected by how quickly and effectively you fix vulnerabilities.

    Getting Rid of Dangers in the Software Supply Chain

    Security in the software supply chain is important for your business, your users, and any other business that uses open-source contributions. Even though no organisation wants its security to be broken, it also doesn't want to be the reason why another organisation has a similar problem. The key is to put safeguards in place for your software supply chain.  

    Here are some of the best security practices that security personnel should be thinking about:

    Scan and fix systems that are weak on a regular basis.

    • Do risk assessments to determine how each seller handles cybersecurity and how the government deals with vulnerabilities.
    • Make sure that all your electronic devices and sensitive info are more secure.
    • Provide minimal access to resources throughout the supply chain (like tools for developers, source code files, and additional software systems), turn on authentication with multiple factors, and use powerful passwords.
    • Give your workers regular security training.
    • Know who you do company with and who your suppliers are, starting with the tier-one providers. 

    Developers should also think about using safe coding techniques, locking files, and other security-oriented projects:

    • Release and access the Inventory of Software Components (ISC).
    • Verify the integrity of checksums.
    • Incorporate vendor dependencies into version control.


    Security in the software supply chain is important for companies to protect their applications from security holes in relationships further upstream. The software supply chain is made up of all the parts, methods, and processes that go into making and delivering software.

    This includes third-party and private code, deployment methods, facilities, interfaces, procedures, development practices, and development tools. Organisations are in charge of putting security measures in place and showing partners that they are doing so.

    Most software in the modern world is made by putting together different pieces of software, which often include open-source software. This chain of links lets programmers use their favourite tools and get software to users quickly. But it also leaves organisations and users open to problems brought on by changes they can't stop.

    Because more and more code is being reused and cloud-native methods are being used, software supply chain hacks are becoming more common. Attackers can take advantage of flaws in the supply chain to steal private data, plant malicious software, and take control of systems.

    To protect the software supply chain, organisations should have rules for workers and processes, patch and update software, and be aware of possible vulnerabilities. Taking over changes, breaking code signing, or hacking open source code are all common ways to attack.

    The software supply chain is a complicated set of machines, people, and processes that can be attacked in many different ways. Hardware, software, and codebases are some of these places of contact. Attackers can take advantage of weaknesses in people, processes, codebases, software, and systems.

    On the other hand, application security protects the code itself from threats and holes. Like security for the software supply chain, it should be used at every step of the creation process. Use an SBOM, only use known repositories with verified tools, and do regular risk assessments of frameworks, libraries, and sellers to make the software supply chain safer. Check the work of the provider and check it yourself often.

    To protect systems and data, the software supply chain should have rules for data control. Use automatic vulnerability scanning tools and think about putting together a special team to deal with problems and fix or update things as needed. Make sure your backup plans are well-written and that you test them often and carefully.

    Companies, users, and other companies that use open-source contributions care about security in the software supply chain. To protect your software supply chain, use best security practises like regular system scans, risk assessments, keeping private information and electronic devices safe, limiting access to resources, regular security training, and knowing how your company works with its suppliers.

    Content Summary

    • Open-source software is prevalent in both private codebases and community projects.
    • Organisations must be aware of which open-source components they utilise.
    • Not tracking software supply chain parts can expose applications to security breaches.
    • Understanding the software supply chain is essential for grasping its security.
    • The software supply chain encompasses all elements interacting with a program during its development.
    • Software supply chain security protects the components, methods, and processes of software creation.
    • Organisations must demonstrate to stakeholders that they've implemented security measures.
    • Modern software is often assembled from various software pieces, including open-source components.
    • Security risks increase when software isn't regularly updated.
    • The software supply chain consists of a complex network of open-source components.
    • Organisations inherit the software supply chain of all their software.
    • A software bill of materials (SBOM) can outline parts of the supply chain.
    • The rise of code reuse and cloud-native methods has opened new avenues for attackers.
    • By exploiting a single vulnerability, attackers can infiltrate the supply chain.
    • Any threat to a software supply chain component can jeopardise dependent software pieces.
    • Third-party dependencies pose potential security risks.
    • Licensing can present legal risks related to open-source declarations and copyrights.
    • Software supply chain attacks are increasingly common and can have significant consequences.
    • Software supply chains are vast, interconnected systems offering multiple points of attack.
    • Developers can inadvertently introduce vulnerabilities into the software supply chain.
    • Process vulnerabilities can be exploited, especially around access and identity management.
    • Codebases holding software programs can be compromised.
    • Software vulnerabilities can arise from both private code and open-source libraries.
    • Infrastructure, the backbone of software operation, can be misconfigured, leading to cyberattacks.
    • Software supply chain security differs from application security.
    • Application security focuses on protecting the code from threats.
    • Improving supply chain security can enhance application security.
    • The first step to secure a software supply chain is understanding its components.
    • An SBOM provides a comprehensive view of third-party components and dependencies.
    • Regular risk assessments of frameworks and suppliers are essential.
    • Strong identity and access management controls should be implemented.
    • Data governance rules can further safeguard systems and data.
    • Automated vulnerability scanning can provide insights into the software supply chain.
    • Organisations should have dedicated teams to address incidents and provide timely fixes.
    • The speed and efficiency of vulnerability remediation can impact exposure levels.
    • Software supply chain security is crucial for businesses and their users.
    • Organisations should not be the weak link causing security breaches in others.
    • Regular scanning and rectification of vulnerable systems are vital.
    • Risk assessments should evaluate vendors' cybersecurity measures.
    • All electronic devices and sensitive information should be secured.
    • Restricting access to resources and using multi-factor authentication enhances security.
    • Regular security training for employees is essential.
    • Knowing your suppliers, especially tier-one providers, is crucial.
    • Developers should adopt secure coding practices and lock files.
    • The Inventory of Software Components (ISC) should be regularly updated and accessed.
    • The integrity of checksums should be verified.
    • Vendor dependencies should be integrated into version control.
    • The software supply chain's complexity makes it a prime target for cyberattacks.
    • Ensuring the security of the software supply chain is a shared responsibility.
    • Adopting best security practices can mitigate risks in the software supply chain.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Security in the software supply chain is important for your business, your users, and any other business that uses open-source contributions. Even though no organisation wants its security to be broken, it also doesn't want to be the reason why another organisation has a similar problem.


    Severe problems with government organisations, public services, and vital infrastructure. Criminals or other countries can lose, steal, or mess with secret government data.


    A software supply chain attack happens when a cyber threat actor gets into the network of a software vendor and uses malicious code to break the software before sending it to users. The client's data or system is at risk because of the hacked software.


    Any risk to a part of the software supply chain could pose a risk to every piece of software that depends on that part. It allows hackers to put in spyware, a backdoor, or additional bad code to harm any component and the supply chains that go with it.


    A software supply chain comprises the parts, libraries, tools, and procedures used to create, build, and share a software artefact. Software companies often make goods by assembling parts of open-source and paid software.

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