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Businesses are Vulnerable to SaaS Supply Chain Attacks: How to Limit These Attacks?

SaaS/ Software supply chain attacks have been making headlines as a dangerous threat with high-profile examples such as Log4j vulnerabilities, SolarWinds SUNBURST attacks, Kwampirs attacks, etc.

Several organizations, high-profile ones, and SMEs have been unaware of these lethal attacks on their SaaS supply chain over the past couple of years. Gartner predicts that 45% of organizations will have experienced cyber supply chain attacks by 2025. 

This article delves deeper into these attacks and ways to limit the risks involved to secure secure SaaS-based web applications

Understanding SaaS Supply Chain Attacks

Software/ SaaS supply chain attacks are cyber threats wherein malicious attackers look for, target, and attack insecure elements, vulnerabilities, and the weakest links in the SaaS supply chain of organizations. 

Attackers may also infiltrate a software vendor’s network, compromising the software using malicious code before the software is sent to customers. This helps them to compromise downstream applications that will use these third-party services. 

Impact

Attackers leverage vulnerable elements in the supply chain to 

  • Modify/ delete/ add/ steal data, and corrupt targeted systems
  • Spread malware by releasing malicious patches
  • Change source code
  • Gain illegitimate access to other areas of the targeted organization’s network through lateral movement
  • Exploit partners, customers, vendors, and suppliers who are part of the network, etc. 

Why are All Businesses Vulnerable to Supply Chain Attacks? 

1. Lack of Visibility into and Control Over the SaaS Supply Chain 

The digital supply chain of all kinds of organizations is growing exponentially regardless of their size, scale, nature, and industry.

The multiple codes, updates, and versions from multiple vendors combined with the lack of visibility into the entire digital supply chain have caused the number of known and unknown vulnerabilities to multiply exponentially.

With an expanding attack surface, internal IT teams may not be equipped to find and fix proactively, and an overall erosion of control over AppSec. 

2. Several Moving Parts

The unmanageable number of moving parts is also why every organization is uniquely vulnerable to supply chain attacks in 2022.

To keep improving user experiences, organizations no longer have large monolithic applications and are shifting towards headless architectures, microservices, and API-led functionalities.

So, new components and elements keep getting added to the mix while others become obsolete at a rapid pace. This contributes to the widening attack surface, poor visibility, and eroding control. 

3. Increasing Dependencies on Third-Party Services 

There is an increasing dependency on third-party services and components to improve the application capabilities. This brings two complexities that amplify the organization’s vulnerability to SaaS supply chain attacks:

  1. Third-party services often require privileged access to applications 
  2. Such products require frequent communication between the product in the customer network and the vendor network

Both requirements create intrusion paths for attackers, especially when the vendor is not thorough on the security front. 

4. Widespread Use of Open-Source Components 

Given the need for efficiency and agility in building and deploying software, services, and applications, developers keep leveraging out-of-the-box, ready-to-use software, components, and elements. Firstly, such components need to be properly configured, or they will increase security risks.  

Secondly, a large proportion of these ready-to-use codes and components come from open sources. This makes it extremely challenging to vet and validate codes, libraries, and other components before using them.

When vulnerabilities are found in open-source codes and components, all organizations leveraging these are at risk. 

Effective Strategies to Protect Applications

1. Complete Visibility into the SaaS Supply Chain 

The most effective way to prevent SaaS supply chain attacks and protect applications is by gaining complete visibility into the supply chain and mapping the attack surface.

To this end, automated scanning tools can be leveraged to inventory all the components, their sources, dependencies, licenses, etc., in the supply chain, as well as their security issues and vulnerabilities.  

2. Implement a Zero Trust Architecture 

Instead of using perimeter-based approaches, zero trust approaches must be leveraged. The principle of least privileges must be strictly enforced, limiting third-party services to accessing only relevant areas through custom rules and multi-factor authentication. This helps prevent attackers’ lateral movement even if they are within the network. 

3. Vendor Vetting, Management, and Governance

Choose vendors only after thorough vetting. Lay out clear policies and procedures to manage and govern vendors, especially with respect to data use, violations, liabilities, etc. Continuously audit their security controls to ensure they adhere to strict security standards. 

4. Leverage a Cutting-Edge Security Solution

Leverage a next-gen, managed, multi-layered security solution such as AppTrana that comprehensively protects against various supply chain attacks. Integrate such a solution right from the SDLC stages to root out security vulnerabilities as early as possible in the process. 

The Way Forward 

Given the sheer variety of methods attackers use, preventing SaaS supply chain attacks and effectively managing the risk of these attacks is more critical than ever.

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